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Elderly & finances

Anyone can struggle with taxes, investments and personal money manners – and older Americans beset with health issues are even more at risk.

Steve Finkelstein, president and founder of Sterling Retirement in suburban Minneapolis, has spotted clients in cognitive decline, which presents its own set of financial challenges – especially during the early stages of disease, when the condition has remained unnoticed or family members are still in denial. Problems include neglect, forgetfulness and falling prey to swindlers.

Sickness or none, how can you – a busy adult – tell if your retired parent needs help managing their money? Finkelstein offers these tips:

Check the mail. Be on the lookout for heaps of unopened mail. “If you go over to (the parent’s) house and you find there’s a whole bunch of mail that’s unopened, they’re probably not paying their bills,” Finkelstein said.

Go spying. Sometimes, “you’ve got to get in there and snoop around,” Finkelstein stresses. Check bank and credit card statements for unusual or large purchases. Finkelstein used this tactic with one of his longtime clients, a historically frugal woman. “She’s 78 years old. We saw that some guy came to the house and sold her a $3,000 vacuum,” he said. As it turned out, the woman was suffering the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Make a sweep. “I would look at the refrigerator and see if there’s food spoiling. And if the parent historically has been tidy, I would take very specific notice of the house and the condition of their clothes,” Finkelstein says. These are signs the parent is shirking the basics – probably on finances, too.

– Christy DeSmith, Minneapolis Star Tribune

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