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Managing finances in the "golden" years

After our mother suffered a stroke, she agreed to have my sister and I added as co-signers on her bank account so we could write the cheques she no longer could. She also reviewed her investments with us and made sure we were aware of her finances. We were lucky that Mom understood her situation and was willing to make this transition. That is not always the case.

Realizing help is needed
"Quite often a senior doesn't realize when they need help, and the family may not realize it either," says Susan Crevier, program supervisor with the Seniors Outreach Services (SOS) in Napanee, Ont. "It's particularly difficult if the person has Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, and keeps thinking that everything is fine and they can handle everything themselves."

Crevier works with seniors at the SOS centre's day program, and in their homes, and has seen first-hand how difficult it is for a senior to know when they need help with finances: "A senior might realize they need help filling out their tax forms every year, but asking for help managing day-to-day finances is more difficult because it's giving up a bit more of their independence."

A loss of independence quite often begins with failing eyesight, a common affliction for seniors. This may lead to the senior not being able to write a cheque, or read their bills. So they set everything aside.

Family members or caregivers can help by monitoring if mail is taken care of on a regular basis and bills are continuing to get paid. "If you notice that an aging parent or relative is letting mail pile up unopened, or there are ‘past-due' notices being sent, then you have to ask about it, and offer to step in and help," says Crevier. "Sometimes the senior will ask for help if someone else (usually a spouse) took care of the bills and has now died or is in a nursing home and unable to take care of the finances."

Financial capability versus financial literacy
Being capable of taking care of finances is one thing. Understanding the financial situation -- financial literacy -- is another. When anyone, especially someone with retirement savings, has difficulty with financial literacy, they risk financial loss through misunderstanding, or worse, fraud.

Financial literacy need not be overwhelming or complicated. A good first step is simply reading the information sent by the senior's advisers. This can be followed up with a meeting with the adviser to make sure everyone understands the advice.

Have an advocate
Susan Eng, vice-president, advocacy, with the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, or CARP, says it's important for seniors to have an advocate.

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-- Posted May 9, 2011
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