By Scott Funk
One of the most difficult parts of assisting an older parent, sibling or friend is that when you become aware of situations, they may already be full-blown crises. Dealing with these problems can not only be time-consuming and needlessly costly, they can also create friction between you and the loved one you are trying to help.
My work requires clients to provide paperwork about insurance, mortgages, bank accounts and more. This often reveals the confused state of many peoples’ documents. Driver’s licenses can be years out of date, home insurance expired, and the most recent bank statement, four years old. Imagine being the support person who gets a call that starts, “I was driving with an expired license and no car insurance . . .”
So, what is my point? Even though it can be a difficult negotiation, it is worth the effort to get paperwork in order and review it regularly. My recommendation is to agree upon a system to save all statements each month and review them during each visit.
As an example, my dad would call my sister when his lights were turned off. Why were they turned off? Because after a few months of receiving no payment, that is what the electric company does. However, that was not as big a problem for my dad as it was for my sister, who would have to spend the next day running around getting the bill paid and the lights back on.
Trying to get dad to let my sister receive the bill and pay it out of his checking account was a non-starter. Dad found that insulting. If, instead, my sister had tried to negotiate a system for the paperwork, it might have been more successful, especially if she framed it as helpful to her.
What I’m talking about here is a simple accordion file folder with a slot for each month. Dad could have put his paid and unpaid bills in the monthly slot and my sister would have a heads-up on was being paid, what wasn’t being paid, and what the charges were on the various bills.
That last point is an important one. One of my uncles was paying substantially more on his phone service than he expected. Little by little the phone service provider had been adding small charges. When my cousin found out about it, he called and found out the fees were optional. All my uncle had to do was call up and complain and they would remove the charges. Because no one had read the bills, the charges had kept piling on.
Helping to organize and review the paperwork will benefit you and the person you are supporting. It may seem like an extra task, but in the long run it will make it easier for both of you.
Aging in place, it doesn’t happen by accident, but you have to do the paperwork.
Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families.