Managing your relative’s money

Confusion about finances is common among older adults. Balancing the checkbook and paying bills can just get to be too much.

Assisting with money matters is something a long-distance son or daughter can do to help. Geography poses many challenges for those who live far away. But managing finances is a fairly simple task, near or far.

This may be a sensitive subject. As a culture, we tend to be very protective about our financial privacy. If your relative is open to assistance, however, here are some ways you might be able to help:

  • Pay the bills. Have bills sent to you directly. You can pay from your relative’s checking account if he or she makes you an authorized signer. Or you can become joint owner of the account. Be careful, though. Shared accounts may result in your relative’s debts becoming yours as well.
  • Use online banking. Watch activity on your relative’s checking account remotely. Arrange for important bills to be paid automatically. Pay them by credit card to avoid overdrafts in checking. (You can even earn frequent flyer miles with some cards. This can help with travel expenses when visiting a parent who lives far away.)
  • Get online access to credit cards. Periodically log in to your loved one’s credit card account. Monitor expenses and quickly catch any fraudulent activities.
  • Restrict credit card purchases. Do helpers need to shop for your family member? Some credit cards can be limited to vendors you preapprove. For instance, the grocer and the pharmacy. To add security, set them to not allow a cash-back option. You might also explore a credit card that disallows phone or Internet orders. This helps with scam protection.
  • Become durable power of attorney. This document sets out conditions under which bankers and other officials can talk to you about your loved one’s accounts. This is useful in cases of dementia or serious illness. Download the form at
  • Consider professional help. A care manager can help you find a certified or bonded professional bill payer. Or check with the American Association of Daily Money Managers. If your relative is completely incapable, a care manager can also advise you about the process of having the courts appoint a guardian.