James’ story: My struggle to bring order to Dad's financial chaos
*Identities have been changed to protect privacy
Dad was a civil servant with a financial turn-of-mind, but he was also very traditional and wouldn’t share any financial responsibilities with my Mum. Instead, he wrote all the accounts pen-and-paper style in a ledger. None of us wanted to interfere, so we all just let him get on with handling all the household finances.
Even when my father was diagnosed with vascular dementia we didn’t intervene or press my parents to organise a power-of-attorney to support them as they grew older. I even worked for a company that actively promoted summarising all personal accounts in one document, but Dad just waved his ledger at me when I suggested he fill the form.
Dad always insisted that everything was taken care of, including pensions and bills, and we didn’t quite understand how vascular dementia slowly erodes a person’s cognitive ability. But if we’d had an account summary and a will from Dad, all the difficult feelings we struggled with about money could have been avoided.
During the final three months of his life we could only try to come to terms with the final stages of the dementia and wait for Dad to pass. It was awful. But Dad’s filing system, especially towards the end, was just a big plastic box that we had to wade through to find the right paperwork. The weight of supporting my parents and the financial management then fell on my shoulders.
I had my hands full driving from London down to the West Country on a Friday evening after work, before returning early on the Monday morning. I ended up doing a lot of practical chores like shopping and cooking to give Mum a break. As the dementia progressed and worsened, Dad became completely dependent on Mum, as she was the only person he recognised or trusted.
We were a bit shocked to find the accounts were a mess when he passed away. There were so many accounts and we couldn’t fathom where the problems were or why everything was in such disarray. It was a painful period after Dad was gone, but we had to focus on sorting out the mess. We ‘lost’ around £10,000, and even now, we still can’t work out where all that money went.
Mum was suddenly left managing the finances and although she did her best to keep on top of things, the bills were relentless and she had no idea where they were coming from or what to do with them. Just to add to the mix of stress and emotion, we missed something in the financial planning and Mum ended up owing £5,000 in tax arrears.
In hindsight, we should have obtained Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for the both finances and health. I really wish I sorted everything with Dad when he was still alive. Everything would have been so much easier and I could have made sure everything was taken care of for the last six months of his life.
Now I’m nagging Mum to revisit both her will and LPAs, but what we really need is a digital summary of all her accounts clearly laid out in one place. She is a bit reluctant to let me see what she spends her money on, but I’m only interested in making sure she is keeping up with her loan repayments and not being conned by some random fraudster cold-calling at her home.
If we’d had simple and easy access to a summary of Dad’s finances before he died, we could have collated all the account information and understood exactly what was going on. It would have been such a relief to the whole family if we had a digital process that improved the coordination with my brothers and shared the decision-making responsibility during that very emotional time. §