Signs It's Time to Take Over an Elderly Parent's Checkbook

Rolf Sjogren | The Image Bank | Getty Images

Taking away the car keys from an elderly parent may be easy in comparison to taking over their checkbook. Knowing when and how requires some skill, according to Jean Chatzky, financial editor of NBC's TODAY show.

"As we get older we lose our ability to make good financial decisions, but we get more confident in our ability to make financial decisions," Chatzky said.

A recent report in Wall Street Journal Marketwatch noted that about a quarter of the people 65 and over have at least a slight cognitive impairment, according to research by Dr. Malaz Boustani, associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the director of the Wishard Healthy Aging Brain Center. But for the population 85 and older, about half have some sort of impairment.

"This is one of the things we know goes first," Chatzky said.

There are tell-tale signs that something may be amiss, but you need to look for them, Chatzky advises.

"You want to look at how bill payment is being handled. So if you go into the house, or a neighbor goes into the house and sees piles of unopened bills or unopened mail, that's a trouble sign," she said. "Also if you're with them in a restaurant and they seem to think they have more cash than they actually do, or they're getting forgetful about that, that's a sign again that they're not paying attention but also that they may not be able to get to the bank or get to the ATM."

Other signs include calls from creditors or a lot of expensive items showing up in the home.

It's best to talk about these issues well before the need arises, Chatzky said. Also, both parents and adult children think it's easier to discuss the topic when a financial adviser is present, according to the Intra-Family Generational Finance Study by Fidelity Investments.

And lastly, if you have siblings, make sure to keep them in the loop when it comes to your parents' money, Chatzky said.