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The Financial Side of Caregiving

By Sherri Goss

A woman called me for an appointment, saying she heard I work with caregivers.  Many of my clients are caregivers, and they are amazing people.  Most of them work very long hours, are under incredible emotional pressure, and have little support.  They want so badly to do the very best for their loved one.  This woman was no exception.

When we met, she shared with me that her father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, but was still able to live by himself.  Just recently, she had started checking on him more frequently, as he was getting more forgetful.  She shared that she would go by his house a couple of times a week to bring food and visit with him.

One day, she stopped by and found a statement from his checking account on the kitchen counter.  It showed that his account was overdrawn by $15,000.  When she asked him about it, he told her he did not know what happened, and started to cry.  He showed her some mail he had been receiving, and she was surprised to find that he had been sending checks to a number of “sweepstakes” companies.

After hours of research in his home and at the bank, she learned the horrible truth of why her father’s account was overdrawn.  It all started when he responded to a sweepstakes offer, and then was sent a letter explaining that in order to receive his prize, he had to send in a check for $25.  Once he did this, his name must have been sold to other similar companies as a multitude of “sweepstakes offers” began coming to his home.  Each one offered a big prize, and told him to send in a check for $20-$30 to pay “handling charges” so his prize could be sent out to him.

Some of these companies had even gained permission to draft funds directly from his checking account.  This caregiver was shocked to learn that anyone would take advantage of someone like her father, and angered to learn from the police that this type of thing is common.

She tried to gently manage the problem by monitoring him more closely, but finally realized she needed to take over control of his mail to stop the sweepstakes letters.  The only way to do this was to re-route his mail to a P.O. box and hand-deliver the mail to him daily.  She hated taking away a part of his independence, but knew it was what she had to do.

I wanted to share this story with you to make you aware that this can happen, but it can also be prevented.  Here are a few tips for caregivers who are responsible for monitoring finances:

  • Create a simple budget, so you have an idea of your loved one’s expenses each month.  This way, if an unusual expense shows up (like an unusually high utility bill), you’ll notice and know to question it.
  • Monitor the mail.  I’ve heard stories from a number of clients who tell me their loved ones will send money to numerous charities without knowing anything about them.
  • Have a durable power of attorney for finances.  This will enable you to make financial decisions in the case that your loved one is incapacitated.
  • Document money that you spend, that belonged to the person you are caring for.  Start a journal or log, and simply write down what you buy with their resources.  Even if your siblings currently trust you and are happy with how you are managing things, do it.  It will give you peace of mind, and you’ll be able to show anyone who asks “where the money went.”


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