Taking over financial responsibility from a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be among the most challenging tasks that fall on the shoulders of a caregiver. If you’ve ever struggled with a spouse or parent losing bills, a multilayered legal process, or elder financial abuse, you’re not alone.
Some members took over financial responsibility as soon as a loved one was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. “When my husband was diagnosed, the first thing we did was get all of our finances and everything in order,” one myALZteam member shared.
Another member said, “I had to take over finances last year, as my husband wrote checks from wrong accounts and sold some mutual funds only to regret the next day and bought them back, losing money in the end. He was a near genius at investing … but I learned much from watching him and can now do it.”
Assuming responsibility for a family member’s financial affairs can feel daunting, but you’re not alone. Many people have walked this path before you, and there are resources available to help you and your family make this transition.
For some people with Alzheimer’s, difficulty managing finances may be one of the earliest symptoms of the disease. Because Alzheimer’s disease can alter a person’s ability to make high-level decisions, it’s important to get financial accounts in order as quickly as possible following a dementia diagnosis.
“I’ve been so lucky,” one myALZteam member wrote. “Mom and I went to lawyers and had everything set up as soon as she was diagnosed.”
Another member said, “I hope my husband doesn’t give me any problems, as I’m sure this is what I need to do now.”
Once you decide to start handling the finances of someone with Alzheimer’s disease, the following financial planning steps may come in handy.
Before you begin to put any legal details in place, you must first know what you’re dealing with. Gather all of your loved one’s financial accounts, including:
Once you have a good idea of your loved one’s finances, it’s a good time to start getting legal documents into place, which may include:
You may need help from an experienced estate-planning attorney, elder law attorney, or financial planner to create these documents. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Financial and Legal Document Worksheet can help you prepare what information you might need to share with a lawyer to make this process smoother.
Some caregivers struggle with the decision to take over finances, particularly when their loved one enjoys money management or doesn’t understand why they can’t handle it anymore.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep your loved one involved in the process, either by including them when you’re paying their bills or by giving them an allowance or a separate bank account with a modest balance.
“I just recently took over my mother’s finances because she stopped paying the bills,” one myALZteam member explained. “Now we do the bills together on a weekly basis so she can see where the money is going.”
Another member said, “My husband has dementia and was never very good at handling money. He has a debit card on his account, and one of his checks is deposited to this account monthly. I arranged with the bank not to allow overdraft. Any other monthly checks he gets are deposited into the home account, which he doesn’t have access to. This works for us.”
Taking over financial responsibility can be more difficult when loved ones with Alzheimer’s become angry or frustrated. “I had to take over my dad’s finances two years ago,” one member shared. “He still is furious because he feels he is just fine to do this. He may hate me for it each day, but I know in my heart I am doing right by him and taking care of him.”
Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s accuse caregivers of stealing their money. Paranoia and delusions, often linked to memory loss, are common in people with Alzheimer’s. One myALZteam member wrote, “My mom has a few friends who feed into her fear that I am buying things for myself or paying my bills with her money, which I’m not. If she has gone out with her friends, she comes back accusing me of writing checks and charging her accounts.”
Others related to this member’s frustrations. “Paranoia is common,” one caregiver responded. “My husband used to handle finances, and of course now I do! He questions and accuses me a lot, and it’s very frustrating.”
Another member shared similar experiences they’ve had with their mother: “I wish there was an easy answer. It’s incredibly frustrating. Best thing we have found is to just assure her that she is fine and that her money is fine and that we are looking out for her because we love her.”
Even when spouses or parents with Alzheimer’s raise objections, it’s important to get financial affairs in order before too much damage is done. “We were too late at helping and had to fix the mess,” one member wrote. “My dad had accidentally withdrawn $30,000 out of his mutual funds.”
Another member shared that their husband neglected to pay bills and taxes for their rental properties: “We are getting letters with late fees, but I’m getting all the ducks in order. I still have a couple more financial institutions to meet with and get paperwork to.”
Some people with dementia turn their sole focus to money, which can make it even harder to take over the process. “My mom counts her money over and over again,” one myALZteam member said.
Another member replied that they found a solution that allows their loved one to count cash without accessing all of it: “My husband takes his weekly ‘allowance’ out in cash and seems to enjoy stockpiling it and counting it frequently. He keeps several hundred dollars around in a box. But at least he lets me deal with the rest now.”
Unfortunately, in some cases, myALZteam members discover that family, friends, or caregivers have financially abused their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. “I had siblings ‘borrowing’ large amounts, and I was worried there would be none left for my mom’s needs,” one caregiver wrote.
Another member shared, “My mom was being robbed on a regular basis when she lived alone. It was family and friends. When I stepped in and took her into my home, I saw this was happening from her bank records. I changed her bank account numbers.”
Getting the legal process in place to handle your loved one’s finances immediately after diagnosis can help reduce the odds of financial elder abuse occurring.
If you see signs of financial abuse, you can contact your state Adult Protective Services (APS) department and report suspected financial abuse. Contact information for your state’s APS services is available through the National Adult Protective Services Association.
Everyone is a potential victim of financial fraud, and you should be on the lookout for signs of fraud and identity theft when handling your loved one’s finances. People with dementia may be particularly vulnerable to scams, and criminals may target them specifically in some cases.
To ensure that your loved one doesn’t become a victim, take these steps to monitor for fraud:
By being diligent, you can help prevent financial and legal woes down the line and preserve your loved one’s finances for the care they need.
On myALZteam, the social network for people with Alzheimer’s disease, you can connect with more than 85,000 people living with this condition and their loved ones. Members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Alzheimer’s.
Have you taken over the finances of a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Share your insight or experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.