Getting Your Paperwork in Order, Part I

As we make this journey with our parents into their late elder years, it often emphasizes the difference in generations. When I was growing up, we did not discuss finances or other “adult” topics.  Finally when dad approached retirement, mom and dad gave me a copy of their will so I would have it in case it was needed.  When they had the will prepared, their lawyer prepared a durable POA for them also.  The POA was very basic and just gave POA to each other, as expected and normal for that time.   Besides the will and the POA, I had no idea really of the state of mom and dad’s finances.  If I asked a direct question, mom would answer me, but I always felt that it was a topic that we never discussed.   More to come on POA’s in a future post.

During the initial discovery of dad’s Alzheimer’s, I learned that dad had been struggling for a while with keeping the checkbook and finances straight.   My parents kept every piece of paper that came into that house since 1955.  They had turned the middle bedroom into a mini office. There was a file for everything.  At one time, it was orderly, but just the amount of records was overwhelming.  They did nothing online, so everything was a hard copy.  When dad started experiencing problems, he inadvertently moved things around, refiled things and filed things randomly.  Tax time was a nightmare.  So, mom took over the checkbook, but with everything that was going on she was quickly overwhelmed and confused.  She called me and said that she could not do it anymore.  I took over their finances about 5 years ago.   I converted everything to online accounts and changed the address on everything so that it came to my house and ultimately phased out most of the paper mail.  Mom and dad had a small nest egg.  They never had a lot of money, but dad had meticulously planned for their retirement and future.  He had paid off the house and cars before retirement.  He gets social security and a retirement check from the state.  He was always frugal – mom, not so much.

So, our roles began to change.  The transition of me taking over the finances was never openly discussed with dad, it just happened.  Having the bills come through my hands emphasized mom’s love of shopping and a need to curtail that.  All of a sudden I was having to make decisions for them.  This is probably one of the hardest areas to navigate with your adult parents.  Dad readily accepted my help and never questioned me.  This is not the case usually.  Most adults of mom and dad’s era are private about their resources.  They will not readily relinquish control.  Speaking with other children of aging parents, I see their struggle to get into a position where they can help.  Most often the man was the primary financial manager and sometimes the wife has never actually had to take on that responsibility.  I see so much difference in my generation, that will make it easier for us to manage.  Both my husband and myself can manage our finances.   We have discussed finances over the years with our children.  The conversations are much more open and accepted.

I have learned so much that I am already implementing to make sure that I don’t leave a mess for our kids.  I know that some people think that this is morbid to think about and discuss.  It is realistic.  I do not plan on leaving this earth any time soon, but the one thing that I have learned is that tomorrow is not promised.  I am not obsessed with this topic.  I use the things that I have learned to make my life more uncluttered and simpler to live everyday.   I used the opportunity when we moved last May to purge everything that I had kept over the years that was of no value to anyone but me.  I am pretty sure that 20 to 30 years from now that Hunter is not going to be interested in every paper that he brought home in kindergarten.

My biggest concern is figuring out how to leave access to any online accounts that I have.  I am not necessarily talking about bank accounts, but more the emails, the google doc accounts, the real estate related websites that I pay for automatically every month.  I think that will be our challenge in the future.

So, I have transitioned into that period in life where I am my parents’ parent and my childrens’ parent.  I have no doubt that I will be difficult when I have to transition that role to my children.  For that, I apologize ahead of time.  For the time being, I will continue to save for the future and my retirement.  I will continue to simplify my belongings.  Being mom and dad’s advocate and manager is an ongoing learning process.  I will do my best to allow them to live with respect and dignity throughout a time that is not very dignified at all.



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