Your finances: Taking over finances for your parents

You get that call -- all is not You get that call -- all is not right with mom or dad. Suddenly, you have to step in and take over a life's worth of financial details. Photo Credit: iStock

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You get that call -- all is not right with mom or dad. Suddenly, you have to step in and take over a life's worth of financial details.

For most people this call comes too soon, before relatives have passed along key information about accounts and passwords, causing panic.

But it's still a daunting task even for those who have planned ahead.

Where to start? There's a benefit to taking a methodical approach and not trying to do everything at once in a flurry, experts and experienced caregivers say.

Power of attorney: First, find out who your parent has designated as his or her power of attorney.

If a properly signed and witnessed legal document is already on file, you're ready to go.

This is where advice to those who haven't yet prepared is key -- set this up before anything bad happens. There is no age at which it's too soon: A disability can happen to anyone at any time.

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If you don't have a power of attorney set up, though, you can get one executed in a day, says Holly Kylen, a retirement coach at ING. You can also get limited access to another person's checking account by going to a bank branch with them.

If your parent or relative is too incapacitated to participate, you can contact an attorney and start the process to be named a guardian. In the meantime, keep records of bills you pay out of pocket.

If the disabled person is married, a spouse can typically access accounts. But, increasingly, married couples have at least a few separate accounts, and you'll need paperwork to get into them.

What you don't want to do is call up pretending to be the incapacitated person. "It's just going to come back and bite you," says Kylen.

Bank accounts: Once you get access to accounts, you need to go on a detective hunt. Start with your parent's primary bank account statements and make lists of the automatic payments, including any supplemental Medicare policy.

You can hire a caregiving organization to help. For example, LivHome, based in 15 locations nationwide, costs $150 for an initial assessment and then charges by the hour depending on what is needed.

For additional resources, check out AARP's website (http://aarp.com/caregiving).

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has guidelines for managing someone else's money (http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/managing-someone-elses-money/).

Phishing help: Family members with dementia may be willing to give money to anyone who asks. In such a case, intercept your relative's mail and reroute phone calls to a place where they can be stored, such as a Google Voice account.

Another tactic: Lower the credit limit on a parent's credit card.

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