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retirement

Paying It Forward

I took control of my parents’ finances when Dad showed signs of dementia.

We cite a statistic in this month’s article about helping aging parents with their finances that hit a little too close to home: Our ability to handle complex tasks diminishes as we age (okay, I knew that), and when it comes to finances, the decline in our ability to make sound decisions typically begins at 60.

I turned 60 earlier this year. Although I may not go gentle into the dying light of my financial acumen, I’m aware that I’m not as quick as I used to be at adding numbers in my head or finding a word I’m searching for when I’m in the middle of a conversation.

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One expert we quote in the article suggests that we turn our own senior moments into an empathetic approach to talking with our parents about their finances. Tell them you’re planning for the time when you need help and that you’re starting to talk with your adult children about your own finances. However you choose to approach it, having that conversation early—when your parents are able to share their estate plans, info about their assets and taxes, and passwords for their brokerage and bank accounts—will make the transition much easier.

I took control of my parents’ finances nearly 10 years ago, when my dad started struggling with dementia. As is common among couples of the Greatest Generation, Dad handled all the money matters. So Mom, who is book smart but couldn’t explain the difference between an ETF and a CFP, had no idea where to begin.

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The transition was rocky. Dad used online bill paying, and I had persuaded him to share the password to his credit union account so that I could check my parents’ balances and review bill payments before he pushed “send.” But over and over again I would discover that he had changed the password—because he couldn’t remember it, got locked out of the account after repeated attempts to type it in, and then called the help desk to reset it. His pride and sense of independence (and maybe the effects of the dementia) prevented him from telling me. When I called him to see what happened, I tried not to let my exasperation overcome my respect for him as a parent. But it was hard.

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Dad died five years ago, and Mom still lives in their apartment in a retirement community in Madison, Wis. Thanks to the convenience of direct deposit, online bill paying and e-filing tax returns, I can keep up with her finances with a minimum of fuss. I also sense that I am paying it forward—or is it backward in the case of my parents, who, after all, raised me and did countless other things to smooth my way through life?

Both of the senior editors who wrote the story, Sandy Block and Eileen Ambrose, have had to grapple with money issues for their parents. One of our millennial designers, Natalie Kress, told us that her dad and his siblings had to take control of her grandfather’s finances. We feature a photo of the three generations of Kresses with the article.

I’m listening. A number of you took me up on my request to send comments. I’m taking your suggestions seriously, so keep those e-mails coming! One reader wrote with a challenge I’d like to address here: “I believe that your magazine receives payments from companies for favorable articles,” he wrote. Not so. Our mission is first and foremost to serve our readers. Advertising tends to follow content for all publications, but here at Kiplinger’s, we never write about companies or financial products (or any other products) to curry favor with advertisers. And that, my friends, is the whole truth.

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