It’s that time of year again: tax season. Whether we’re ready or not, it’s time to gather our receipts and records and file our inevitable taxes online, in person, or by mail—for those of us that tend to wait until the last moment. It may not be the most enjoyable time of year, unless, of course, you’re expecting a nice refund! But for some of our aging family members, it may have slipped their minds entirely.
As we get older (and busier!), it’s easier to become forgetful. But if you are noticing that your parents or elderly family and friends are beginning to forget to do routine activities—such as taxes—perhaps it’s time to step in and help. It’s important to be aware of what your parents’ financial situation is. Keep an eye out for any warning signs that may indicate they are unable to handle their finances the same way they once did.
In my nearly two decades working as a professional fiduciary, one of the biggest challenges I face is helping families cope with what is the case instead of what they wish was the case. It’s important to take a step back and try to observe any warning signs that may indicate it is time to consider hiring a qualified individual, such as a professional fiduciary, that can help protect your loved ones and their assets.
4 Signs a Senior Needs Financial Support During Tax Season
What are a few financial red flags that might indicate it is time to call a professional fiduciary?
- Confusion about calendar dates. Your parents have forgotten that it is tax season, can’t recall how they filed in previous years, or otherwise forget important financial information. This is an opportunity to offer them help—or to call a professional to help them get their finances sorted and their taxes filed on time.
- Uncashed checks or unpaid bills. Next time you go over for a visit to your parents, check to see if there are any uncashed checks on the table or late notices for bills. Your loved ones may be forgetting due dates for routine utility bills. Consider signing them up for autopay or entrusting the management of their financial affairs to a professional fiduciary to help keep them on track.
- Failing to tell you the whole story. It's important to discuss financial issues with aging parents. But it’s not unusual at all for your parents to only tell you about 10% of the story. They may not want to worry you about their finances, tax concerns or lack thereof. They could also be in denial about their needs or get defensive if you ask questions. And, they have been your parents for a very long time. It can be hard for them to give up control to their children. Often, working with a professional fiduciary is more comfortable and helps them feel like they still have control.
- Falling for internet scams. Scammers prey on the elderly and mislead them with oftentimes very believable tactics. In the age of technology, it is becoming easier and easier for our elderly to fall victim to scammers who call, text, or email pretending to be the IRS or other bill collectors. They can be very convincing, so it’s important to safeguard your parents and make sure they are not giving away personal information to the wrong people. By hiring someone to keep an eye out for suspicious scenarios like these, you and your loved ones can rest easy.
As the President of the Professional Fiduciaries Association of California (PFAC), I cannot stress enough how important it is to find a professional fiduciary that is not only someone you trust with your estate, but with your life. As members of PFAC, we promote high standards of ethics and practice. And if you’re not in California, finding a qualified professional fiduciary can be done by doing a bit of research and asking a list of key questions, such as:
- Are you insured for errors and omissions?
- What credentials do you have?
- If there is an emergency after hours, how do I reach you or your staff?
- What fees do you charge and when?
- Can you provide me with references who I can contact?
Does the person you speak with follow a strict code of ethics and show a willingness to answer your detailed questions? If so, this is a good sign that you are on the right track to finding a professional fiduciary that fits your needs. You should look for someone highly qualified to do the job and that you can trust. And it is OK to be selective! If you don’t like what your professional fiduciary is saying—find someone whom you do, and who has your family’s best interest at heart.