How to monitor elderly parent's finances remotely?
November 4, 2020 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Is Mint/YNAB a good fit for elderly retirees, or better to have professional help?

My elderly parent lives alone in his home, and while he's been paying bills and such I think he could use some oversight. He isn't the most reliable narrator these days, and I don't want him to screw up his finances. Challenge: I live a couple hours away.

I want to get him to scan incoming paperwork into Dropbox so we can see his inputs and outputs. But I wonder if something like Mint/YNAB would be more helpful.

He has only a few bank accounts, and an annuity, and a IRA, and fixed pension income. He owns his home, but wants to buy a smaller house nearby and have one of his kids live in the current house. I think he can swing the mortgage on his income. But this adds a bit of complexity and I think we should start formally budgeting for it, because he wants to help his grandkids with college and stuff.

Also I'm wondering if a financial/estate advisor would be a good idea to figure out how to properly allow his kid's family to live in his house rent-free, pay for a second home, and help him structure the estate left to the remaining children.

Advice on buying a home for an elderly parent would be helpful too, how to find a sympathetic realtor, dealing with Covid, etc. I'd rather him get an apartment or assisted living, but he hates the idea and there's not much in the area, not hardly any SFHs for rent either. Living in the same neighborhood in a smaller house seems the best option for now.
posted by RobotVoodooPower to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I love YNAB and am a long-time user, it's transformed my approach to finances, but I'd be hesitant to recommend it in this case unless you're confident in your dad being patient enough to deal with the learning curve. There are some things about their approach that aren't super intuitive and from the way you describe his case here, I'm not sure he'd do well with that. It depends on how tech-savvy and how patient you think he is, though.

I think professional help would be the best option here for both your peace of mind and his ease with the process, and it's probably outright necessary anyway for the other needs you describe (estate structuring, etc.)
posted by Kosh at 9:59 AM on November 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

a few bank accounts, an annuity, an IRA, a fixed pension income, a home, potentially a mortgage.
That's a fair bit to track. ask him to add you to every account, and/or share his current userids/ passwords. In general, I'd recommend he sell the house to the family member or make some other arrangement. And he should set up some legal structure for you to take the reins if it comes to that.

In the US, there is an area Agency on Aging for every area. Find the one that covers you and/or him, ask for a referral to a lawyer who has experience in elder/probate law and a fee-based financial advisor.

Is there any chance of building or carving out an apartment for him in the existing house? it can often be allowed by zoning for a family member, where it would not otherwise be allowed. A friend did this, zoning specified that a separate apartment was defined by there being a full kitchen, which meant a stove. So her Mom had a 2 burner hot plate, toaster oven, microwave, and it was legit.
posted by theora55 at 11:21 AM on November 4, 2020

Best answer: Are you expecting your dad to use Mint/YNAB or just to use it to monitor his spending yourself? If it's just the latter and he's willing to let you sign him up for online banking at his banks, I'd try Mint out. Even just having the online banking userids/passwords would get you 90% of the way there, and it would be easier on both of you than him scanning in and uploading paperwork. And there wouldn't be any concern that he was missing statements or something (he can't scan in what he doesn't notice). Basically I see no downside to getting Mint set up for him if he's willing.

But for the structuring the estate part I would definitely talk to a pro. And don't sell his house until you have done so!
posted by mskyle at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2020

Can you set up an online account, either his current account or a new account, so that you can be the one to send the needed payments each month?

Can you set up a Google Docs spreadsheet so that he can enter new bills, and both of you can review? You don't need a scanned copy of his electric bill each month. You need to know how much to pay and when.
posted by yclipse at 12:46 PM on November 4, 2020

Bear in mind that his cognition will not improve - better course might be to start taking over his bills while he's still with it enough to help you know what's where. Get legal/accounting advice.
posted by leslies at 1:55 PM on November 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Are you currently a signer or tenant on his bank accounts? It would be a very good idea to consider doing so, since when the time comes for you to take over management of these accounts (either due to disability or worse), it will be so much easier for you. Does he have a will, and who is named as the executor? Is there a durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney, etc. in place?

If none of these are in place yet, now is the time to see an estate attorney and get them done.

My mother put my sister and I on her checking and savings accounts as co-signers many years ago; I also have power of attorney over her investment accounts. Last year her cognition took a turn for the worse, and she's now in memory care, but as she'd done a magnificent job of pre-planning, many parts of the transition from independence to memory care were relatively easy. I already had power of attorney over everything, but being a signer on her checking and savings account means my sister and I are co-owners of her bank accounts. Even if she dies, we have full access to that money and have a great deal of freedom for making final arrangement. We have checks with all our names on them, a debit card, and any of us can make deposits, pay bills, etc (though Mom no longer has control of the checkbook, since she no longer has any sense of money other than to occasionally be concerned that she's not running out of it).
posted by lhauser at 6:35 PM on November 4, 2020

For the bill oversight, there's someone called a "Daily Money Manager" which, despite the name, doesn't manage money exactly. A Daily Money Manager helps people make sure their bills are paid and their checking accounts are balanced.

The ones in the Bay Area tend to work remotely but traditionally, they'd also come by the house to make sure bills weren't piling up next on a table, letting insurances lapse and heat turned off.

Daily Money Managers are especially good for people who've had a rocky relationship with their parents- a neutral third party can be a relationship saver.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:42 PM on November 4, 2020

For the part where he's buying a second home and gifting rent to his kids, I think a financial planner would be good, probably in conjunction with an attorney to make sure the right trusts are set up, and the properties titled accordingly, if necessary- that part is somewhat state specific.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:46 PM on November 4, 2020

Last comment- I don't know about YNAB but I have heard it's much easier to learn and use than Mint.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:47 PM on November 4, 2020

I've been helping my sister with our aging mother by trying to keep track of her accounts. I use Mint. In theory it should work, but the biggest challenge I've found is that so many financial portals require two-factor authentication on an occasional basis, which, unless you change the primary phone number and email address associated with the account, will get sent to their phone/email. If he is willing, put together a list of all his account logins, numbers, passwords, a list of common pieces of information that security questions often ask for, such as mother's maiden name, name of first pet, name of high school/high school mascot, town he was married in, etc. Switch as many accounts as possible to electronic statement delivery so there's less to scan. And then, yes, a financial planner can help think through the impacts of the house situation and estate planning, and refer you to a lawyer to make sure all the legal loose ends are tied up, like financial powers of attorney.
posted by drlith at 6:37 PM on November 5, 2020

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