“Let’s Make a DEAL!” OR NOT…

Follow the money…

Sometimes families get so wrapped up in their elder loved one’s health and safety they overlook another equally important detail – their financial decisions. And because aging, with its increased healthcare and medical housing costs is pricey, protecting assets is vitally important.


A 2015 report estimated that older Americans lose $36.5 billion annually to financial fraud. Whether the financial fraud is outright criminal or just sneaky and unethical – seniors are often easy targets. A surprising revelation from recent studies shows that cognitively capable seniors are just as much at risk as those who are not. An estimated one out of 18 cognitively competent senior falls prey to a financial scam.

Although experts aren’t exactly sure why this is, one common factor stands out — when an elderly person lives alone their financial decisions are more vulnerable to error. Perhaps not having a live-in partner or spouse to act as a “sounding board” contributes to making an unwise or hasty decision.

For families — discussing finances with your loved one can sometimes feel like walking into unchartered territory, and your loved one may give you a lot of pushback. However, it’s far better to start that discussion sooner than to wait until there’s a serious problem. Once a lifetime of savings has been drained away, it’s too late. 


One family’s story… Dave, Martha’s adult son, recently looked at his mother’s investment portfolio and started noticing some red flags.

“Hey, mom – do you know exactly what you’re paying your investment counselor in fees and commissions annually?” he asked her.

She responded vaguely, “Well, I have a general idea and I’ve used him for years – I feel like I can trust him.”

“I’m not telling you to switch, but I think it might be a good idea to learn more about what you’re paying for,” Dave advised. “Just a quick look at your investment statements shows me you’re paying far more in fees than other portfolios I’ve reviewed with much larger assets than yours.”

Dave’s conversation left Martha feeling unsettled. Not because she didn’t think it was his business, but because he confirmed something that she hadn’t quite articulated yet to herself. Was her current financial counselor truly acting in her best interests or his own?

Martha’s meetings with her certified financial planner always seemed baffling with explanations that escaped her grasp. She attributed it to her own lack of knowledge. However, her distrust began escalating when, following Dave’s advice, she asked him to explain his fees. Surprisingly, he was very defensive during their phone conversation and gave her a sales pitch about his competency and only disclosing his own fee as 1.0% of her portfolio assets. He never revealed the layers of hidden fees stacked within that portfolio or additional commissions for himself that she found out about later.

Their next meeting, in person, only deepened her feelings of mistrust when he was overly eager for her to quickly sign onto an annuity (“before the interest rates on this deal drop,” he urged) even though she already an annuity. His explanation about its return on investment and other rules governing it seemed too bulky to grasp.

She finally told herself, “If this investment is too complicated for me to understand, then it’s not the right move for me.”

Instead, she turned to wealthy friends for the names of their financial counselors so she could start getting second opinions.

Martha chose her new investment counselor based on – his longevity in the business with a well-established firm, his creative approach to working within her own vision, his advice on how to save on fees and commissions, and understandable explanations.

He said, “Martha, it is a good thing you did not sign onto that annuity — it would have tied up your money for 5 years, generated a low return on your investment with huge penalties if you needed it sooner. However, that particular annuity is well known in the industry for paying the highest commission to the one who sells it to you at 9%.”     

Martha was stunned but not altogether surprised. She immediately authorized a transfer of funds to the new company.

To her son, Dave, she said, “I learned not to be so trusting when it comes to my money and who’s handling it. I’m really grateful you initiated this conversation and got me to look more closely at my finances and start asking questions. I was in a far more precarious position than I thought because I trusted the person I was working with. I didn’t realize that all along he was really stacking the financial deck in his favor and not mine.”

Mail, Magazines, Catalogs, & Bills!

OH MY!!!

Kathy, who lives in Chicago, recently visited her mother, Rose, who resides in Orlando, Florida. As Kathy set down her luggage inside the living room of her mom’s condo, she was instantly stunned at the paper clutter she saw everywhere around the room – so unlike her tidy mother. There were stacks of daily newspapers and glossy magazines, along with piles of catalogs teetering off every surface including the floor.

At first, Kathy tried making light of it to her mother although inwardly she felt on high alert. She knew that sometimes older adults can get easily overwhelmed by the daily paperwork of life arriving in their mailbox each day. Kathy was sad to see this situation seemed to have now befallen her mother.

“Mom, you’re killing a lot of trees in here!” she joked. But, as she watched her mother gesture hopelessly around at the clutter, she saw her discouragement.

“Kathy, I don’t know how this happened. I wanted everything to look so nice before you got here, but honestly I just didn’t know where to start.”

“That’s ok, Mom. We’ll figure it out together.”

As Kathy later picked through the paper piles, she also discovered that time-sensitive bills were mixed in with junk mail – 2nd and 3rd notices stamped on the front of their envelopes.

During her plane ride to Orlando, Kathy, a busy third grade teacher, looked forward to spending spring break with her mom envisioning afternoons shopping together, dining at quaint neighborhood restaurants, driving to the beach, or just hanging around the pool at her mother’s condominium complex.

Not happening, Kathy feared as she thought back to her plane ride musings.

“Mom, let’s sort the bills first, go to the bank, and set things up so I can pay these online for you each month. Would you be OK with that? It would be easier and save you money in terms of buying fewer checks and postage stamps. Plus, it will save you late fees.”

Rose readily agreed and they headed off to her local bank.

The next logical project was tackling Rose’s many magazines and deciding which to keep or cancel. Kathy learned her mother was confused by the many magazine offers and billing practices.

“Mom, did you realize you are paying twice for some of your magazines?”

“WHAT?” her mother asked.

“Looks like you’re actually being scammed.”

Sifting through her mother’s checkbook registry revealed that Rose was often paying twice for favorite magazines. When Kathy called the magazines’ subscription number she learned her mother was evidently paying a third party that was not directing payments to the magazine. She was also paying the legitimate subscription invoice sent from the magazine. And lastly, Kathy saw her mother was paying fake subscription invoices for magazines she wasn’t even receiving.

Rose told Kathy that she had agreed to special savings offers of magazine subscriptions from telemarketers because she thought they seemed like a good value.

After cleaning the condo of all the paper piles that even included cancelling catalog deliveries, Kathy prepared extra-large, self-addressed, and stamped envelopes for her mother’s use.

“Now, whenever you receive something in the mail, and you don’t know if it is a legitimate bill or not, just put it in one of these envelopes and mail it to me,” Kathy explained.

By the time, Kathy’s vacation was over, both mother and daughter felt they had crossed a major hurdle together for Rose’s continued independence. And, yes, there was still time for them both to soak up some sunshine at the beach and pool. Overall, Rose felt tremendous relief with Kathy’s many solutions especially corralling the paper clutter so her house could be neat and tidy once again.

Removing the Car Keys from Elderly Parents

One Family’s Story…

Sylvia’s youngest grandchild, John, was home from his first semester of college and excited to meet his grandma at their favorite local restaurant. As he and his mother, Gwen, waited at a table for Sylvia’s arrival, they became concerned when an hour passed and there was still no sign of her.

They called her up at home – no answer. Gwen told John to continue waiting at their table while she jumped into their car to tool around the surrounding neighborhood to see if she could locate her mother. Maybe Sylvia was sidelined by a flat tire or a minor fender bender.

 By this time, Gwen’s mind was racing and she was starting to feel frantic when scouring the immediate area showed no signs of her mom. With a pounding heart, she decided to drive to her mother’s house to let herself in. But, there was no sign of her mom there either and the car was gone.

As Gwen exited the front door of her mother’s home, a police car pulled into the driveway with her mother’s car right behind it driven by a second police officer. Gwen dashed down the porch steps to see what was going on.

“Mom! Are you all right?” she hugged her mother as she exited the squad car noticing her mother looked confused.

The police officer asked Gwen who she was.

“I’m Gwen – her daughter. Is my mother ok? What happened?”

As the story unfolded, Gwen learned that while her mother was driving to the restaurant she suddenly became very confused forgetting where she was headed. Instead she drove to the elementary school where her grandchildren had once attended and sat there until all the children had departed.

Eventually, she was approached and questioned by a crossing guard who recognized her and called police to help. Sylvia reported to the officers that she was lost and couldn’t remember why she was at the school or where she was supposed to go. She declined medical attention and the officers assisted her back home. 

Gwen called her son at the restaurant telling him grandma had been found and arranged for another family member to pick him up and take him back home.

Aging parents seldom willingly hand over their car keys to their adult children. And, adult children seldom embrace the task of denying their parents their independence. But there can come a time when there is no choice but to do what is safe and take away the keys.

Here are some STOP driving signs adult children should look for:

  • Vision impairment that affects depth perception, peripheral or night vision
  • Drowsiness and slow reaction times possibly caused by prescription medications
  • Hearing Problems
  • Confusion – even if it comes and goes
  • Unexplained dents on the car
  • Traffic Tickets

Gwen told her mother that she thought the time had come to stop driving.

“Mom, you were found in a school yard! What if you had hit a child?”

Her mother received the information with remorse and understood that what had occurred was indeed very serious. A few days later, Gwen gathered her three other siblings, and together they met as a group with their mother to discuss how they would all help her retain an active life. They agreed to take turns chauffeuring her, along with the older grandchildren, driving grandma to hair appointments, medical appointments, tai-chai, bingo, and other outings that were important to her. Although not the least bit happy about how her life had suddenly changed, Sylvia understood they had her best interests at heart. She could see that as a family, her children were in agreement that no more driving was not only keeping Sylvia safe, but others sharing the road with her. Acting from a pro-active position of concern and putting a solid plan in place worked well for this family.  

Oh Deer! Holidays & Your Elders


If you live far away from aging parents and stay connected primarily by phone, your holiday visit may bring unwelcome surprises. Seniors are very good at sounding chipper during a call while masking serious problems they’re facing living alone.

Here’s what Leigh, who lives in a Chicago suburb, discovered during her family’s recent Thanksgiving visit with her 85 year-old father who resides in North Carolina.

“We were shocked when we arrived there,” Leigh said. “He’s not taking care of himself much less his home. It’s obviously too much work for him now. We also saw how compromised his memory is — can’t remember anything recent. The worst part — he’s drinking too much alcohol. Then he forgets to take his meds, or takes alcohol with his sleeping pills! So now he’s sleeping a lot and falling. We were looking forward to a relaxing visit with him, and instead, we found a disaster — where do we begin?”

Unfortunately, these situations do not go away by themselves and are usually a sign something serious is underway. It is far better to address them directly with your loved one as soon as you witness them instead of waiting for a medical emergency to strike.


-Ignores personal hygiene in bathing, dressing, and grooming
-Home or apartment is dirty, cluttered & disorganized
-Not taking medications as directed and forgetting refills
-Confusion, forgetfulness, and/or personality changes
-Inability to handle mail and pay bills

Shortly after arriving at her dad’s house, Leigh privately conferred with her husband, Glenn, to confirm the changes they saw and to hatch a game plan. Then together they sat down with her father and discussed his day-to-day life and the challenges he was obviously facing. Initially resistant to what he termed their interference, they nonetheless put together a plan to be launched immediately.

Next, Leigh contacted her father’s neighbors for assistance to check in on him for a few months, until Leigh and Glenn could move him to the Chicago area. In the meantime, Leigh would travel down to North Carolina for regular visits and to continue preparing the house for sale.

During their Thanksgiving visit, they started thoroughly cleaning his home, addressing outdoor maintenance problems, and downsizing his belongings. They identified items he would like to take with him to Illinois and looked for a real estate professional.

Leigh’s long-term plan is two-fold. They plan to move him into their Chicago home by Spring. Until then, they will add an in-law apartment to their lower level for him. From there, they will eventually look for appropriate and affordable senior housing.

“It’s one step at a time for us now,” Leigh said. “I need to have him living under my roof so I can monitor how he’s really doing once he eats regular meals and takes his medication properly. After that, we’ll have a better idea of his daily functioning and how much independence he can safely handle.” ###