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Aging parents need financial health checkups

Confronting one's own mortality is never easy, especially when it involves witnessing the physical and/or mental decline of one or both parents.

You may know or suspect that your mom or dad is no longer as cognitively sharp as he or she once was. But it is quite another matter to be confronted with undeniable proof that your parents can no longer live independently.

Con artists prey on the elderly

It's no coincidence that grifters and scammers frequently target one of the most vulnerable and easily exploited populations — senior citizens. In fact, fraudulent schemes that focus on this demographic group are known as "the crime of the 21st century."

There are several reasons for this. Aging baby boomers typically have significant portfolios and retirement nest eggs. Some may also be less sophisticated technologically as well, which can increase their risk of getting caught up in an online swindle.

Keep your parents safe from predators

Your parents will likely feel so foolish about getting conned that they might attempt to hide or destroy evidence of their gullibility. If things seem "off" or if your parents attempt to hide their financial transactions from you, it could be a major red flag.

Ask candidly if you can do a financial health checkup to ensure that neither is at risk of having their identities stolen. Then, run a free annual credit report on both your parents with the top three credit bureaus.

Armed with that information, pay particular attention to whether your parents have any joint checking or credit accounts with any third parties. Close any inactive accounts that are not likely to be used.

Review any credit reporting incidents and dispute any discrepancies or inaccuracies. If your parents have been indiscriminately been opening new accounts or racking up unusual charges, you may need to get their credit "frozen" until you can sort out the particulars.

Get their legal ducks in a row

Any incidents of suspected fraud or fiscal mismanagement that you uncover is a good talking point to initiate a discussion on estate planning. Find out whether your mom and dad have drafted wills and appointed powers of attorney and health care proxies.

Timing is essential. If either parent suffers from dementia, at a certain point they will no longer be considered competent to make these choices and their intentions could be legally challenged in the courts.

Are they on solid financial footing?

Go over your parents' expenses and income streams to make sure that their needs are being met. Can they afford their lifestyle or will changes need to be made?

Your parents' credit card providers may be able to give them annual statements with their purchases categorized. This can alert you to problems if an online shopping or weekly bingo habit have gotten out of hand.

You may want to set up an appointment between your parents and a financial planning professional to get them back on the right track.

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