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Elderly Parents and Financial Worries

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Funding options for elderly widow on a fixed income

Jan 2012

My partner's mother is in a financial predicament in terms of being able to afford senior housing. She is currently living on social security benefits of about $1,200 and can no longer afford to live on her own without aid. Senior housing/assisted living is essential as she is not independent and does not drive. Her husband was a military veteran and I suspect there might be options for veteran's aid, as well. If you know of any options to help pay for retirement living on a limited fixed income I'd greatly appreciate your advice. Thank you. anon


Have you checked out the nonprofit affordable housing for seniors in your area? They will limit her rent to a maximum of 30% of her income if she qualifies.

There aren't great comprehensive lists of senior housing, but you can start with:

http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/information_for_senior_citizens

As far as veterans benefits are concerned, call your county's County Veterans Service Office. They will do the research and paperwork to see if she is eligible for any benefits. The clock starts ticking when the application is made, and if benefits are due they are made retroactive to the application date. In my experience these people are fabulous. Good luck to your family


81 yr old dad needs assisted living, has no money

Oct 2011

My dad is living independently, very badly, in Sonoma with his wife. The short story is that he has partial dementia, parkinson's, stage 2 diabetes, radioculopathy and peripheral neuropathy and it is absolutely no longer safe for him to not have assistance. They are in denial (dementia, i get it), they live off of their social security only, and have 100k in dept and no assets whatsoever. Their house is in disarray, the don't drink enough water, they don't eat enough nutritionally dense food and they stopped their meals on wheels delivery because they hated the food and were ''embarrassed''. My dad goes to the ER about once a week for a variety of issues...usually ends up being dehydration or over or under medication for his blood sugar. Having been many times with him to the ER, I also suspect he enjoys the attention...not kidding.

My step mother, whom I love, is sweet and well intentioned, but she is 80 and has her own ailments (slow onset Parkinson's, mild dementia) and can not care for my dad alone, though she insists that she can. I have given them 40K of my own money over the last 4 years, tons of my time, and have no other financial resources of my own to draw on as my own family is paycheck to paycheck currently. My husband and i both work full time and have a 2 year old daughter...we live over an hour from my dad.

I took a month of unpaid time off last November to just trouble shoot and put out a variety of fires for them...barely made a dent in things. I realize now that I should have done Paid Family Leave to get a little money, I'll do that next time.

I have been struggling to fill out VA Aid and Attendance application over the last many months for him, their paperwork is not in any kind of order and i have sent out for copies of important required documentation for this application.... and it is not complete (if you have done this application, you know how convoluted it is), but i am sending it in AS IS this week to just get it in the works and dated for retroactive funds should he be awarded the benefit in the future.

My dad was NOT an awesome father, very challenging emotionally to love and care for him now, and subsequently my two older brothers have refused to help in any way...one hasn't spoken to me in 2 years because he didn't want to help care for dad, and we used to be best friends.

I am on my own here. Has anyone been in a similar situation? What are my dad's options with only 1600.00 per month in social security? State run home? VA hospital? I have all the websites for council on aging etc. , I guess I am just looking for a secret bullet or pearl of wisdom that one of you may have if you have dealt with anything similar.

Thank you so much for any thoughts.


In my experience with my own father, the VA is a very good option, if you can get through the paperwork. The process of documenting his eligibility for benefits is a chore and takes a lot of determination and know-how for handling confusing and often contradictory bureaucratic nonsense. But it's well worth the effort.

My father attended a day-care program for several years where a VA aide arrived in the morning, helped him bathe and get dressed (mild dementia, able to do things with assistance but too much for my mother to handle), then drove him to the program where he spent the day in social and therapeutic activities. He was dropped back home at the end of the day and a meal was prepared for him. The aide was wonderful and also took him shopping and on other special outings, and sometimes stayed overnight so my mother could go out of town. As his condition deteriorated, we were planning to get him on the list for residential care, but he passed away unexpectedly before then. His time in the VA program was definitely the highlight of his last few years -- he really enjoyed swapping war stories with the other old vets.

This was in another state, so I'm not familiar with the people and places you need to deal with in California. But since it is a federal program, I'm sure the same type of services are available here.

I sympathize with what you're going through. Hope this info helps. -A daughter


Dear Lisa,

I wish I had some advice to offer; I will leave that to others. But I just want to write and commend you for being such a caring, loving daughter, trying so hard to help your aging dad and step-mom. It's tough. I hope you get some great advice from this list. warm wishes Linda


Go to your county Veteran Service Officer (VSO)or go to the VA clinic in Martinez or Oakland. They will help you fill out forms and let you know what options you dad has. Bring his DD214 if you can find it. It has information like when he served, etc. If you cannot find it, go anyway and get some information. Ask for anything you think he needs. If you don't ask, they will not offer! Best of luck. Linda
My mother-in-law was able to get an older relative with little income into a very nice home care facility, and they accepted her SS and her Medicare - might be worth a look. It was run by a Filipino family and there were maybe 5 or 6 residents that they cared for, all with various medical problems that made it so they couldn't live at home any more, and all of them were low income.

I also volunteered with Legal Assistance for Seniors a few years back -- they have a health care advocacy program that might be helpful, especially if you're in Alameda County and wanting to move them closer to you (which would be a lot easier for you if you get them into care). Here's a link to their website:

http://www.lashicap.org/services/health-insurance- counseling-and-advocacy-program Hope that Helps


Your dad would be eligible for a Medicare-paid assisted living spot, if he truly has NO other assets (they will look). He has to ''spend down'' his assets to become eligible, but it sounds like he might already be there. The hard part is finding a home that has a Medicare ''slot'', but it can be done. It sounds like he definitely needs to be there. Best of luck Been there
not much advice for you except to tap the hospital resources. they know him as he is a ''frequent flyer'' maybe their social services could help you. You should also look into becoming his durable power of attorney, if possible, if his demetia isn't advanced enough to render him mentally incapacitated yet. anon
It' so hard when the relationships are fraught, isn't it? We want to do our best, we want others to agree that we have done the right thing... But what is their plan? They have one, whether or not they have articulated it to you. Naturally everyone wants to be as independent as possible. And I salute you for being an excellent daughter; you've already done a lot. I think what sometimes happens is that we get so accustomed to mothering, to being the authority, to having to figure out what will work for our young ones, that we come in, pistols blazing, to rescue our elders and set something up for them. Yes, that would take it off your plate, it would be beyond reproach, and yes, they do need help. What is THEIR plan? how do they see the next few years? **If you did nothing, what would happen?** Maybe rather than mothering them, you could think about grandmothering them, taking them a treat, expressing concern, spending time doing little physical things that would please them, or washing dishes or doing a load of laundry. I guess the question is: who are you doing it for? Maybe they don't want to live forever in Assisted Living. Are you ready for their answer?
First I want to say: you are being a very good daughter. I have been in a similar situation, and it can be very hard to give at one end, when you didn't receive much at the other end. Second, as a medical social worker I see this type of problem often, and in my role I am frequently the only person trying to help as family are either non-existent, or long alienated. I have come to rely upon the wonderful services of senior care managers. One I recommend in particular is Yvonne Baginski. She knows all the ropes, including the VA stuff, and can take the lead, or just help, depending upon your need. She can do as little as educate you on the options, and help with expediting applications, or as much as getting power of attorney for health care, and/or finance; she also has a gift for developing rapport with older folks, and I've seen her work wonders with some of the most crochety, mildly paranoid, mildly to moderately demented persons around. She also publishes the Born to Age senior services catalogue/newsletter, which can be enlightening. Here's her contact info: Born To Age P.O. Box 6863 Napa, CA 94581 707-226-7127 and here's the link to Born to Age, you'll need to select the county: http://www.borntoage.com/home/born-to-age- senior-information-directory/

Best of luck, and remember, 1- they are grown-ups, and have the responsibility to have made their own plans, and arrangements, so don't run yourself ragged, and 2-anything you do to help is better than they would be doing on their own at this point, so don't beat your head against a wall if they aren't able to muster some cooperation, or show gratitude... Been there as a daughter, done that as a social worker


My father is mis-managing his finances, can't pay for his meds

July 2011

I need specific advice about managing my father's finances. I would be so grateful for any of your experiences with this type of issue. Here's our problem followed by the general situation:

I just found out that my dad has maxed out his credit card, which is how he usually pays for his medications. (I had a baby this year and turned dad-care over to my brother, who dropped the ball.) Now we are in crisis mode and need to devise a new way to pay for meds, gas for his car, etc.

Any specific advice (pay as you go debit card, meds by mail??) and your experiences and ideas about how we might replace a credit card with another form of paying for things? (Unfortunately there are no good elder care consultants, etc in his area, so just tapping another person to handle this will not work.

General Situation: My dad is a 62 year old stroke survivor, very independent, but lacks the cognitive abilities to make sound decisions. He lives in Georgia with his very old mother and is cared for by two aides. My brother lives closer to my dad and has a pretty expansive power of attorney. My dad has an accountant who cuts checks for him, but does not monitor spending in any way. He has a fixed income which should be *just barely* enough to pay for his needs.

Thanks so much for your ideas. My dad is a wonderful person but it's basically like having a twelve year old with a bank account and credit line, and it's getting terrifying. Sandwich Generation at age 35


A friend recently forwarded me an article about the outrageous mark ups of prescription drugs and pointed out that Costco is your best bet with fair prices and low mark up resulting in savings of 50% or more. If you can arrange to get the drugs mailed to him by you or from Costco directly that would help resolve the drug expense.

I would eliminate the credit cards completely as they pose way too much risk of his getting into serious trouble. I also worry about the brother with power of attorney who dropped the ball. Perhaps he would pass the role on to you or at least let you handle the financial matters. With a fixed income it shouldn't be too hard to control what is made available to your dad to spend. Maybe your dad should be working with a checking account and cash only. You can set up the checking account (Wells Fargo) with an automatic alert to you if it is overdrawn. Your idea of a debit card tied to the same account and alert might be an option. A friend who cared for his parents into their 90s with Alzheimer's eventually had to remove all cash, credit cards, and checks from their possession. It is just a matter of when.

I also wondered if you could hire one of the 2 caregivers already on the scene to handle some of the financial oversight with your dad for a fee. A bank might be able to set up a trust fund that receives his monthly checks by direct deposit and funds his debit card. Hope that helps. sympathetic


Elderly parents in Sonoma on the verge of bankrupcy

August 2010

Hi there,

My dad and his wife are in their early eighties and barely holding onto independent living. I am the only support they have emotionally and financially (my brothers are now estranged from me because they don't want to help). I have my own financial challenges, so I am trying to figure out how to help them and not hurt myself and my husband and children. They are on the verge of being bankrupt and homeless. Their health is ''fair''.

Their only income is from their social security checks,they have no retirement accounts and they are spending beyond what they have even though they say they are ''trying''. They have been pawning jewelry to get by, but there now is no jewelry left. I have tried to assist in various ways, but it is hard to get information from them, they are holding on fiercely to their independence and it is clear to me that we need an unbiased party to come in and help. Instead of, or in addition to, giving them money each month, I'd rather spend money on a few hours each month on a thoughtful ''elder experienced'' bookkeeper to handle their bills and help them learn how to live within a budget.

Does anyone have any Sonoma County specific referrals of someone who has done this for you or a loved one? Thanks so very much for any information. Best, Lisa


Have you contacted Sonoma County Adult and Aging services? They were a huge help for a neighbor a while back in a similar situation. They have lots of resources, and experience with older folks dealing with similar issues. Sue
If your parents own their home, a reverse mortgage may be worth consideration. If they do not own their own home, they may consider senior apartments (HUD sponsored) the rent for which is based upon a fraction of their monthly income-often 1/3 or so. Does Sonoma county or their city have 211? as the city of Berkeley does. From the helpful personell one can obtain a list of senior residences or perhaps even social workers? Good luck. Lynn

Mother-in-law in deep financial trouble

Feb 2010

My mother-in-law has had financial worries most of her life after divorcing my husband's father when the kids were small. She received generous alimony and child support, and she worked but has always managed her money poorly. My husband and his two siblings have always given her money when they could. She even asked for my husband's bar mitzvah money when he was 13, and he handed it over. Several years ago she opened a credit card account in a relative's name without him knowing it. When the relative realized what had happened, he was very kind about it and forgave my mother-in-law and didn't even make her pay him back. She is now in her mid-70s and retired. She receives a small pension from a government job, but invested her nest egg unwisely and lost it all. She is vague about her finances but it sounds as if she is living on only $2,000.00/month and her rent is nearly half that. Her car is close to breaking down. My husband and I and his siblings want to help her; however, we are all struggling ourselves in this economy. She is difficult to live with and probably wouldn't want to move in with any of us anyway. Does anyone out there have any suggestions? Obviously, she is irresponsible with money, but no one wants to see her continue in this difficult fashion. Where do we start? Is there decent low- income housing for seniors out there? What types of professionals and organizations should we contact to help us extend a lifeline to her? How to help???


Yes, the senior subsidized housing is all over. What geographic area? In east bay contact Senior Satellite Housing for details - Alameda County- seniors pay about 1/3 of income for rent of small independent apartment in senior bldg. In area call ''211'' for more referrals.

There are money management agencies- Bay Area Community Services (BACS) has had one for a long time. Again, call ''211'' for info or go on-line, google to ''area agency on aging'' and add county of residence- this is comprehensive senior services referral list. Even stopping by her local senior center and talking to the director can be very helpful. I did the latter when looking for home care agencies for my mom to try to keep her in her own place. There may be a small monthly fee. There are support groups for family caregivers which can be very informative- I facilitate the free drop-in group in North Oakland at BACS program - call Roberta Tracy for details -510-601-1074 caring about and watching out for your mom-in-law can be an on-going endeavor esp. if she doesn't think there is a problem- www.caregiver.org Good Luck Monica


It sounds like your mother could benefit from some outside help. I know the Jewish Federation (I am assuming she is jewish because your she asked your husband for his bar mitzvah money) has organizations which help senior citizens locally in need with meals, counseling etc. I'm certain the Federation has an east bay office otherwise check San Francisco or Palo Alto. Look at their website and make some calls. They will definitely be able to point you in the right direction. It takes a community

Taking over my mom's finances - Attorney or Financial Advisor?

August 2009

We are not quite sure which to consult regarding this...my mother will be moving into assisted living and I will be needing to make some decisions about her house, car, finances, etc. I am already her Power of Attorney, so that is not an issue. She is also still moderately able to make some choices with support, though I fear soon she won't due to dementia. What we are not sure about are things regarding her accounts and money, I am already on all of her accounts and have access to them. We may want to rent out her house, rather than sell, so need someone to help understand if this all needs to be transferred to me, or what is more financially sensible for both her and us. Home improvements will need to be made, rental income will come in, etc...I feel like an attorney would have better legal information, but a financial advisor could help us make better financial choices. Are there people out there who do both?? Any recommendations would be helpful.


(Full Disclosure: I'm a professional financial planner.) You definitely want a lawyer for legal advice and I believe you want a financial advisor for the financial advice. Given the huge breadth of knowledge in each field, it would be exceedingly rare to find an individual well qualified to advise in both arenas. Hope that helps. Feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss the financial side in more detail. John
I am in a situation similar to yours. I haven't used an attorney yet. I am working with a CPA, he is invaluable. Financial Advisor? Find your parent's one and talk to them to get info about their investments but otherwise I would be weary of them. But you sound like you need an attorney, one who specializes in asset protection. Attorneys are expensive, and there is some stuff that you can and should do yourself. For example: You say you have ''access'' to your mother's accounts. Ok, do you mean you've gone and sat down at the bank/investment firm/credit card companies and have them acknowledge your POA? If not you need to contact each and every entity now and have them do so. You're going to need a lot of copies of that POA, and sign affidavits to establish that to the best of your knowledge, the POA is in full effect. Also, the IRS, Social Security and the VA do not recognize POA. If at all possible, have your mom sign the IRS-2848 form (your CPA will tell you more about this)and give you the authority to handle her tax issues. Go to the SSA and apply to be a Representative Payee. So two ppl you need. A good CPA, and an attorney. And good luck. Good Luck

Retired parents are financially irresponsible

August 2008

My parents retired this year- dad at 55 & my mom at 50. The problem is that my parents are terribly financially irresponsible & they respond very negatively to any discussion about it. Hence my mom retiring at 50 instead of 55 & losing major retirement $ and benefits because of it as just one example. We are at the point of just wanting to know info and trying very hard to NOT give the impression we are passing judgment or being anything other than supportive- otherwise they won't talk at all. I know they don't have enough in their retirement to last even 10 years at this rate, that they are on a very limited budget that they don't stick to, & that they do not consider 2nd careers.

My husband & I are decently educated on financial issues- we helped my husband's mom retire responsibly. We have tried to approach my parents in many different ways to no avail. Since they retired this year, they have no financial planner and adamantly don't want one, drawn from their retirement to pay off MAJOR credit card debt, have taken costly trips, & want to buy a larger, more expensive home for the two of them. They also continue to make big, frivolous purchases on credit cards & veer from a monthly budget.

What is most troubling to my husband and I is that they have no regard for their health & lie about it when asked. I accidentally found out my mom is on pre-diabetic medication & both of them are very possibly being treated for heart disease related issues. (They eat fast food everyday & are sedentary). They obviously can't or choose not to see how their actions effect our family (us & them). My son is close with them and I am beginning to worry that -in the immediate- one of them will have a heart attack or stroke while he or our newborn is in their care. In the long term, we are VERY concerned about what their behavior will do to them & us financially. We don't know what to do, don't want to be preachy, but feel that we need to intervene.

They seem to think they are invincible in both health and finance & that their actions don't effect anyone else. We love them a lot, but are concerned they will end up destitute and/ or we will be financially responsible for caring for them and we just cannot afford it- along with all of our other sad concerns. Has anyone else been in this situation? What can we do? Worried


I don't know if you realize this but the following came through loud and clear in your posting: 1. Your family is dysfunctional. 2. You need family counseling. 3. Your parents obviously retired and are ''living it up'' because on some level they think they are not going to live too much longer.

As for #3, I want to say they have a right to choose how they want to live out the rest of their life. They've earned it, getting to their age. But on the other hand, I know it is hard for you to watch. If you don't feel comfortable having them watch your kids, then don't leave your kids with them. Hire a professional babysitter and be there when your kids visit their grandparents.

As for the financial part, I personally don't think parents take advice of any sort well from their children. Give it up! If you can't get them to go to a therapist with you all, I think you and your husband should seek out counseling to find the best way to deal with this situation. So sorry you have to deal with this. I know it's painful. anonymous member of BPN


You sound like a very concerned and caring couple but you must realize - your parents are ADULTS and at 55 and 50, they have every right to make their own plans, as foolish as they may be or may seem to you. As someone in their age bracket, my perspective is that they may be facing health problems and feel this is their last chance to finally enjoy themselves without work responsiblities before they get too old or too infirm. When you nag and act like you think they can't manage their own affairs it breeds resentment, which doesn't help anyone. If they are making a big financial mistake, my advice would be to sit on the sidelines and keep your own purse locked. You don't have to bail them out if you don't want to or are not able to, and that doesn't make you a bad or ungrateful child. You can offer emotional support without financial support. Meanwhile, worrying that they might become ill while caring for your kids is letting your fears get the better of you. Meditate and let it go! Sue
I'd say let them go about their lives and, perhaps, learn from their own mistakes. You are not responsible for them and they will have to come to terms with their reality when (and if) it smacks them in the face. I would let them know your concerns and tell them that you will not be there to pick up the financial pieces for them. In the meantime, you're learning a good lesson -- and you've given one to many of us BPN readers as well. -We are not our parents' keepers.
I mentioned this to my financial planner sister. She had one concrete suggestion that didn't come up in the previous responses: Buy a long term care policy for your parents. At their ages it won't be impossibly expensive. It will keep their choices from bankrupting you if worse comes to worst. Up to a certain point, you can (should) say ''You made your bed, now you have to lie in it''--Tiny apartment? Too bad. No vacations? Maybe you should have thought about that back when you had money. But that only works up to a point-- When they are ill and destitute, you will have to step in. So if you don't want to have them living with you, if you don't want the risk of devastating health care costs, insurance could be a big help. Carrie
Wow, I am surprised by the responses that you got! It seems like they were all from people in your parents' age bracket who said to mind your own business and let them squander any money or health that they have left. Like you can really sit back and let that happen without trying to steer them another way! I feel like people our parents age are in denial of getting older. You can tell by the commercials catering to the baby boomers on TV...viva viagra, older ameritrade commercials, reverse mortgages, etc. Everything is telling them that they're in their golden years and to live it up...spend...spend...spend!

I am sure that it is hard for your parents to listen to advice from their children. There has to be a way to approach it so that they will see that you're looking out for their best interest/their comfort? It sounds like their independence is important to them. Maybe stress that you'd like to find a way for them to continue to live independently in the lifestyle they prefer and that at the rate they're going they won't be able to?

My parents are likely worse than yours financially and I certainly haven't found a way yet (sorry). The underlying tone here is that you sound like you don't want to have to take care of them financially. Maybe they are getting that vibe from you as well and it's making them resentful? I am sure that they don't expect you to now (and are in denial that they'll need you to later). Rememeber though, they took care of you, and in most cultures throughout the world children take care of their parents when they age. I would do my best to advise them to get part-time (or FULL time) jobs and to make a budget. They could get part time retail jobs which would help keep them out and about, keep their minds sharp, and add some $ to their pockets. I would also recommend that you start to accept that you may need to help them financially in the end. It will likely cramp their style as much as yours. Empathizing with You


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