Sunday, February 19, 2017

How Do You Manage Your Senior's Finances...and a Few Other Questions and Insights

Several months ago, I was contacted by a writer for  She gave me a lengthy list of questions and asked if I would be willing to provide insights to help her readers who were caring for seniors.  I agreed and spent a couple of days compiling thoughtful answers to her questions.  She didn't use any of them in her story.  

Since I put so much time and energy into the information, I thought I would post it here, so that you, dear readers, can avail yourself of any insights you might glean.  So here goes...

1) Please tell me a little bit about yourself. Is your grandmother your mother? Did she raise you?

I have been married 42 years, and we have no children of our own. My father died in October 1999.  He was an only child, and his mother - my then 87-year-old grandmother - was still living alone in her own home, driving, and doing pretty well for someone nearly 90.

My mother helped my grandmother with many things - as did my sister and I...but Mother remarried in February 2002. Mother traveled a lot in her fact, she and her husband left after their wedding for a 6-week trip along the East Coast. That summer, my grandmother fell and required 3 months of therapy in a skilled nursing facility.  My mother was traveling with her new husband, and the care of my grandmother became my responsibility.

Mother was planning to spend the FOLLOWING summer (2003) traveling, and just as she was leaving, my grandmother again became ill and required a stay for rehab at the nursing home.  Mother handed me my grandmother's checkbook and said, "You're going to need Power of Attorney." So for the next 10 years, *I* was my grandmother's guardian.

My sister, brother (who is deceased) and I were fortunate to grow up in the same community as ALL four of our grandparents, and we were very close...we saw them on almost a daily basis.  My grandmother did not rear me...but we were very close, and she was very much a mother figure to me in the last 10 years...especially given how intertwined our lives were - and the fact that I was somewhat her sole caregiver.

In 2009, my sister's daughter had her first child.  My niece was a single mother attending college, and my husband and I kept the baby while she went to classes.  This morphed into us keeping our great-nephew for longer periods of time. By 2012, my niece had given birth to two more babies and gotten married, and my husband and I were heavily involved in assisting the whole family. So my "sandwich" was my great-nephews and great-niece - and my grandmother. 

My grandmother died in 2013...and the "sandwich" shifted from caring for her and the babies to caring for my mother-in-law (who is now 90) and these three children. This situation is not quite as "involved" as it was...the children are now 4, 5, and 7 - and all in school - and my husband is primarily responsible for his mother, so my responsibilities there are negligible.  But there are times when we have all three children and "Grandma E" together at the same time...and the dynamics of a "Sandwich Generation" situation are definitely there.

Our SUV has three car seats and a handicapped sticker.  When my grandmother was still alive, I used to joke that our car often contained a walker and car seats...and diapers and Depends!  For a "childless" couple, we are well versed in all things NickJr., baby - AND Medicare and geriatric!

My mother was diagnosed late in September 2015 with stage 3C Ovarian cancer, and she began chemotherapy immediately.  Two treatments in, the oncologist said the drugs were not working and the tumors were growing rapidly. She was hospitalized New Year's Day and placed in Hospice Care three days later. She died on January 12, 2016.  Prior to her diagnosis, my mother was an active 76-year-old great-grandmother who drove her own 40+-foot motorhome (with tow car) from coast to coast.  If she fit the "sandwich" mold, it was only the context of my caring for her needs those last few days - and attending to the children and fielding their questions when they would visit her.

2) What made you want to start your blog? 

 I first wrote about my grandmother on a personal blog after several frustrating encounters with insurance companies over the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug coverage, beginning in 2005.  I have never experienced anything more exasperating in my life...and at the end of the day, I had a Medicare rep from Dallas, Texas, on speed dial. This woman would become one of my most trusted contacts over the next few years until she retired...and I always had to reach out to her for clarification each fall as I selected my grandmother's prescription coverage plan.

In 2008, when my grandmother had to go to the nursing home for a third time in five years for "rehab," I decided that my experiences might be helpful to someone else - and I needed a place to vent. So I started "The Deli" blog. At that time, I was not in a "sandwich" per se...but I had friends who were, and I hoped that by sharing my experiences about MY grandmother, I could encourage others to open a dialog about THEIR situations.

What type of support have you found in the blogging community?

To be honest, I have not received as much support as I hoped.  I participated in some forums for caregiving and the Sandwich Generation on the AARP website for a while. And I all but begged some people to share THEIR story with me in a format that I could put on my "Deli" blog.  But at the end of the day, I think people are just too tired and busy with their "sandwiches."  If you are not a writer already - and inclined to document your experiences - it's hard to make time for spilling your guts to someone else. 

Having said this, I have SEVERAL friends who are currently dealing with the care of aging relatives - if not a "sandwich" situation - and I hope to maybe resurrect the blog a bit and get some of them involved in the dialog.  We will see what happens!

3) Were you the only one in the family in charge of your grandmother’s finances?

From July 2003 until her death, I was in charge of my grandmother's finances.  At first, I let her handle her own checking account, but I soon discovered that her idea of "balancing the checkbook" was calling the bank every couple of weeks and asking, "What's my balance?"  She would write that in her register and move forward.
The impetus for me taking over her checking account came when she had to go to the nursing home for one of her rehab stints.  She had misunderstood the people at DHS and thought she was allowed to have more than a $2000 balance in her checking account and could still qualify for full Medicare/Medicaid assistance for a nursing home stay.  She had just more than $2100 in her checking account, but that was enough to cause a fee of $150 per day for about 5 days until she "spent down" her assets.  After this costly mix-up, she agreed that maybe I should handle her checking account.

Like many seniors in this country, my grandmother worked very hard all of her life, but she never made a lot of money.  She received a meager Social Security income each month that barely covered her food, utilities and medication co-pays. She lived in a home owned by my parents, so she had no mortgage or rent payment. She owned her very old car outright. I wrote checks for her groceries, her weekly hair appointments, and her church tithes.  Somehow, she always
had a few dollars left at the end of each month!

The REAL WORK came in making sure that my grandmother was sufficiently covered for Medicare/Medicaid and Medicare Part D, which took a lot of time and was incredibly confusing.  How seniors who do not have an advocate manage this maze of papers and regulations and rigmarole is beyond me!  And don't even get me started on admitting someone to a nursing facility, Assisted Living facility - or even the hospital or Hospice.  The paperwork is astounding. I kept copies of a "cheat sheet" with vital info in my wallet, because it seemed like every other day, I was needing to supply this data to someone for something!  I would just hand them a copy of this information.

Honestly, I don't see a decent way around this.  Perhaps siblings could split the responsibilities financially...but for the most part, one person needs to be handling all of this, so that nothing falls through the cracks.  I think if my sister OR my mother and I had tried to share the management of my grandmother's finances, it would have been even more time consuming and frustrating.

4) You mentioned on Twitter that you were a signer on your grandmother’s account. And you also advised against sharing a bank account with an elder. What made you choose to become a signer? Had you done your research? How did you get informed?

I had to become a signee in order to write checks on my grandmother's account.  As soon as she went into the nursing home and needed an advocate, we signed a card for me to be able to do this.  

5) As a signer what were your privileges on the account?

My name was never on her account...I was merely a "signee." This meant that I could write checks and balance her bank account.  One caveat...when my grandmother died, she had about $130 in her checking account.  I took a death certificate and a copy of my DPOA (Durable Power of Attorney) to the bank and asked to close the account, and they would not allow it.  I was not the "designee" on the account for closing it out.

This is different, apparently, from being the "signee" on a checking account.  I was not designated as the person to close the account - my dad was.  Since he was already dead, the secondary designee was my mother. SHE had to return to the bank with these papers and close the account.  Lesson learned...if you are handling the finances, make sure you are the "designee"...and that you have the proper signatures in place to access a safe deposit box, etc., as well.

6) What approaches did you take with a banking account that worked for you and your family? For example, did you rely on money management tools or software to help you keep track of everything? Or did you choose specific accounts that perhaps offered lower fees?

I did not use specific software...the account was very simple and did not need something like Quickbooks. I did acquire an online banking account, so that I could login and check on things like the auto-drafts and verify that all charges were legitimate and necessary. I would note that I set the account up with my grandmother's name, and one time I locked myself out of the account.  When I called the bank and identified myself, they would not allow me to access the account, because I gave MY name, not hers.  They had to talk to HER for authorization.  She understood NOTHING about online banking...but bless her heart, she authorized me! After that, any time I called on her behalf, I pretended to be "her" on the phone!

7) Did you at any point consider a power of attorney or was that given to someone else in the family?

I was my grandmother's Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA).  This is different from a medical Power of Attorney, which only gives you authority to speak for the person in medical situations. The DPOA is more encompassing. I downloaded a DPOA form online and we signed it and had it notarized. We had to provide copies of this document many times over the years for several different things - applications for assistance, cashing her life insurance policy, and more. I would consider this a vital document to have on hand if you are managing any business activities for a friend or loved one.

8) Emotionally, how difficult was it to handle your grandmother’s finances? How did you manage to juggle those with your family’s?

I probably spent a couple of days a month managing my grandmother's finances. Since she had very little money, there wasn't much to manage. I can see where for someone with substantial assets, this could be quite a lot of work.  The real time consumer was the vast number of papers and forms related to Medicare, Medicaid and Medicare Part D Prescription Drug coverage.  

I cannot begin to calculate the hours I spent on those things. It can be emotionally draining to manage another person's finances while juggling your own family responsibilities.  But all of this is emotionally draining on many levels.  You learn to cope...and hopefully, you have others who can encourage you.  This is why I created the encourage others and say to them, "'re not crazy...look what happened to me!"  Most of the people I hear from say, "These are exactly the things that are happening to ME!" Senior care is universal in many ways.


9) Did you make any financial mistakes along the way that perhaps our readers could learn from? (for example overdrafts or missed payments while you tried to learn how to balance it all)

I do think there was an overdraft once when I paid a bill a day or two before my grandmother's Social Security deposit was made. It seems like the fee was about $30...which I paid out of my personal account. I know that never happened again! I don't think my grandmother ever knew about the overdraft.

10) What advice would you have (emotionally and financially) for anyone who has recently become a member of the Sandwich Generation?

You are not alone.  That may not help, but perhaps knowing that there ARE people who are willing and able to offer support will be comforting. Depending on the age of your senior and the circumstances, I would strongly encourage the investigation of long term care insurance.

I know families who have scraped together funds to pay for the care of a loved one who MUST move to an assisted living or skilled care facility.  The cost can be anywhere from $3000 per month and up...and that is just for the facility. 

If you go through the posts on this blog you will see that I have outlined the "extra expenses" that might be incurred...and they add up in a hurry!  No one wants to be in the position of telling Grandma she can't have her hair and nails done every week - or any other "extras" - because there is no money.  And most people don't want to have to liquidate every asset their loved one has in order to pay for nursing home care.

11) Do you have a contact that you met in the blogging community or a friend who may have more to say on this subject? I would gladly appreciate an introduction.

I do not have anyone to recommend; however, my mother wrote a book about HER experience with HER parents and the nursing home…When Heads and Hearts Collide.   I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who has been charged with the care of a senior citizen.  It’s only $10 postage paid, and you can order with PayPal directly the sidebar on this blog.
Because of the things I experienced through all of this, I also wrote a book...What to Say and Do...When You Don't Know What to Say and Do. This book can also be purchased via the sidebar on this blog.

If YOU have questions...or a particular issue...that you would like to see addressed on this blog, please contact me.  We are all in this together, and as time permits, I will gladly address any and all inquiries and comments.  Hang in there!