How tangled am I getting in Dad's finances?
March 4, 2020 8:53 PM   Subscribe

Base facts: Mom recently passed away after a long illness. Dad is nearly 89, debt-free and reports he should have more than enough resources for his lifetime. Most of his assets are held in a Living Trust and he plans to add my sister and me as backup Trustees. My siblings and I are scattered across the country, no one living closer than 1000 miles from him or each other. Mom had been the exclusive payer of bills and writer of checks for the past 40+ years, as well as co-trustee of the Living Trust.

Despite Dad's age, he's of sound mind and body, fully capable of handling his own finances. But he is simply not interested in messing with it all. He asked me, his "kid who knows computers", to set up auto-payments. Happy to do it, Dad. I've registered online checking/creditor accounts and a special dedicated email address, all in his name, that he can (but honestly, likely won't) access. I will monitor the email for things like fraud alerts, upcoming payments due, and the current balance in his checking account. I did NOT set any of these accounts as "paperless", so he will continue to get regular statements in the mail. I do not have access to the "big pot" account of his retirement funds. If his checking balance should fall too low to meet coming obligations, I will simply call him and he will transfer needed funds.

They had just one credit card, historically paid in full each month. During Mom's last hospitalization, two invoices were overlooked. I took care of the outstanding balance online, then called the CC bank, identified myself, and had Mom removed from the account. No problem. But when I asked for the courtesy of waiving the recent late fees, I ran into security requirements, as I wasn't on the account.

I told him, he called and the fees were waived. But he went one step further than I expected and asked that I be added as an authorized user. His thinking was that other issues might come up, he hates waiting on hold, and this would simplify things for us both. "My" credit card is on the way.

Of course, I plan to put it away and use it ONLY under his direction, for his benefit. (For example, my folks have often asked me to source things online that are difficult to find in their rural area. I shop, get purchase approval, buy and ship to them, they send me a check. Using this card would streamline that process for him.)

My access to Dad's online accounts puts me in a position to keep an eye on his day-to-day finances without interfering or controlling. As long as our planned system of "I tell you how much, you move the money" works well, I don't see any reason for a PoA or access to the "big" account. My siblings are fully informed and, to date, have voiced no concerns with any of this. But I do want to protect myself as well as my Dad.

Am I missing anything? Will his various statements provide sufficient transaction records, or is there other record-keeping I should do in case anyone questions my role somewhere down the road? His credit card will likely see a lot more action as he plans to do some traveling. I know in most circumstances, unsecured debt can't be inherited, but does me being an authorized user change that? Any other implications for me holding a card on his account? Are there any signposts to watch for that suggest it's time to get a PoA or otherwise intervene legally to help manage his finances? Does me serving as a backup trustee negate the need for further intervention?

In short, any advice?
posted by peakcomm to Law & Government (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds good to me. Make sure his taxes, property and income tax, are being handled.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:25 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]

So sorry for your loss. I hope your Dad appreciates all the work you are doing on his behalf. That's a lot of emotional labor you are taking on.

Being an authorized user on his credit card means that they did a hard pull on your credit. It will show up on your credit report. It will also be a factor on your credit report since it's, in the bank's eyes, your credit card now too. So you might see your score change, if you care about such things.

Authorized users are not legally responsible to pay the bill or any debts. I'd confirm with with the issuer though usually you get a packet with the card when it shows up.

I'm not an expert to answer the other info, except that a PoA can always be signed and done and kept in a drawer until it is needed. Please consult a lawyer. :)

Have a binder somewhere (you might already given the level of info you are already managing) with account info etc. Make sure family folks know where it is. A quick google will give you a list of the kinds of info that best goes into it: wills, account numbers, passwords, medical info, PoA, etc.

You might want to check and see what else your mom was listed on and get her name removed.
posted by ladyriffraff at 9:44 PM on March 4

It sounds like you are asking some estate planning questions, and missing questions about what happens if your dad loses his capacity to manage his finances in the future. I suggest that you talk with your dad about getting a lawyer (MeFi Wiki) for a consultation, just to make sure everything is covered. I like to think of estate planning as a 'defense against the dark arts,' i.e. probate, taxes, and disgruntled heirs, and some advance planning can go a long way in reducing stress and saving money down the road. Based on what you have described, it sounds like your father has a lot of this already locked down, but as you also note, as you have assumed more responsibility, it seems wise to review the situation with a lawyer to help make sure that you, your siblings, and your dad are as protected as possible.
posted by katra at 9:50 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]

First, at your Dad's age, the kids need to be prepared to step in on short notice - he is just one fall away from an extended stay in the hospital/rehab that would make it hard for him to stay on top of his bills. So, in that regard
1) You should find out what it take for a back-up trustee to become a full co-trustee. It might also be helpful to know which of his various accounts are titled in the trust and which are in his name (or even in your mother's name)
2) You can get a springing POA that doesn't give you authority until something happens or your father agrees. However, if there is good trust, he might rather sign in one now so that the authority is there whenever needed. Having a POA doesn't prevent him from acting on his own account but allows you to do so without having to get him on the phone/write the letter to authorize it.
2b) If he has more than one POA, try to arrange it so either POA can act independently. Require consent from all POA to do anything is an enormous PIA and some financial institutions will have issues with it. (We got around this by having one brother give blanket written approval for a whole bucket of expenses but it is a pain)
3) He is used having your mother handle all of the finances and doesn't seem that interested in doing it himself. I would seriously consider helping him get as many of his bills on auto pay as you can. It avoids headaches for everyone.
4) You might be able to set things up with his investment account that one of your siblings can be authorized to do things like arrange for transfers between the big account and the checking account. Assuming you get along, this would make sure the checking account didn't run out of money while sharing the responsibility for your father's money. (I have this for my MIL - I don't have a POA but I talk to her advisor when we need to change the monthly draw or do a mandatory IRA distribution as long the money goes into her account that she authorized to receive it)
posted by metahawk at 10:42 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]

I’m sorry for your loss.

I am not an attorney but I have recently done a POA in NY for my brother. It was a free downloadable form that took less than an hour to read, understand, and sign. It took longer to find a notary than it did to do the form. Now I have access to all his stuff, including the power to do anything on his accounts that he does. I also did a medical POA while I was at it, and guess what: Right now he’s in the ICU and I’ll have to make some tough decisions this week, as it happens. No one questions me, because I walked in the hospital and flashed the POA. Actually I literally just said “I’m the POA and medical POA” and they didn’t ask for paper until later.

I’ve found the POA to be like a secret password hat opens a lot of doors, saving me a lot of hassle. You may want to do one for Your own peace of mind now, while he’s still vibrant and cogent and can work with you at a relaxed pace rather than later when there may be an urgent need.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 2:25 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Having your dad on board and encouraging your participation is 95% of this battle. My parents were not, and we kids got no access or control before their mental and physical health failed. Now every issue that arises is a medium headache at best or a waking nightmare at worst.

1) Get the POA now.

2) Complete the HIPAA privacy authorization form now.

3) Does he recieve social security? Get the account information, password, and security answers now. Because of (understandable) fraud concerns, it's very difficult to access a person's ssa account to change the address or deposit account information if they don't remember the access info.

4) Know where all important papers are at the house, safe combination, keys, whatever else.

5) These are just the most basic things to do now. When you have a few more minutes, speak with an elder law attorney in his jurisdiction for other things to think about.

I'm very sorry for the loss of your mother.
posted by CheeseLouise at 6:11 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

Are there any signposts to watch for that suggest it's time to get a PoA or otherwise intervene legally to help manage his finances?

My grandpa is 90 and while he's independent and fairly sharp *for his age,* he's recently fallen for a couple phone scams. The caller usually masquerades as a relative who was in a car accident and now needs bail money ASAP. Also sometimes the "bank" calls him and asks him to confirm some account details, or the "IRS" claims he is overdue on his taxes or the "power company" claims his power is about to be shut off due to nonpayment. He's good about ignoring the fake company calls, but the fake relatives have thrown him off twice now, they're very sneaky. They also appeal to his discretion ("I'm so embarrassed I got arrested, please don't tell anyone, I'm calling you because I don't want [immediate family] to know") so he didn't tell my parents for a couple weeks. I would watch out if he suddenly requests a large-ish chunk of money ASAP and seems cagey about what it's for. Falling for scams is one of my personal signposts for when it's time to take over more control of my parents' finances.

You might want to have your dad take some kind of class on elder fraud (our local senior center offered them), and go over some guidelines with your dad and have him always, always contact you first before handing over personal information or money, especially if a caller is claiming urgency or threatening legal action. With my grandpa, we also set up a "password" that we told him we would use if we were actually calling him for financial help and it's written down next to his phone (we will never call him for financial help).

I wish my parents or uncles had POA over his finances but he's refusing to hand over control like that, so instead they just try to remind him of scam callers and manage from afar as best they can. It may be worthwhile to get POA now while he's open to it, in case your dad has some aging problems later on and has a personality change about this topic.
posted by castlebravo at 10:06 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]

The one thing that I would add is sending your siblings a copy of the statements for the online account you have set up, maybe once a quarter. Transparency is very helpful here.
posted by yclipse at 10:36 AM on March 5

If your dad has an IRA then he will have a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) amount that he must withdraw each year. My parents had that set up to automatically happen, but ensure that you dad's doing that or there are penalties.
posted by homesickness at 12:49 PM on March 5

Anything you purchase with that credit card or checks from his account need to be backed up with receipts. My dad lived in a rural area, I was on his bank account, and he often asked me to send him things from my Amazon Prime account. I bought different things for him, kept all the receipts, and wrote myself a check every $500 or so. When Dad died last year, sure enough, my sister had major complaints about those checks on his account. Luckily, I just pulled out my little folder with all the backup documentation and ended that foolishness. No matter how good of a relationship you have with your siblings, be sure to keep good records.
posted by raisingsand at 1:40 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]

I want to recommend that your father consider who he might want to appoint as his medical POA in case he experiences a sudden health concern. Think stroke or serious head injury from a fall.

My aunt died 3 days ago and I was her medical POA. My cousin, who lives 5 hours away had been both her financial and medical POA, but I'm in the same city as my aunt and was more involved in her day-to-day care. She had a sudden serious complication that threatened her life, but she was completely intact mentally. She called her local lawyer to her bedside in ICU and appointed me her medical POA. Fortunately she was competent to do so, and had a lawyer who agreed.

As long as she was sharp and able to interact she was in charge of her medical care. Only when she became really ill and unable to competently direct her care did I step in. I decided when it was time to call in hospice, but she was the one who was able to sign a "do not resuscitate" order. As long as she was competent, she superseded me, but but when she faltered and was clearly failing I took charge. It was me as POA who leaned hard on the staff to evaluate and re-evaluate her pain relief which I believed lagged her symptoms. Actually, I think that's where I was most helpful. My aunt was in a nursing home for her last few months, so there was a layer of bureaucracy between me and the hospice service. I went straight to the hospice nurses and found as POA I had clout. Actually, since in healthcare lawyers seem to rule, the POA worked its magic with all the healthcare layers. And I feel the oversight and advocacy I provided as her medical POA was the sweetest of parting gifts.
posted by citygirl at 8:27 PM on March 5

Thanks, mefites, for the excellent advice.

We have executed a springing, general PoA, as well as a HiPAA Privacy Release. Originals are with the trust papers in his home safe and I have the combination; Sister and I have digital copies. He is consulting with the estate planning attorney who set up his Living Trust to add Sister and I as trustees, with me serving as backup and Sister as co-trustee replacing Mom. For the sake of his privacy, he has asked me not to share any financial statements with my siblings for now, but I will keep an eye on the online accounts and document carefully any actions I take on his behalf.

He has agreed to carry a copy of his Advanced Directives as he sets out on his road trip to visit all his kids. We've also added ICE contacts on his mobile phone. Now if we can just convince him to always carry it and keep it turned on ...

Again, thanks to all who responded.
posted by peakcomm at 11:52 AM on March 7

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