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Financial Planning for Alzheimer's

Why You Should Monitor Your Elderly Parents' Mail

Scams aren't the only thing to watch for. Pleas for cash from legitimate organizations can be just as dangerous to your parents' bank account.

I wrote about managing your parents' money when they no longer can in the February issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. One of my suggestions was to monitor their mail to help protect them from financial scams. I want to elaborate on that today.

My mother has dementia and lives with me, which makes it easy for me to check her mail daily. She regularly gets donation solicitations that I usually toss in the trash without even opening the envelopes. But I decided to collect them over the past week to see exactly what she was receiving and how much money she was being asked to give.

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From Monday, August 8, through today, August 12, she received 13 letters asking her for money. I'm pretty sure it was a slow week. But compared with how many financial solicitations I got in the mail over that same period -- ZERO -- she was inundated with requests for donations. And these weren't from con artists trying to scam her. They were from legally registered charitable organizations, lobbying groups and political parties.

And if my mom had made the minimum donation requested by each group, she would've been out $192.90 in just one week. That would add up to more than $10,000 if she wrote checks at that pace for a year.

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Although I urged readers of my February magazine article to watch their parents' mail to protect them from scams, the point I'm trying to make now is that the elderly could also easily deplete their bank accounts by responding to legitimate (if you want to call them that) requests for money.

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Because these requests often are for small amounts ($10, $15 or $25) and are for causes that affect seniors (save Social Security), many people whose financial decision-making skills have deteriorated won't hesitate to write a check.

In fact, my mom had donated money in the past or made pledges over the phone to several of the groups that sent her mailings over the past week. (She made these donations before I took over day-to-day management of her finances). She wasn't writing checks to them because they were supporting causes of great concern to her. She just couldn't say no.

So how can you help protect your parents' finances from the barrage of money requests they're likely getting?

Start by asking your parents which organizations matter most to them, then develop a giving plan that includes only those groups. Keep a list of these groups so you can refer to it if your parents want to start writing checks for other groups as they go through their mail with you.

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You can help stop some of the flow of junk mail by registering your parents with the Direct Marketing Association to remove their names from its national mailing list. The service is free if you register online. However, charities and many professional organizations don't participate in the opt-out program. So you'll have to call them directly to get off their lists.

And putting your parents' phone number on the Do-Not-Call registry won't stop unsolicited requests for donations, which often begin with calls from groups asking for pledges. The registry does not cover calls from tax-exempt non-profit organizations and calls that aren't commercial.

Some financial advisers recommend putting elderly parents with dementia on a cash allowance and taking away the checkbook. Tell your parents that you're giving them a certain amount each week or month to spend as they please and that you'll take care of the bills. It's not an easy move to make, but it's better than letting them write checks until they have no money left.

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