Cognitive Decline Can Force Couples to Change the Way They Handle Their Financial Paperwork

Papa’s Bank Account: Financial Organizing and Dementia

Karen Caccavo Cognitive Decline, Working with Clients

It was a typical assignment for me as a financial organizer—help a senior couple simplify their paperwork and household finances.  The husband had recently been diagnosed with dementia.  Now that she had to handle all of the work herself, the wife wanted to streamline the bill paying and more.

The discussion over his stopping driving had already taken place before I arrived on the scene. The wife had prevailed and he had given up his car keys.

What else would he have to give up?

The next order of business was managing their three checking accounts.  Their complex dance of deposits and withdrawals had sent them to the bank at least once a day, but his dementia made this unsustainable.  Record keeping and paper management was difficult, if not impossible, for one person to handle well.

“Your checking account has to go,” the wife announced to her husband at my last visit.  Her rationale: Too many statements, too many accounts to balance, too much thinking about which account to use for what purpose.  The account in her name and the joint account would remain.

The husband was resistant.  After all, he had had his own checking account his entire adult life.  It was tough to give up his car.  Now he was being told he would no longer have a checking account to call his own?

How could he maintain a sense of dignity?

“I have an idea,” I offered, stepping into the fray. “What if we keep your account with a minimal balance (to avoid bank fees) and add your wife as a signer?”  I suggested to the husband.  “But this will work only if you promise to leave the check book in the drawer.”

He smiled.  She was less convinced.

I understood that this was not the wife’s preferred plan of action.  And I also understood that it was not the straightest line from point A (complexity) to point B (simplicity).  But all agreed that this plan was a step in the right direction.  More importantly, it was a compromise they both could live with and left the husband with dignity, a commodity slowly slipping away with the advance of his dementia.

What is my goal in every client engagement?

Each client has a combination of life situations, interests and challenges that is particular to them.  But my goal as their financial organizer / daily money manager, advocate and problem solver remains the same.  I bring organization to their financial lives while keeping their emotional needs foremost in mind.

(If you are wondering about the title for this blog piece: it was inspired by the 1948 movie “I Remember Mama,” based on the book Mama’s Bank Account.)