Carers of people with dementia

Money

Most people tend to be private, even secretive, about their financial arrangements. Parents may never have actually told their children what savings they have, how they are invested and how they organise their money, day-to-day. So it's not surprising that people with dementia are slow to admit when a problem develops with their finances and are reluctant to let anyone have access to their affairs.

In the case of couples there may be a gradual transfer of responsibilities without too much difficulty. One partner may notice that the other is making unusually frequent withdrawals from the bank or they may notice that money is being spent on unnecessary or excessive purchases. One husband described discovering that his wife had been buying two of everything and that her wardrobe was full of unused new clothing. Another found that his wife had bought six toothbrushes and had to return them to the chemist with an explanation of his wife's problem. After that incident, he made sure he went shopping with her. One wife was able to gradually take over responsibility for money from her husband. She realised that he was having difficulty reconciling their accounts and, later, remembering how to write cheques.

Two sisters became concerned about their mother who was continuing to live independently. They discovered that she was making frequent large withdrawals from her bank but bills weren't getting paid and there was no evidence of her having made any big purchases. In this case they were able to get some co-operation from her bank-manager because there had been a temporary power of attorney order made at an earlier time. Another daughter complained that Social Services had failed to notify the appropriate authorities of her mother's condition and as a result she was sent a summons for non-payment of her council tax.

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One woman discovered by chance that her partner had become overdrawn as the result of uncontrolled spending. Though they weren't married, she was able to get her bank to give her 'third party access' to his account and even let her have a cheque book to use. Later, after much soul searching, she removed and destroyed his credit cards.

In general, for obvious reasons, a person's privacy is carefully protected. It is extremely difficult for anyone. even well-intentioned relatives, to access personal information or even to pay bills without legal authorisation, no matter how urgent. Arranging for bills to be paid by direct debit was a useful way of making sure they got paid. One man objected to this because he had been in the habit of paying a bit at a time out of his weekly drawings of his pension- not a satisfactory method once he began to forget what he had or hadn't done.

There are two main ways of transferring responsibility for financial arrangements away from a person who for some reason can't, or doesn't want to, continue to be in charge of their own affairs. There was no doubt in the minds of all carers that Power of Attorney most suited their needs. They all advise other carers to make sure this is in place early on. The reason why this is important is that it can only be arranged if the person giving over the power to another is considered to fully understand what they're agreeing to. Not surprisingly, entrusting their affairs to another, especially when that person seems to be awfully keen for it to happen, is just what many people are likely to consider dangerous and unwise. They may suspect that their hard earned savings are going to be taken away and used without their knowledge or say so. They may also suspect that it will give permission for other changes to be made that they would not wish for, such as 'putting them in a home'. As one daughter explains this can't happen, but it would be hard enough to explain that to anyone, let alone one who is confused.

The other legal course is to apply for the person's affairs to be transferred to the Court of Protection. This has to be considered when the person involved is unwilling to give Power of Attorney to any family member or other person. In this case the person who feels that it is necessary will have to prove this by providing evidence of financial incompetence. Several carers complained that the process took many months, during which time finances had a chance to reach rock bottom. They also felt that it was unfair that the court took a considerable fee but did nothing to help organise the affairs they had charge of. One man complained that he was not allowed to draw on his wife's savings to pay for her residential care until her case was accepted by the court of protection which took one year.

The worries caused by the uncertainty of financial arrangements can have a serious effect on the carer's ability to do their job effectively. As one carer explained he felt guilty having to spend so much of his time worrying about his mother's finances when he should have been concerning himself with her other needs. He describes the process of Receivership by the Court of Protection and repeats the advice to organise Power of Attorney early on and avoid this hassle.

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Some carers admitted making changes to their wills, fearing that if they died first, all their savings would be spent on residential care for their partner and none of it would be left to pass on the rest of their family.

Last reviewed March 2015.

Last updated March 2015.

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