Mom is mismanaging her money and getting deeper in debt.

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My 77 year old mom lives in a city 2 hours away. I found out through her IHSS caregiver that she is borrowing from check cashing places and not paying them back, moving from one check cashing place to the next. I've been getting calls from these places for over 6 months because she uses my name as a reference.

In addition, when I visited a couple weeks ago I went through her papers while she was asleep. I found that she has been behind on her rent for 6 months (she lives in a government subsidized senior housing apartment complex) and had a shutoff notice from the utility company because she was behind in payments.. IN addition, her phone was turned off for almost a month because she couldn't pay the bill. Her bank statement shows 5 or 6 returned checks over the past month with accompanying fees.

Meantime she has been buying clothing and jewelery, but sometimes doesn't have enough money for food. She's very low income and can't afford to be mismanaging what money she does have let alone spending extravagantly on "extras".

I've tried talking to her about her money problems but she gets angry and says it's "under control" and that it's none of my business. Meanwhile she calls me,my brother and my aunt asking to borrow money.

She does not have officially diagnosed dementia or alzheimer's but I"ve noticed her short term memory is deteriorating. I'm not sure what to do about this. I see her getting into a debt spiral that is impossible to get out of, not to mention the threat of shut-off utilities and no food. Any experience around this would be appreciated.

19 Comments

Is this new behavior? Has she been responsible for handling her finances for a long time or is this recent (is she a new widow, for example?)

Mismanaging finances is often one of the first noticeable signs of dementia. Perhaps a good starting point would be a thorough physical and mental evaluation, so you have a better idea of what you are dealing with.
Do you have durable POA for her. If so, once you have her evaluated and know what is going on, then use the durable POA to put her monthly standard bills like rent and utilities on auto draft from her bank account. I would remove any credit cards and see if the bank would put a daily limit on the use of a debit card. I would also see if the bank would place a limit on how much she can withdraw from her account each day. It might help to use your POA to go around to these check cashing places and talk about your mom's problems. These are some ideas that come to mind off of the top of my head tonight. I wish you well in dealing with all of this.
Than you so much everyone. I will look into the durable POA although mom is very resistant to handing over any kind of control. she's never been great with money and now things are getting very messy. Not sure how to "have her evaluated" though--she's pretty suspicious of what she perceives as meddling. Do I talk to her doctor behind her back and have it done on the sly?
I once had a patient who signed a contract for a service they could not afford or continue, and got them out of it by telling the service provider that the patient had an impairment of judgement and got them to just drop it. I'll admit I kind of implied they should have realized this while making the sales pitch and explaining the deal to them, as given good verbal and social skills, it might not have been super obvious. If you are a "reference" and they get to you, the next question or statement could always be, "why didn't you..." or "I wish you would have called me BEFORE you loaned the money, my mom's judgement is suffering lately and she has mild cognitive impairment...she will not be able to pay you back, and PLEASE call me before you loan here any more; I can't afford and can't be responsible for loans I did not even know about." Talking to her doctor in advance and prepping them to at least do a mini-mental status and then accompanying her to the visit is one strategy, or going to a comprehensive geriatric eval and presenting it as a new treatment center for getting started in a therapy program of some sort could work. Remember to get medical POA so you can get information about medical visits and care too, and carry a copy with you as people often misunderstand HIPAA and won't share anything with you even when it makes no sense not to.

That said, I also needed to get hold of my Mom's QVC card and take it out of her wallet "for safekeeping..."
Thank you vstefans, will do that on the check cashing places, and those are great ideas about dealing with the evaluation.

The last time I mentioned medical POA to her she was not receptive. I'm afraid that because of her current money mismanagement she won't have money for food; that's what the last check cashing loan went for.
These questions probably don't need to be asked. So excuse me if I cover ground that has already been covered, but Does you mom know about the canceled checks with fees; does she know how far behind she is on rent; does she know about the power shut-off notice because she is behind on payment; and does she know that her phone was cut off because she did not have enough money to pay the bill. I ask this because these are the things I would tell her in a matter of fact manner followed by and this why it is in your best interest for you to give me durable POA to manage your bills so that they get paid. To me she is obviously not competent to do her business in a business like manor. If worse comes to worse, you just might have to bite the bullet and file for guardianship which is expensive.
HI cmagnum,
she is aware of all these things. She seems to think she is entitled or beyond the rules. She gets angry if anyone questions her motives or ways of doing things. She's always been that way so nothing new. However she is on major pain meds and has been for years, morphine and other narcotics, so they are clouding her judgment in my opinion. She's also had a couple of minor strokes which might also be affecting her judgment. combine that with a very stubborn personality and it's even more difficult to confront her about these things.
That is a mess.
Hi Miz,
I can identify. I'm guessing that my mom is about 20k -25k in debt (but I don't know for sure because she won't tell me exactly how much she has on her credit cards, and she has several). I do know that she upped a personal loan about a year ago to 16k to pay off credit cards that are now maxed out again.

She's always been the "bill payer" of the family, for as long as I can remember but in the last few months, she's missed paying a couple important ones, and put off paying many until they were nearly too late.

She too, is stubborn, obstinate, and gets downright angry when you try to talk to her about what's really going on. I don't want it to get "bad" before her and I both 'know' what's really going on. But, because of her need for control, getting a POA, medical or otherwise, is something I fear I will have to wait on until things DO get worse, much worse.

For me, (though my situation isn't as bad as yours, and my mother does live with me, at least so far), my approach is to just let it be, and let her deal with the consequences of her behavior. I don't know what else to do, I KNOW things aren't right with her, but she won't even consider talking about it... she just gets defensive.

Perhaps someone here in the forum can help you understand at what point it is no longer their choice...??

I'm sorry that I can't do much more than offer understanding... I'm struggling myself. But know that I DO understand how hard it is. :)
Thanks NeverKnew. I generally have used the tactic of hands-off, letting her deal with her behavior but I think her mind is deteriorating and she's definitely harming herself by not having sufficient food. Fortunately she has no credit cards so isn't doing further damage that way. I mentioned medial POA when talking to her last night and she seemed receptive, and my brother is going to work on her as well. She'll listen to him more than she listens to me sometimes. Good luck to you.

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