Taking Over Your Parent’s Checkbook: One Fortunate Solution

I posted a story several weeks ago which examined the question of when is it time to take over the finances of a parent? (For the previous story click here.) My 88-year-old mother Ginny had been exhibiting behavior from putting the wrong checks into the wrong utility envelopes, pulling out checkbook pages and writing out donation checks to multiple organizations; spending money that she couldn’t afford. This is a follow-up story:

And just like that, the inheritance check is here. This is wonderful news, but our main concern right now remains her spending habits. Now that she knows she has a significant increase in her assets, she may start to write larger checks. We have tried to stress that, with her budget, every dollar she received from her best friend’s financial gift should be earmarked for her care. We don’t have much faith, however, that she can abide by that.  Previous explanations to stop sending donations have been ignored. In fact, we are doubly concerned about how much the amount of the checks will go up.

The gift will be deposited into her checking account since it’s her only bank account, but this is also ground zero for trouble. We have to figure this out.

One possible step to alleviate open access to a lot of cash would be to open a savings account in her name and transfer over the bulk of the inheritance. And it makes financial sense. She’ll earn more interest. But we have to get her to agree. l plan to tell her that my husband Dennis is strongly advising this move. He had been her financial advisor for many years and she trusts his judgment. We have a good chance of her agreement if he supports the idea.

One Month Later

We are combining a visit with Ginny to discuss banking with a memorial service for a family member which will be held about three hours south of Clearwater in Fort Myers Florida.

First, however, I need to take her to an emergency hearing appointment. Apparently, her left hearing aid is dead. The doctor examines it and announces there was wax build-up which turned the aid into an ear plug blocking out all sound.

Driving home, I use the time in the car to discuss the benefits of a savings account or nine month CD.

“Dennis told me that you should be able to make some money on the inheritance mom” I told her. “Do you think we should go to your bank tomorrow and see what they have to offer? We don’t have to make any changes, if you don’t want to” I add.

“Sure, we can do that. I was wondering about that myself” she replies. I’m thrilled she heard me loud and clear.

So, Dennis and I pick up Ginny the next day and go to her bank.

We ask for a personal banker. He is polite, asking mom for an ID. As she pulls it out, she discovers a credit card from another major bank sitting behind it. “Oh so that’s where it went” mom says jokingly. He pulls up her account and we explain what we are looking for.

“Well, I do see the large deposit made last month and we do offer some nice deals for opening new accounts with new money. But it has to be done at the time of the deposit, so no, there really aren’t any incentives to offer.”

Dennis takes charge. “Well, this is our first opportunity to take Ginny to the bank. We live out of town. You’re saying that she had to accept a deal on the same day she made the deposit? Is there a manager we can speak to?”

“Unfortunately, she is off today, but she would still not be able to help” was his dismissive reply.

“Well, maybe we can consider the bank down the street and see what they offer. You just found their credit card Ginny” Dennis replied.

I was angry. The banker was focused on ways he could NOT help us rather than on how he could. It wasn’t looking good for a savings account. But then it got interesting.

As we walk to the car, Dennis says “Ginny, I was serious in there. What do you think about checking out the other bank?” I look at him and shake my head no. Here was a woman who has been cashing checks at this bank for 19 years so she could pay cash at the grocery store and hair salon. Her ties to this bank are strong. I had assumed it was a savings account here or nowhere at all.

“Yes, I would do that. It’s right by the grocery store.” I’m not sure if I’m more shocked because she said yes or that she knew exactly where the competing bank was located.

We drive down the street and meet with a woman who could not have been more gracious. She listened, we explained that we (Dennis and I) were in fact, customers ourselves at her bank and she was very helpful. Dennis took the lead again. I glanced over at mom and she was thoroughly enjoying listening to the conversation. We even shared the story of the newly rediscovered credit card under her license.

“Oh Ginny, you should use that to get points” the woman said and pulled up a screen of the percentage points available. She took her time with mom explaining the benefits of the card.

By the end, Ginny couldn’t wait to open both a checking and savings account at the new bank. She would make money on the transaction. We understood that we couldn’t open accounts that day because my sister Hailey should be involved, but we were excited by Ginny’s enthusiasm. She was in a great mood. Would her interest hold?

The next day we start on that road trip to Fort Myers for the memorial service. There are five of us. Hailey’s husband is at the wheel.  I had already called Hailey in advance to fill her in on mom’s enthusiasm about switching banks and opening a savings account. Hailey is all in with any plan that protects mom’s assets.

We’re somewhere on the Sunshine Bridge when mom says “Melanie, tell your sister my story.”

“About the bank yesterday?” I counter.

“Yes.” And she’s beaming.

She not only remembers, but remains eager to share the news. We actually pass a branch of her old bank, and she sniffs “I never liked their colors anyway.” We all laugh out loud.

I want to say that this car trip was truly an enjoyable family experience. Mom was dreaming of her new bank and we were all sharing amusing stories along the way. I will neither confirm nor deny that a round of “Baby Shark” may have been sung.

Ultimately, without even realizing it, changing banks became the solution to all checkbook issues. First, with the banker’s encouragement, Ginny began to use her credit card regularly. She used it for food and services for which she had always paid cash. She wasn’t cashing weekly checks anymore.

And even more importantly, when we had met with the banker, she asked if she should mail the new checks to Hailey. She knew Hailey balanced the checkbook.

“Yes” was Hailey’s prompt reply. Ginny said nothing. And that’s how we solved it. Over the next few months as we waited to transfer direct deposit payments and wait for checks to clear with the old account, Ginny continued to have direct access to some money in her old account. And yes, she did continue to send donations to charitable organizations. When the account was officially closed, Hailey began to bring her cash, as needed, and she retained all the new checks at her residence.

Yes, at some point, Ginny realized that her checkbook was obsolete and she had a couple of run-ins with Hailey about gaining control of the checkbook to the new account. But Hailey held firm explaining (again) that mom’s bookkeeping had become a lot of extra work for her to figure out and that wrong checks were being mailed. Mom’s resistance faded and life has miraculously moved forward with a new set of checks and balances. We feel incredibly fortunate that a total solution found us.

Adult Children/Aging Parent Money

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