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Detecting when a senior needs financial help
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"One of my clients gave $50,000 to a caregiver within four to six weeks of meeting her," says Patricia Morris, a daily money manager in Newton, Mass. "Another client, I talked to her daughter (with the client's permission) about the fact that my client had more than $50,000 in her checking account rather than the $8,000 in her check register. A few weeks later, I was called back by the client, and in the interim, the daughter's credit card bills of more than $20,000 had been paid off. When I asked the client about it, she said, 'I must have been feeling generous that day.'"

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It's no secret that con artists of all kinds target the elderly with everything from outright scams to products of highly questionable necessity: new siding, lightning rods, deluxe vacuum cleaners and the like.

"I had a client who would have people come to her door and say, 'Can I do yard work?' and they wouldn't do the work and she was writing them checks," says Brehler. "That's the difficult part, when you have a client who is still managing their affairs when maybe they shouldn't be."

Family buffer
Some highly irregular financial decisions must simply be chalked up to human nature. One of Pendergast's clients keeps $28,000 in cash stashed in her home, against the advice of her banker and lawyer.

Brehler had to put a block on a 90-year-old male client's cable box by mutual agreement after he racked up $400 one month in pay-per-view adult viewing. She had another client who had a dresser drawer full of expensive jewelry still in the boxes from a New York jeweler who called her every two to three weeks with his "special" and charged it to her credit card.

Daily money managers tread lightly, indeed, when meeting with a senior client for the first time. Most often, an attorney, financial adviser or accountant has referred the elderly person to them. It is not uncommon for the clients to be in denial about their slipping finances.

"You're in a territory of theirs that has always been very private," says Pendergast. "People don't like to share their financial status with anybody."

Frequently, however, clients see an immediate turn for the better once qualified help arrives. As a financial advocate, a daily money manager will reallocate large accounts from zero-interest checking into higher yielding money market and CDs and work with the bank to drop past fees for inadvertent overdrafts and dormant accounts (no activity for a year or more).

Depending on the client, a daily money manager can be either a substitute for a family member's help or a way to keep the books in order and family members at a distance.

"They are one step away from losing their independence," says Brehler. "By having a stranger come in instead of a family member, this is so much less emotional baggage. Often they don't want to burden the family, that feeling that you don't want the family more involved than you need them to be."

Read: "12 clues that a senior needs financial help"

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.'s corrections policy -- Posted: Oct. 13, 2006
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