Financial Literacy for Everyone
Follow Us
For Editors

Run Nathaniel Sillins's weekly Practical Money Matters in your online or print publication. Subscribe today

For a photo or bio of Nathaniel Sillin, see our press kit.

For Broadcasters

Learn how you can play our weekly Practical Money Matters on your station. Learn more

Seniors—Are Medical Expenses ...
Read more

Play NFL

Challenge yourself with Financial Football
Play our fun video game to test your knowledge about money.
Play now

PMM articles

Practical Money Matters
Disputing a credit card charge? Graduating? Leasing a car? Learn important tips from our weekly article series.
Read now

social media

Connect with us!
For daily money tips, quips and pics, follow us on social media.
Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

When elderly parents need financial guidance

By Jason Alderman

A friend of mine recently realized his mother needed help managing her finances when he found her closets filled with oddball purchases like jalapeno jelly beans and Betty Boop bobblehead dolls. "It was pretty clear that telemarketers were taking advantage of her friendly nature to sell her junk she didn't want or need," he said.

Fortunately, his mom welcomed assistance; but not all families are so lucky. Some parents are fiercely independent and fear relinquishing control over any aspect of their lives; others may be in over their heads and too embarrassed to ask for help.

Postponing uncomfortable financial conversations with your parents may do them – and you – a serious disservice. Chances are, if you're helping your parents financially your own retirement savings probably are suffering.

It's never too soon to become familiar with your parents' financial, medical and legal records so you can step in if needed. If possible, start those conversations while they're still in good health so you'll be able to spot any warning signals that something may be amiss.

Signs to watch for might include:

  • Unpaid bills, late payment notices or utility shut-off warnings.
  • Calls from creditors or collection agencies.
  • Indications they've had to choose between filling prescriptions and buying food, heating or other necessities.
  • Overabundant junk mail, magazine subscriptions or cheap prizes – signs they may be targets of telemarketing or get-rich-quick schemes.
  • Seemingly unnecessary home improvements; or conversely, signs that they can't afford needed repairs.
  • Uncharacteristically lavish spending on vacations, new cars, etc.

Long before your folks require assistance, offer to help organize their finances. Set up and periodically update files containing:

  • Details of all major possessions and relevant paperwork (such as property deeds, car registration, jewelry, etc.)
  • Outstanding and recurring debts (mortgage, car loan, medical bills, utilities, etc.)
  • All income sources, including Social Security, retirement and investment accounts and savings.
  • Bank accounts, credit cards, safe deposit box contents and insurance policies, including password, agent and beneficiary information.
  • Will, trust, power of attorney, health care proxy and other documents showing how they want their affairs handled.
  • Contact information for lawyer, accountant, broker, financial planner, insurance agent and other advisors.

A few other tips:

  • Help your folks set up and follow a detailed budget so they always know how much money is coming in and going out. Numerous free budgeting tools are available at such sites as, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (,, and Practical Money Skills for Life, Visa Inc.'s free personal financial management site (
  • Set up automatic bill payment for monthly bills to avoid late payment fees. Just make sure the account is always sufficiently funded.
  • Schedule a session with a financial planner to help everyone understand retirement's impact on taxes, income and expenses. If you don't have one, the Financial Planning Association ( is a good resource.

Take care of these financial planning details now, so that when your parents need your help, you'll be able to give them your full attention. And while you're at it, make sure your own files are in good order so your kids won't face the same hurdles when you get older.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

<< Back to Practical Money Matters

Email to a friend

Your Name:
Your Email:
Recipient's Email:
Enter code:

The information that you provide through this e-mail feature will not be stored by Visa for any other purposes. Please refer to Visa's privacy policy for details.