Helping senior parents manage their finances can be a tough job!

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A married couple came to see me at the bank. They were deeply concerned about the wife’s father, a beloved and very proud gentleman who was spending about $2,500 a month responding to direct mail requests from charities both well-known and completely obscure.

He could afford the donations and seemed to enjoy making them. But the daughter — who was on his account — had become worried that her father was being taken advantage of and wondered what she could (or should) do to help.

Bankers see this kind of situation often. And, as it turns out, there are many times when there is basically nothing a family can or should do. Let’s take a look at a couple of the reasons why.

First, this couple had talked with the woman’s father, and he was adamant that he knew what he was doing and he wanted to be doing it. There was no indication that he had any mental impairment or that he was the obvious victim of a scam. And the rest of his life was very much in order.

While a significant part of his monthly income went into making these donations, and though his family was sorry to see him spend money he might need one day for his own care and comfort, they realized he was not open to change (or to their advice). Given the realities and with no legal or even further ethical options, for the time being, they gave up.

Helping older relatives with their finances can be — and very often is — one of the most difficult duties a person can undertake. There are often enormous emotional issues on both sides, as well as financial issues and, sometimes, legal issues.

One woman I know who does a tremendous amount of work with the elderly says that the most important thing adult children can do is to “maintain a sense of compassion” for both themselves and their relative while trying, within their powers, to make sure nothing bad happens to their loved one.

(For every family member bankers see who want to take some personal advantage, there are hundreds who are only trying to do the right thing.)

There are many community resources to help families concerned about a senior relative’s finances. Local banks and senior centers are excellent sources of ideas and referrals. In this area, the people at HESSCO Elder Services (781-784-4944, hessco.org) are highly recommended. If you are primarily concerned that a relative is the victim of an offline or online scam, you should contact the police directly.

Nick Maffeo is the senior vice president, chief financial officer, and treasurer at the Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to submissions@thecantoncitizen.com.

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avatar Posted by on Apr 15 2010. Filed under Opinion, Smart About Money.
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