As a Family Caregiver, your job can be quite demanding. Understatement of the year, right?? And if part of your responsibility is paying the bills and managing the money, this job can also be risky, especially if the one you care for is not your spouse. You can find yourself in the unpleasant position of having to defend expenditures or even being accused of embezzling from a loved one. This situation can lead to family turmoil and broken relationships, and in some cases, legal action may be taken.
Betsy found herself in an awkward situation at the end of her mother’s life. Over the last year with her mother, Betsy went with her mom to the bank and signed some paperwork to put Betsy on the list for access to the safe deposit box. She also thought she signed a card giving her signatory access to her mom’s checking account. Over the last couple of years, Betsy’s brother had moved most of Sarah’s bills to be automatically debited from that account, but there were a few things like the church tithe for which Sarah still wrote checks by hand. These contributions were a personal commitment for Sarah, but in the last year of her life her memory began to fail, and she stopped writing the checks. When Betsy discovered this, she knew that her mother would want to be caught up, but by now Sarah could no longer sign her name, so Betsy wrote a few checks and signed them.
The day after their mother died, Betsy’s brother went to the bank to ask what he needed to do about the checking account and how he could pay for the funeral expenses out of it. The bank mentioned that Betsy had written checks which the bank honored, but that she was not approved to write them. The account manager told Billy that she should not write any other checks. Betsy and Billy were equally surprised by this information, but her brother knew that Betsy had not been mishandling the money, so all was well. Had the two not been in close communication, this situation could have turned out very differently.
When a Family Caregiver is managing the money for a loved one, and others are involved in oversight of the care, one person should accept responsibility for managing the money, and accountabilities should be established to prevent the possibility of mismanagement. Such accountabilities might include the following:
- Most utilities can be set up to pull automatically with an ACH draft. Other expenses may also be set up this way, but only with trusted businesses.
- To minimize the possibility of fraud, keep a little money in the care recipient’s checking account. More substantial sums could be invested or held in a passbook savings account, and most banks also can automatically transfer funds into checking from savings once the account falls below a certain amount. This practice lets your loved one still enjoy a sense of financial independence while protecting them from the theft of more considerable sums.
- If your loved one is reluctant to set monthly bills up in an auto-pay system, you could forward the bills to a professional accountant who could, for a modest monthly fee, pay the bills and balance the checkbook for you and your loved one. Remember, delegate whenever possible!
- When you shop for groceries or other items, keep all the receipts organized in a kitchen envelope. Create a monthly filing system and when May is over, drop this month’s envelope into the “May” slot. That way other family members can look over purchases and even get a feel for what it costs monthly for their loved one to live through this stage of life.
Finally, establish a relationship with a CPA. Their knowledge is most helpful in understanding your loved ones spending, savings, and earning patterns. With the establishment of a baseline, and then regular oversight, you will quickly recognize changes that might indicate something is irregular with your loved one’s financial health. Think of your CPA as a doctor; with regular check-ups, you have a much better chance of diagnosing a problem early and preventing a long-term financial crisis.
Careless money management can lead to significant difficulties for the care recipient as well as the Family Caregiver. Some attention placed early on this vital responsibility can protect you both as you take this caring journey together.