After you've gone to all the trouble of getting your parent's finances in order, it would be nice if you could hang up your boots and call it a day. However, managing someone's finances isn't just a one-time job. You have to respond to changing circumstances both in your parent's life and in the financial markets. Here are some ongoing topics to consider.
Don't forget the taxes
Your initial focus was on gathering information to help you understand your parent's current financial condition. However, as you continue to manage your parent's finances, you will likely take responsibility for certain regular tasks, such as coordinating the preparation of annual income-tax returns. If your parent used a particular accountant, it's generally smart not to change accountants when you take over financial management. Your parent's accountant will not only be familiar with the tax aspects of your parent's past financial actions, but should also be willing to pass on advice or guidance to you.
Dealing with big legal issues
In addition to investment-management authority, you may also have some power to consider estate-planning strategies that could save on large amounts of tax and benefit the entire family. Depending on the laws of your state and the language used in drafting the power-of-attorney documents, you may be able to implement these strategies as part of your fiduciary role. Keep in mind, however, that even people who are officially declared incompetent to handle their financial affairs may still have the legal capacity to make changes to their estate plans, such as executing a new will or a codicil to an existing will. Don't assume that you can make any changes you want without consulting anyone. Even if you could, it's preferable to work with others to avoid any allegations of impropriety in the future.
Consulting with your parent's attorney is the best way to start. If the attorney has ideas for improvements to your parent's estate plan, then you will need the attorney not only to explain the proposed changes to you, but also to fulfill whatever procedural requirements are necessary to implement the changes. When it comes to estate-planning changes, the law is wary of allowing anyone else to step into your parent's shoes. In fact, it often takes court action to authorize such changes, and the court must be convinced that the changes are in the best interests of your parent and consistent with your parent's wishes.
Set a budget
Just as having a budget for your own finances can help you understand them better, using a budget for your parent's finances may make it easier for you to get familiar with regular income and expenses. By providing a framework for your parent's month-to-month financial condition, a budget makes it easier for you to consider the impact of increased expenses or decreased income in the future, and to take steps to prevent or minimize any resulting problems.
Talk with the whole family
If your parent is willing, discuss with your brothers and sisters what you're doing. Holiday gatherings are often a great time to do this, because everyone is physically present, but conference calls or e-mails are also effective. By keeping everyone informed, you give family members a chance to register their input before opinions and concerns turn into criticisms and accusations. Although it takes work to arrange and prepare for family meetings, the results are often well worth the effort.
Ongoing investment management
Once you have an investment plan in place, the plan itself will guide you through most of the common situations you will face. But you need to make sure you know what to do when something unexpected affects an investment. For example, Chico's FAS
There will inevitably be times when you feel that the responsibility you've taken on is overwhelming, or that you're doing a terrible job. You will make mistakes. Accept that. If you hadn't taken over the job, whoever took your place would also be making mistakes. And take comfort in knowing that your parent also made mistakes in managing his or her finances. By keeping on top of the major financial issues your parent faces, using the resources your parent put in place for you, and asking for and getting help when you need it, you'll avoid most of the major blunders that are difficult to overcome.
Managing a parent's finances requires dedication, hard work, tenacity, and fortitude. Yet when your parent needs you, there's no better way to return some of the love that your parent has given you during your life.
- Managing Mom's Money
- Managing Mom's Money: Part 2
- Managing Mom's Money: Part 3
- Managing Mom's Money: Part 4
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger wants to assure all of his readers that he's not sexist, but he does like alliterative headlines. Dan is an estate-planning attorney, independent financial consultant, and licensed CFP professional. He owns none of the stocks mentioned in this series of articles. The Fool has a disclosure policy.