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June 27, 2017

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Dealing with aging parents' finances

WASHINGTON -- How do I know if my aging parents can no longer handle their finances on their own and, if so, what do I do? Three Washington-area experts give their advice.

— Frank Boucher, owner, Boucher Financial Planning Services in Reston, Va.

Listen for clues, like complaints about late fees or missing bills and statements.

You may be surprised that your parents will welcome your offer to help. Contact their utility companies and get listed as an "other responsible person." If a bill goes unpaid, you will be notified.

Consider having your parents sign up for online banking. They probably won't use it, but you will be able to help them track their banking activities. Try to automate as many bill-paying activities as possible. With your parents' permission, brokers and mutual fund companies will usually send you a duplicate statement for free or a nominal fee.

If somebody needs to "take over," consider a daily money manager. These are professionals who will handle your parents' daily financial matters, such as health insurance claims. Check the American Association of Daily Money Managers (

— Irene Estrada, vice president and senior wealth planner, PNC Wealth Management in Washington

Recognize warning signs, such as overdrafts on checking accounts, or a major shift in investment strategy. It is important to be proactive, especially as the elderly are often a target for fraud.

Suggest that your parents organize and simplify their finances. Recommend that they create a list of assets, accounts and regularly occurring bills, as well as contact information for their attorney, accountant, and financial adviser. Key papers and legal documents should be kept in a safe place.

Accounts should be consolidated to simplify accounting and reduce paperwork. Recommend that they put in place or update important documents, such as a general power of attorney and a revocable living trust, which allow for an easier transition should your parents become mentally unfit. Without such documents, you would need to go to court to have a guardian and conservator appointed.

— Kelly Campbell, president and chief executive, Campbell Wealth Management in Fairfax, Va.

If Mom and Dad are making mistakes in their check register, not paying bills on time, letting CDs automatically roll over (even at much lower rates), or cannot answer basic questions about their portfolio, you may want to take corrective action.

The best way to find out is to ask, but sometimes parents are not that open with their children. You may then have to be more discreet, i.e. :"Wow, Dad/Mom, the market is really taking its toll on my portfolio. How's it been on yours?" Let them respond, but look for answers that conflict with reality.

If you do suspect money-management issues, try to talk to them about it, or consider a meeting with a certified financial planner. When we met with a client's parents as an unbiased third party, we were able to get information the parents would not have given directly to their children. The father was buying extremely aggressive stocks.

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