What’s in Your Parent’s Wallet?

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For those of us who are organizationally challenged, one of the hardest parts about caring for someone else is keeping track of their stuff!

It is hard enough keeping tabs on your own belongings, and then you may have a spouse or child who thinks that you are Vice President in charge of their possessions, too. Adding a care recipient who really cannot keep track of these things, especially if they have some form of dementia, can complicate things even further.

The most difficult situation is when your parent or loved one still believes that they are wholly “independent.” If you try and look in their wallet, jacket, purse or pants pockets, they accuse you of snooping and prying. Then, the next time you are at the doctor’s office, Dad brings out this moth-eaten piece of cardboard that he claims is his Medicare card. You cannot read the name or the number on it, and it’s not even clear what color the thing is.

What’s a caregiver to do? Caregivers who have been managing a loved one’s finances either through a verbal agreement or by using a financial power of attorney probably know what is going on in their wallet or purse, but it is always a good idea to double check their accounts and keep track of their spending. Catching a glimpse of their wallet can tell you a great deal about their spending habits, changes in their credit, and whether or not they are capable of managing their own finances and health care. But if you haven’t been able to get them to involve you in these things, or you haven’t even considered the chaos that may be lurking in their wallet, you can adopt one of two strategies.

There is the straightforward, “Hey, Mom! I’m going to clean out my purse and throw away all these ancient receipts. Shall we do it together? I’ll make a pot of tea and it will be a hen party!”

Then there is the more efficient, effective strategy. Simply wait until your loved one is taking a nap to assess the situation.

Once you have either gotten them on board to do some purging or set them up in their favorite recliner for a mid-afternoon rest, the difficult part begins: sorting through a wad of credit cards, reward cards, coupons, receipts, insurance cards, IDs, checks, and who knows what else.

Medicare Cards

First, if the individual is a member of a Medicare Advantage plan (Part C), their Original Medicare card (red, white and blue card) should be accessible, but you never pull it out! Doing so can cause all kinds of confusion. Simply make sure it is in good shape (legible) and safely tucked away, but leave it hidden. Instead, they will use the Medicare Advantage card provided by the private insurance company they have their policy with. Usually one card is provided for both doctor/hospital visits and prescription drug coverage, but not always. If they have a separate card for prescriptions (Medicare Part D), make sure that it is also in decent condition and accessible.

If your loved one is on Original Medicare (Parts A and B) they do need to have their red, white and blue Medicare card handy. This is true regardless of whether or not they have a supplement plan. If the card resembles the moth-eaten example above or is expired, please know that obtaining a new card is actually quite simple. By going to www.ssa.gov and clicking on “What you can do online,” you can order a replacement card. After it arrives, you should shred the original.

Because optional Part D plans change their prices and formularies so often, you or your care recipient may have a multitude of cards from various prescription plans. Do you know which one is current? By using the Medicare Plan Finder, you can make sure you know what the current plan is and discard/destroy any extra cards that just happen to be hanging around.

The same goes for a Medicare supplement card. Is there only one in there? If they have more than one, make sure you keep and use the correct one and shred or cut up those that are no longer valid. There’s nothing worse than having bills applied to a cancelled plan, thereby delaying payment and causing all kinds of mail to show up on your doorstep.

If you are aware of details regarding your loved one’s Medicare enrollment and certain cards are missing, contact the entity responsible for issuing replacements. This will either be the Medicare Card Replacement section of the Social Security Administration or the private insurance provider that your loved one has purchased coverage from. If you have additional questions about commonly used Medicare terms, dealing with changes in health status or the availability of insurance plans, MyMedicareMatters is a helpful site for caregivers.

Credit Cards

Depending on your loved one’s level of independence and clarity of thought, they may or may not be able to safely possess credit and debit cards. Carrying a bit of cash is one thing, but credit cards enable people to rack up significant amounts of debt. This can be especially dangerous for individuals with cognitive decline or those who have difficultly controlling their spending or making financial decisions.

Credit card companies often target seniors with new sign up materials. If a caregiver is not on top of their finances, monitoring their credit score or carefully sorting through their mail, a senior can easily open up multiple lines of credit and dig themselves into a hole. This not only affects their finances and credit score, but can also have serious implications regarding their ability to pay for medical expenses and long-term care down the road. When sorting through their wallet, make sure they have not obtained any new or unknown credit cards.

Debit Cards

If you have determined that it is no longer wise for a loved one to carry cards due to erratic spending, it may also be time to remove the temptation of a debit or ATM card or check book as well. Switching to carrying only a small amount of cash is a safer way for our loved ones to complete everyday transactions. A debit card can be just as detrimental to their financial situation if they begin withdrawing large sums of money or overdraft their account. Allowing them to keep a bit of cash in their pocket helps to limit the possibility of financial damage, and it also gives them a sense of independence