If your elderly parents are beginning to struggle with day-to-day bills and paperwork, you may well have concerns. We consider how you can help ease the burden and ensure things remain under control.
Sometimes I pretend to be my Dad.
The first time was back in the 80s when I forged a note to excuse myself from cross-country.
The most recent time was a year or so ago when - at his request and with his permission - I called his telecoms provider to cancel an unwanted TV channel subscription. Although he is now very elderly, it was easy to 'be' him. I knew his full name, his address, his date of birth, and his account number - and I quite enjoyed talking in a grand and slightly geriatric voice, channelling J R Hartley.
It's not the proper way to do things and although no crime was committed there are better ways to go about helping an elderly relative with their admin burden. These tips may help, especially if you have growing concerns and the person you are helping wants your input.
First off, get to grips with the overall situation; the extent of your relative's admin universe. Things may be simple and well-organised, or there may be a huge spread of organisations to be aware of. For starters look for:
If there's a particular concern and your relative is comfortable, then checking bank statements can ensure nothing is missed - and help identify anything that immediately needs attention.
Sometimes when you wish to act on a relative's behalf you can just phone up and do it - cancelling a medical appointment for example. With anything vaguely account-based or financial, you might be able to get things done if you have the right answers to the security questions - as I was. But it's better to get registered on the account as an authorised third party. Requirements vary, from form filling to simply verifying by handing the phone to your relative for approval.
Doing admin and paperwork together may be a time-drain and tiring. If you live some distance away, you may wish to discuss having access to their email account, set up email forwarding to help ensure you are clued in to expiry dates, renewals, reminders or simply amend the email address for certain organisations to contact you, to ensure you don't miss important correspondence.
Depending on your relative's abilities, you might want to advise them on how to keep themselves safe from potential fraudsters and 'phishing' emails pretending to be from, say, HMRC, broadband provider, or bank. If you can, insist that they don't click on any links, or respond to any such emails - or phone calls - however convincing they might seem.
Providing reactive help is great - but you might also be able to proactively act and intervene. In my father's case, I helped him to accept he could no longer safely drive due to his medical condition. I helped him update the DVLA website, get rid of the barely-used car, and reclaim unused road tax, driving insurance premiums, and parking permits. You can also discuss any other things that you feel might be beneficial, whether it be arranging gardening help, a cleaner, or supermarket deliveries.
Do also take the time to check for any benefits, discounts or privileges, due to your parent's age, health, finances or domestic situation. Some things may be triggered automatically but it's certainly worth double-checking entitlements including:
You may even help them claim back refunds or missed payments. Remember even without a car your relative may be entitled to a 'blue badge' disabled parking permit which you can use when taking them on their errands or to appointments.
Are there better deals you can secure for your relative? If your relative has never switched their utility company insurance or broadband providers, or not done so for many years, then they may well be being billed on expensive and uncompetitive tariffs. Big savings on these can be made by changing to a new, alternate provider. It may not be a high-priority, but when you have time and inclination, then personal finance comparison sites could help you save your relative hundreds of pounds - or much more - each year.
Taking on someone else's admin could well mean a whole host of new account details to know and security checks to pass. If you are making a note of these, do so in as secure way as possible to minimise any data breach. You might keep a digital record in a secure folder, or a paper copy in some format, or commit things to memory - whatever works for you is fine, but do ensure you are not creating extra vulnerability for your relative.
Do be aware of any other people who are also assisting - or who might be willing to assist - and be sure to liaise with them to discuss or explain your thoughts and actions. This could be other family members, neighbours or carers who are also providing ad hoc support, or it could be people who are providing professional services such as an accountant, or solicitor.
If your concern with your parent or relative is not just about easing the burden but that they are losing the ability to make decisions for themselves, then you should look at helping them set up Power of Attorney, which will allow others to make decisions and act on financial, legal, health and medical matters. It may be an awkward conversation to have with a parent who is currently fully able to make their own decisions, but remember, Power of Attorney must be created - even if not executed - before any serious decline or loss of that ability.
All of this takes time and effort, and unless you need to act quickly because of a sudden decline in mental or physical health, then you may just wish to begin the process gradually. This will not only make it easier for you, but also help ensure your relative is more comfortable with the transition and support and not overwhelmed by too many sudden changes.
Do remember that although time spent troubleshooting everyday admin can reduce the amount of quality time you spend together, your efforts and input will surely be greatly appreciated.