July 13, 2021
How might you go about selecting someone to trust to help manage your money if financial decisions become too difficult for you in the future?
Well, researchers from the Stanford Center on Longevity and the University of Minnesota have just made answering that question a bit easier.
They’ve released a free tool kit, Thinking Ahead Roadmap, that in addition to helping you select a trustworthy financial advocate encourages people to plan today to safeguard their finances from fraud, abuse and financial mistakes down the road.
“Problems with financial decision-making can appear many years before a dementia diagnosis,” Marti DeLiema, an assistant research professor at University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work, said in a release. “Even cognitively healthy older adults may show declines in their financial decision-making abilities.”
When selecting a financial advocate, the tool kit suggests looking for these positive qualities: trustworthy; organized; understands your needs and what is important to you; reliable and available to help; smart decision-maker; good communicator; good listener; and puts your needs first. The tool kit also suggests avoiding these attributes: dishonest or secretive; likes to gamble; owes money; doesn’t pay bills on time; has a serious mental health or addiction issue; faces personal legal or financial troubles; and has a strong sense of entitlement.
And if no one seems right for the role, the tool kit suggests hiring a daily money manager to be your financial advocate or alternate financial advocate. Trust officers, attorneys, and certified accountants might also manage your money, but for a fee, the tool kit notes. And if you’re aging solo, consider the options outlined in the Guide to Aging Solo.
“It’s a bit like picking a health care proxy, but in this case you want someone who is trustworthy and who will make smart financial choices,” DeLiema said in the release.
The Need for a Power of Attorney
According to the 2020 Understanding America Study, only 39 per cent of Americans aged 60+ have a power of attorney (POA), a document that legally names someone to manage their money if they could no longer handle their financial matters.
“Without this important document, trusted caregivers won’t be able to access the older person’s funds to pay for basic needs like food, prescriptions and housing,” Naomi Karp, co-author of the report and a consulting research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity, said in a release.
The Thinking Ahead Roadmap, she said, is a clear, step-by-step guide to picking the right person, giving them the legal authority they need, and helping them understand their role and duties.”
The Thinking Ahead Roadmap website also provides a primer on a financial power of attorney, a sample power of attorney document and a financial inventory that people can download and fill out with their own information to make the job a little easier for their financial advocate.
According to DeLiema, the Thinking Ahead Roadmap also offers tips on how to have an open conversation about finances and how to overcome common issues like resistance from adult children who don’t want to acknowledge that their parents are getting older or who are uncomfortable talking about money.
The final step in the Thinking Ahead Roadmap gives advice on how to transition financial decision-making responsibilities to the advocate. “Having a conversation about the potential triggers, or warning signs that it’s time to get more help with financial decisions, paves the way for a smoother, less confrontational transition in money management,” said co-author Steve Vernon with the Stanford Center on Longevity.” Talking about these signs in advance actually gives the older adult more control over the process.”
Hang-ups in the Planning Process
In addition to interviewing experts, the research team that created the Roadmap gathered data from more than 150 diverse older adults (age 60+) to understand where the hang-ups are in the planning process and how to overcome them. According to the research participants, it’s important to plan ahead in order to reduce tension among family members, ease the burden on future decision-makers, and reduce the risk of scams and financial abuse.
But ultimately, the most compelling reason for many study participants was the peace of mind knowing that their finances are in good hands. According to one participant, “Extra effort now can provide peace of mind later.”