Black retirees, retirement

How To Manage Finances For Senior Family Members

Finance leader Carla A. Harris shares wisdom on managing money for the elderly.

Originally Published Nov. 17, 2014

Carla A. Harris’s pearls of wisdom derive from personal experience and love.

“I love to share our knowledge and best practices with each other, says Harris, a leading expert in finance and global investments. Harris says that if sharing her experience makes others more successful, “that’s what it’s all about. Women of color can come together to share and learn.

Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over in Your Career, her book, came out, December 2014. It is the follow-up to her debut book, Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace. What pearls of wisdom does she share in her books? From her first book, perception is the co-pilot to reality. You have the power to train people [in the way] they think about you,” says Harris, named by BE as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. “The most important ‘pearl’ in my next book is understanding the relationship between relationship currency and performance currency.”

Taking a page out of her personal life experience, Harris shares strategy-filled pearls for managing healthcare and finances for elderly family members.

1. Understand the family issues

First, have a good grasp of the medical issues in your family and know your family history. When my parents were sick I carried their meds in my BlackBerry. So whenever the doctor calls and asks, “Do you know what she’s taking?” I can say, “Yes, here’s the meds and dosage.”

2. Find out what they want

You should understand what they want to do if they become incapacitated. Whom do they want as a decision maker? Do they want a healthcare surrogate? How do they feel about in-home care or facility care? You need to have a serious conversation about long-term care. You’re talking about $57,000 a month; after tax money it’s $84,000. How is that going to be paid for? What assets are they willing to liquidate for their own care? Do they want to put money in a trust? How do they want to segment it? What if you need 24/7 care? That’s $19-$20 an hour. Do they need a live-in? If you’re working full time, you can’t afford long-term care. Culturally we do that. But what if you’re not qualified? Why not get qualified care? Make sure you have the conversation.

3. Decide on the legal matters

Who’s going to have power of attorney? Who’s going to pay their bills? Who’s going to take care of the household and pay the lights and insurance and keep things functioning when they can’t function?

4. Draft a will

If they do expire, you must have a will in place. They can do it quietly, and decide what happens.

5. Educate yourself about healthcare

If you show up in the hospital ignorant about what’s going on, it’s easy for you to be taken advantage of. So say the healthcare provider has no malice, but they’ve been up for 15 hours, they’re tired, they have other patients. Because you’re not informed, you don’t know what questions to ask, you’re not helpful to the healthcare provider. So the doctor looks to you and wants to know what kinds of meds they’re taking. And they have to guess and they could prescribe something that could cause reactions. If your loved one is in a serious condition, then you start getting professionals saying, “The right thing to do is x.” So you don’t understand what they’re saying. And then you get those questions, “Do you know what they want, and have you had this conversation?” But we don’t know that, because we haven’t had the conversation.

6. Face the inevitable

We need to own the fact that inevitably those who are in charge today won’t have the capacity to remain in charge. So you need to think about who is going to make those decisions. Culturally, we are uncomfortable talking about money. In the Black community, the generation before the boomers didn’t discuss money. People worried about being taken advantage of, even by their own family. As a result, you have old folks that won’t tell you their assets or what they have. But if you’re incapacitated and no one knows what you have, you leave your loved ones ill-equipped to make good decisions on your behalf. You may have long-term insurance that could be helpful, but if your kids don’t know, they can’t help you.

RELATED COTENT: Vice Media To Undergo Major Overhaul: Hundreds Of Layoffs, Shift In Publishing Strategy