So, your parents have been independent, responsible people who have promptly paid everything they owed for their entire lives. The last thing they want is their child coming in and telling them how to run their finances, but you’ve noticed a few past due notices lying around. It’s possible you were even contacted regarding an unpaid bill. What can you do to help Mom or Dad out? Should you let it go and say nothing? How you help will depend on your relationship, the level of assistance needed, and the reason the assistance is needed.

If your relationship is such that you have communicated regarding each of your parent’s wishes for the future, you are ahead of the game. My mother has already told me that if anything happens to my father, she would like for me to help her relocate to Florida, manage her money, etc. She knows that, should my father suddenly be gone, these tasks would be too overwhelming to handle while grieving. In addition, my father has always been the one to handle the family finances and my mother’s desire is to be near someone in her family. We have a plan.

How about you? Perhaps your mother and/or father live independently and, to this point, have never needed you for anything. Assuming they have not requested your help, where do you begin? First of all, determine the reason for the unpaid bills. Is Mom/Dad having financial difficulty due to extra expenses, illness, etc.? Perhaps you can step in to help during this temporary, but challenging situation. Has the task of paying bills just been left undone due to illness or injury recovery time, although the money is available? Mom or Dad would most likely be grateful for your assistance in writing and mailing checks. Be creative and tactful when offering help. Instead of mentioning the past due notices, you could say that you picked up the mail and would be happy to help Dad get his payments mailed out, or you could go ahead and pay that electric bill without mentioning it!

Another reason for unpaid bills could be increasing forgetfulness. If you suspect a problem in this area, or if a doctor has already said your parent has some form of dementia, the needs will be much more far reaching than the need for help with bill-paying. Mom or Dad’s very life is at risk whenever left alone. I recommend you make an appointment to speak with an expert in the area of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. The Southeast Florida chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Community Care are great local resources for information and referrals, support groups, and adult day centers. Alzheimer’s Community Care also offers a great deal of free help from their “Family Consultants.”

Finally, if your parents are unwilling to accept assistance from you, they may be more open to working with a professional. There are many professionals who provide various services, including balancing checkbooks, etc., for a fee. Professional care managers do a full assessment of needs and recommend services to meet those needs. They can arrange for and manage those services, manage finances, and manage medication administration. Many adult children find this assistance to be so valuable, they are more than happy to pay a care manager for his/her time to ensure a parent is well cared for in spite of the inability to be available, personally, due to distance, a hectic work schedule, the parent’s resistance, etc.

Regardless of what is necessary on our part to ensure our parents continue to experience the highest quality of life possible, it is equally important that we stop to reflect on and communicate our motivation – our love and the desire to honor the two people who gave us the gift of life!

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