By Attorney Matthew J. Parker, CELA*

One of the challenges for families with a parent suffering from dementia is how to manage the finances of the parent. Typically, the parent does not want to give up control, despite warning signs that they are unable to manage tasks such as paying bills. Even more troublesome is the chronic spending of someone with dementia; gifts to charities, gifts to unethical family members, gambling and the unexplained withdrawal of funds from their bank account are all problematic.

How can you help manage the finances and avoid irresponsible spending? This is a difficult task since most individuals suffering from dementia cannot appreciate that their behavior is not consistent with the behavior they exhibited before the disease set in. Many articles on this subject suggest that a conversation with the parent should be the first step. The obstacle most families run into is that the mother or father will normally be resistant, if not hostile, to the suggestion that they relinquish or share control of their funds. Nevertheless, the family “intervention” is recommended and depending on the personality of the parent, some concessions could arise out of the discussion. Here are some suggestions to help monitor and control the spending:

  1. Get a power of attorney. Powers of attorney are documents that name an agent to act for another person. The agent can make financial decisions and has access to bank accounts, credit cards and other financial accounts. Powers of attorney also allow an agent (such as one or more of the children) to monitor the activities in the bank accounts so suspicious activity can be identified.
  2. Set up automatic payments for regular bills. Household bills for heating, electricity, cable, health insurance premiums and scores of other regular expenses can be automatically withdrawn from a bank account. This avoids the likelihood of missed payments and eliminates paper bills that can frustrate those suffering from dementia.
  3. Limit the cash available in the checking account. Using on-line banking, the agent can regularly move sizable sums of money out of the checking account to an account without a checkbook or debit card. This will limit access to the majority of the savings while permitting the parent to still have access to a checking account for basic expenses. It is also helpful if monthly statements are not mailed to a parent with dementia.
  4. Limit contact with scams over the phone or through the mail. Do Not Call Lists limit phone contact with older adults to some degree. Most phone companies also have a “call blocking” tool to stop illegal and unwanted calls from reaching cell and landline phones. In addition, you can contact all of the direct mailing associations and ask that they remove your loved one from all of their mailing lists. You can get their contact information from the postal service.
  5. Limit spending on credit cards. Try cancelling seldom used credit cards and then replace the frequently used card with one that has spending limits. Credit cards such as True Link are pre-paid cards that allow you to define how the card can be used. Groceries and pharmacies would be permitted, while the casino and large cash withdrawals can be prohibited. These cards also issue alerts and allow family members to monitor spending.
  6. Work with the bank to provide alerts. Banks are reluctant to prohibit an account holder from making a withdrawal. However, frequent or large withdrawals are all too common for those with dementia. If you are the agent on the bank accounts, banks are often willing to give alerts to the agent that a large withdrawal is being made or even require the approval of the agent before the withdrawal is made.

These and other techniques can help a family control or limit the spending of a parent with dementia. Be advised that this will not be easy. The personality of the parent and the degree of dementia will often determine your success.

Matthew J. Parker, Esq. is an attorney at the law firm of Marshall, Parker & Weber, LLC with offices in Williamsport, Jersey Shore and Plains. For more information visit or call 1-800-401-4552.

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