How can I help Mom pay bills?
June 27, 2021 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone here used Silverbills or anything like it for assistance with paying a parent's bills?

My mom is struggling to pay her bills. Not financially. Logistically. Her husband died a few years ago and she has not found a way forward with the bills.

She is also struggling with mental illness, including anxiety and depression. That is a struggle that spans many decades, doctors and medications. While things could — and should! — improve, I don't want her bill-paying to rely on that.

Her brother tried to give her a system. She said it made sense at the time but she struggles to implement it in the everyday.

She struggles with the checkbook version of bill-paying because it adds to the paperwork and the postal back-and-forth and record keeping. She struggles with the electronic version because, while she's somewhat computer literate, she never really got into paying bills online so it's a strange world for her.

It's tricky because while she struggles with this area of life, she is in general capable of living independently. She does her own shopping, cooking, etc. I don't fear for her safety in those activities.

I've seen Silverbills and wonder if it might help. I'm also open to other ideas. Yes, I could take over her bills myself. It's not my first choice but if you have tips on this, I'd also like to hear them. I understand that whatever works for us now might not work in the future, so I'm not looking for a future-proof solution. But something that might work for a few years would be great.

I'm her only child and we're separated by the Canada/U.S. border.

Note: I have seen this question.
posted by veggieboy to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I began administering my mother's financial affairs for similar reasons in 2018. In my case, she was incapacitated at the time, but I am named as power of attorney in her trust, so I was able to gain access to most of her retirement, bank, and other accounts without her involvement. It took several weeks of paperwork and phone calls to establish me as the main point of contact, but since then, my need to be involved has been almost nonexistent. I set up most of her accounts on automatic bill pay through online banking, and I only monitor her checking account now and then to be sure it doesn't go below a certain amount. If you are not her power of attorney, but your mom is keen to get your help, you could call her bank with her also on the line and set some things up that way, i.e. getting your own login to her bank account. If she has paper bills, can she take photos of them and text them to you? You can set up automatic bill pay from there using the account number located on each bill. It can be stressful at first, but once things are set up, not a huge deal. Feel free to DM me if you want to talk more.
posted by kitschfrau at 2:52 PM on June 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

I didn't use any outside agency because I realized that most of the bills were repeated monthly at a set fee. Plus many utilities will arrange a set monthly fee or direct draft from an account.

The bank also was set up for "bill pay" where they either mailed out paper checks on her behalf or had agreements with places for automatic transfer of funds.

I realized that if I used a concierge service that I would still need to monitor it, so I gradually set up the bill pay to be automatic. I could have changed billing address for the bills to my address, but instead I have electronic access to all of her accounts.

This will only be an option if your mom is willing to allow you to do it and if you are willing to tackle it. Once set up, it's not too time consuming for me.

Summary: I felt that the time I would have spent checking on a service each month was about equal to the time I spend monthly on checking on bill pay. Your time may be more valuable than mine so that would make a service worthwhile. But I have no direct experience with these types of service providers.
posted by mightshould at 3:05 PM on June 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

When my dad was dealing with cancer, back in the late-00s and was missing payments, Mr. chiefthe and I set up electronic/automatic payments for all his accounts. He had them in place for a couple, giving us passwords for those and we setup the rest. When he was well enough again, we handed things back over.

If we did it again (probably will need to in some number of years), assuming no power of attorney, I'd plan to do the same (similar to what @kitschfrau suggests) and maybe even setup a budgeting service like Mint or YNAB to monitor most of his accounts completely to make it easier on our side. The service you link could be interesting, but depending on pricing might not balance against the small amount of time that watching Mint or YNAB might take to ensure autopay is running smoothly.
posted by chiefthe at 3:26 PM on June 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

We have access to my FIL's accounts and pay them electronically. It took some effort to get my wife access to all the financial accounts, but I would just note that we still need to talk about the bills that are being paid regularly (basically every few days).

Even though it's all automated as far as my FIL is concerned, he still gets anxious that a bill might get missed, so along with managing payments, there's also a lot of constant reassuring that everything is taken care of.
posted by qwip at 3:48 AM on June 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

To add on to quip's comment: My credit union's system offers notification for any transaction on the account. It sends me an email whenever any of my automatic deposits/debits happens. It's reassuring to know that payments have actually been made. And should there be a transaction I didn't authorize, I would know about it right away, not days down the road when I next happened to check the account.
posted by Weftage at 5:20 AM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

By the time I got involved with my MIL's money, she was living nearby so I could just pick her pile of checks and take care of them. In the beginning, it was important to her that I was writing physical checks and entering them in her checkbook so she could pick up again when she felt better. Once she was realized it was easier to let me do it, I just set up almost everything as automatic payment where the bank gets the monthly bill and pays or, if it is a fixed amount, set up to automatically send the same amount every month. Once you get that set up, your mother can just take a photo of any other bill and you can pay it on-line for her. If she is somewhat computer literate she could sing in to her bank account and just see what's been paid so she still knows where her money is going. If the credit card is being automatically paid, you will want to log in regularly just to scan the bill and make sure the charges look right.

In our case, my MIL and I went to the bank together and she added me to her account. Her sons (one is my husband) have a power of attorney which comes in handy every once in while but the big thing for day to day bills access to the checking account was all I need. (Alternatively, she can just give you her user name and password but it is more kosher to have it be official.)
posted by metahawk at 10:23 PM on June 28, 2021

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