Podcast: Cameron Huddleston — Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk

Cameron HuddlestonEpisode 28 of the NewRetirement podcast is an interview with Cameron Huddleston, an award winning personal finance journalist and author, about her experience planning for and caring for aging parents. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, Huffington Post, Money, MSN, USA Today and many other publications. A mom of 3 and early member of the sandwich generation because of her mom’s Alzheimer diagnosis, she’s just come out with her first book “Mom and Dad We Need to Talk”.

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Full Transcript of Steve Chen’s Interview with Cameron Huddleston

Steve: Welcome to The NewRetirement Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Cameron Huddleston, an award-winning personal finance journalist and soon to be bestselling author about her experience planning for and caring for aging parents. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s personal finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, Huffington Post, Money, MSN, USA Today, and many other publications. A mom of three, an early member of the Sandwich Generation because of her mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. She has just come out with her first book, Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
And she’s coming to us from Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the corvette, which I just learned. So just real quick, this is an issue that almost everyone is going to deal with either in their immediate or extended family because despite all the planning that we can do for ourselves, we can’t plan for everyone. And all of us get older, all our parents get older. And I think this is going to be a great topic for our audience to explore and understand with some firsthand experience from Cameron. So with that, Cameron, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you join us.

Cameron: It’s great to be here.

Steve: I appreciate it. Before we get going on your book, I wanted to ask just some questions about your background. I was looking at your LinkedIn and saw that you have an MA in economic journalism. And I was curious about kind of what led you to that and also becoming a personal finance writer.

Cameron: So it’s funny because when I decided to become a journalism major in college, actually I knew going into college that’s what I wanted to do. One of the reasons I chose journalism is because I knew it was a major that could land you a job at a school without having to get an advanced degree. So I never had any plans initially to get a master’s or anything like that. But after working for a few years as a journalist, I got a job working for Dow Jones Newswires and its business journalism. But I had no background in economics, statistics, business, anything like that. Because most journalists, you’re interested in writing, you’re not interested in numbers. You stay away from those courses. But I thought if I’m going to go down this path and continue writing about business, I felt like I needed to at least have a better background in it.
And American University had a one-year program and you could choose an area of concentration, political science, international relations or economics. I chose economics, and I had a wonderful free tutor, my husband who was getting his PhD in economics at Georgetown University at the time. So I did the program, and I could not get my job back with Dow Jones Newswires because it was 2001, we were heading into a recession. They had a hiring freeze. I really wanted to work for Bloomberg covering the economy, they had a hiring freeze. But Kiplinger was looking for someone to be an editor for its website, and the website was relatively new. They took a chance on me. I had no experience writing about personal finance, but a little probably known secret for most people. As a journalist, you learn on the job.
When you start reporting, most of us start out for a daily newspaper. I mean, you don’t know anything about cops and courts, but that’s what they put you on. You write about police and that sort of thing. And I had to learn that when I started out as a personal finance journalist, I had to learn everything basically on the job because I had not been taught about personal finance like most of us, my parents didn’t teach me. I didn’t learn it in school. And I’m so thankful that I made that choice because I have learned so much that has helped me in my every day life.

Steve: Right. Yeah. No, it’s definitely a topic close to my heart about just educating younger people about personal finance. It’s not required in high schools. There’s a group that I know of, next generation personal finance. And they are advocating that it becomes kind of mandatory in all high schools. And they’re creating curriculum and educating teachers. It’s now available, I think at 60% of high schools and I think required in like 20%. But obviously everyone could benefit, you see what happens with credit card debt and things like that when people are less educated, and student debt. Like you are a parent of children, and I have an 18-year-old going to college. And when I look at their financial future, and we’ve talked a lot about this, they’re just being aware of like, do you want to graduate with six figures and credit card, I mean, sorry, and student loan debt. And be cognizant of credit card debt and how that can affect your life trajectory.
So anyway, I think it’s great that you’re educated and I think your experience of having to do it on your own is what most people have to deal with. And hopefully that changes over time.

Cameron: Right. I just want to add though that people who say, because I hear this all the time from my friends, oh, you know so much about money, you’re so smart about this. I know nothing about money. It’s not like I was born knowing about Roth IRAs and 401ks, I had to learn. And there’s so much information out there, free information that there is no excuse for not learning. You just have to put a little bit of effort.

Steve: Yep. Well, as some of our podcasts guests have said, it’s simple but not easy. There are things that are simple in life but getting motivated to learn about it and kind of doing it on your own, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world. But just as a side note, do you know Mary Beth Franklin over at-

Cameron: I do, I do, I do. We worked together for years, and I love her. She’s awesome.

Steve: Yeah, she’s pretty amazing. She’s been on the podcast and I just saw her recently in Chicago at the retirement income summit and total dynamo. And just so well informed about social security and Medicare and has so much energy and passion for it kind of taking that message out about how to be smarter about that to as many people as she can reach.

Cameron: Yeah, she’s great.

Steve: All right. I just want to jump into your book, and I’d love to hear your story on what motivated you to write this book in the first place.

Cameron: Yeah. To write a book about talking to your parents about their finances. Because talk about something that’s not easy, this is really not easy. People are afraid to have this conversation. I wrote the book largely because of my experience with my mother, my father and his story played a role in it, and I can touch on that briefly. My father died at the age of 61 without a will, and he should have known better because he was an attorney and he was in a second marriage. If anyone should have a will, it should be an attorney who has children from one family, a second wife, a stepchild, but he didn’t. And then when my mother was 65, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Several years before that, I had had a conversation with her when I moved from Washington DC back to my home state of Kentucky and I told her, “Mom, I really think you need to get longterm care insurance.”
She was not having any memory issues at the time, and you cannot get longterm care insurance if you’re already having an issue like that. Unfortunately though, she had another preexisting health condition that made her too much of a risk so she couldn’t get coverage. And if I had been smart, I would have said to her, “Mom, let’s look at your finances and figure out how we would pay for longterm care if you ever needed it. Let’s talk about what sort of care you want.” But I didn’t have that conversation with her, I dropped the ball. Fast forward a few more years and it became obvious that she was having trouble remembering things. And I quickly acted to make sure she met with an attorney to update all of her legal documents because I knew that you have to be mentally competent to sign those documents.
And I also knew that if she had not named me her power of attorney, if she didn’t name me her healthcare power of attorney that I would not have been able to get involved in her finances without having to go through the court system to be named a conservator. That can be a very lengthy and expensive process. So knowing these things, I was like, “Mom, we need to go in and meet with an attorney, update these documents.” And fortunately, she was still competent enough. This was in the very early stages of her memory loss. And so we got that in place, which was great, which was great. And it led because of that meeting with the attorney, she brought to our attention some things that we needed to be doing like going to her bank and putting me on her account as her representative payee.
And it led to some other conversations. And then I just kind of slowly got involved. But the problem is I was getting involved at a time when she was forgetting things. And so trying to get an accounting of what financial accounts she had was not easy because she was already forgetting things. So I was trying to piece everything together. And at one point, there was an account of hers, investment account that really has slipped through the cracks. I didn’t even realize it existed. And it was almost turned over to the state as unclean property, that was $50,000 of my mom’s money that I almost lost because I didn’t even know it was an account that existed.
And so I had to figure these things out of my own. And over the years, my friends have started to come to me because they know I’ve gone through this. And they’re like, oh, I’m seeing my parents are having issues or when do I start talking to them? Why do I need to know? And that made me realize that I didn’t want people to make the same mistakes that I did, and you don’t have to go through this alone. So I wanted to write a book that was going to help people have these conversations, figure out what they need to ask, what they need to do and how to get through to reluctant parenting because plenty of parents do not want to have these conversations with their kids, unfortunately.

Steve: Totally. It’s amazing just listening to all this because I’m learning a ton myself even about the estate planning stuff. And I was zipping through your book before this and I saw that one of your friends, I think Doug, he didn’t have this in place the estate planning power of attorney stuff and then had to try to set it up afterwards and petition the state. And I think it was 9, $10,000 or something like that.

Cameron: $10,000, yes. So his father had developed Alzheimer’s and ended up in the emergency room for surgery. And then they had to put him into a nursing facility for rehabilitation. Doug had not been named his father’s power of attorney. Doug could not access his father’s bank account, sign checks for him to make sure the bills were getting paid. So Doug had to pay for all those bills out of his own pocket while going through the legal process of being named his conservator. Spent $10,000 hiring an attorney for himself, his dad, because basically what you’re doing is putting your parents on trial to prove that they are no longer competent, had to hire a neuropsychiatrist to do test to prove that he was not mentally competent. And then he also was spending his own money to pay for those bills until he was granted legal access to his dad’s account to reimburse himself.
I mean, it’s a nightmare situation. And I don’t think that most people realize that if something were to happen to their parents, a stroke, a car accident, anything and that mom and dad cannot make those financial or health care decisions on their own, you can’t just call their bank. You can’t just call their credit card company and say, hey, something has happened to my parents, they’re in the hospital. I need to make sure their bills get paid. They’re not going to talk to you unless your parents have named you power of attorney and you have that actual document. You have to have the document to send or to show to the financial institutions to prove that you are indeed the power of attorney for your parents.

Steve: All right. You’re adding things to my to-do list right now.

Cameron: Put it on your to-do list now. Ask your parents, do they had this document? And do it for yourself.

Steve: Yeah, no, totally makes sense. Wow. And just one more thing on your friend, Doug here I guess. If you don’t have this and every year he has to kind of repetition or kind of maintain that conservative ship, is that what happens?

Cameron: What happens is you have to file a financial report with the court every year letting them know how you’ve managed your parents’ finances. So it’s time consuming. I don’t have to do that as my mother’s power of attorney. I mean, I simply just get in there and manage the accounts. I don’t have to report to anyone aside from, well, I let my sister know what’s going on. But yes, Doug, every year had to have this whole long report of what he did with his father’s money for the entire year.

Steve: Wow. I mean, I could see how this is just so fraught with emotion because essentially your parents or whoever gives up power of attorney is seeding some level of control. I guess they can control the accounts, but then you can too. So they have to have essentially complete trust in the person who has it that they’re not going to abuse that. So I can see why, and I’d love to dive into this with you. This is such a sensitive topic for families. And just one comment on this from a different perspective, unfortunately, most elder care fraud, my understanding is perpetrated by family members.

Cameron: Yes, you’re right. It’s very unfortunate.

Steve: It is an important choice. We’ll dive into that. Just real quick before we kind of go a little bit deeper on your book, your mom got diagnosed at 65. You’re starting to deal with it then she’s getting diagnosed. You’re mid-30s, young family. What else was happening around this in terms of her care and how that affected your own life? Because this is another huge part of this topic, it’s not just the financial side, it’s the whole caregiving who delivers it, keeping that equitable within a family. And as an aside, I saw this in my wife’s family where her grandmother had a stroke, she was in her 90s, she was elderly and then needed in-home care and they’re kind of rotating through, she had seven kids, so they’re rotating through weekends, providing care on the weekends.
And there was one primary caregiver that was living with her. That whole dynamic put a lot of pressure on the family. There were a lot of discussions or maybe not enough about the monetary side of it. So I’ve seen some of this firsthand, and I’d love to kind of hear it from you how that affected you because that’s another big part of this.

Cameron: Certainly, if you have these, and I shouldn’t say if. When you have these conversations with your parents because you need to have them, the first thing you want to find out is do they have these legal documents, the will, the power of attorney, the advanced healthcare directive. Because like I said, you have to be mentally competent to sign them. So you want to make sure those are in place. But another very important reason to have these conversations is to discuss long term care planning. And I know it’s very easy for us to say, well, that’s not going to happen to me. My parents are healthy, it’s never going to happen. My mother was healthy, my mother is still relatively healthy. It’s been 10 years. And most people when they are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the average life span after a diagnosis is eight years.
My mother is going on, she’s heading into 11 years since her diagnosis because she was relatively young, she was in good health. So don’t say my parents are healthy, it’s never going to happen to them. You don’t know what’s going to happen. And statistics I have seen show that once you hit age 65, there’s a 50% chance that you are going to need some sort of longterm care. So there’s a very good chance that one or both of your parents will need it. And so by having these conversations earlier, you can start to make a plan. You can figure out, first of all, do your parents, can they afford it? Do they have longterm care insurance or something that’s going to help pay for it? If they don’t, do they have savings? If they don’t have savings, that means it’s likely going to be you.
You’re going to be the caregiver, which most family members are caregivers. In my case because my mother did not have longterm care insurance, fortunately she had assets. She owned her house, she had some retirement savings, she was getting a social security benefit check. And she had inherited stocks from her parents. And I keep thinking to myself, thank goodness my mother is frugal that she didn’t take that money, that inheritance when she had gotten it years and years earlier and blow it. I mean, every day I’m like, thank goodness this money is there to pay for my mother’s care. The alternative would have been me not working at all, quitting my job and juggling my kids and my mother’s care. Initially, she was still in her house. We hired someone to drive her around. I had to take the keys away from her. And so I hired someone to driver her, take her on errands, and then I hired a part-time caregiver.
But then when I saw that it was getting too hard for her to maintain her house, like my husband was mowing the lawn for her, he was making repairs around the house. And it just didn’t seem safe. And I suggested that she move in with me. We had a house that actually had a separate apartment in it. So it was a really good setup for her. But I sold it as, “Mom, this is going to give you a chance to spend more time with your grandkids. I can make meals for you, I am going to be able to see you every day. I can help you with anything you need.” So I tried to put a positive spin on it. It was hard, it was so hard because she loved her garden. She loved working in her garden. And I told her, “Mom, you can help me out with my yard, bring your dog with you.”
But even though she was at my house, I still had to have someone there to basically keep an eye on her during the day while I was working. And I would check in on her in the morning, make sure she ate breakfast, took her medicine. There was someone there for lunch every night. She’d eat dinner with us or I would make dinner for her. But because I had young children, I had two at the time. And then I had my third while she was living with us. By the end of the day between dealing with my mom and work, and she was easy. I mean, she was pretty easy to deal with, but it was still stressful. That stress would build up and it would be harder for me to interact with my kids because I would be so stressed from the day. And it got to the point where I realized, this is not good.
I don’t want to resent my mother. And I was also worried about her safety too because she was in an apartment, I didn’t want her to wander off. I mean, you can’t lock her in there, that’s not safe. There was an instance where she had left something on this stove, fortunately we discovered it.

Steve: Could’ve burned the whole house down.

Cameron: Yes, could’ve have burned house down. It got to the point after a couple of years where I realized she really needed to be in assisted living, around the clock here. And so we had to make that decision. And she has been in assisted living for six years now. But if the finances aren’t there, the money’s not there to pay for that care. And I will tell you from her assets, we pay 4,500 a month. And this is in Kentucky. She was in a facility in Nashville, Tennessee for awhile, and we were paying about 6,000 a month. And so it is not cheap, it is very expensive. In-home care is about the same, 4,500, 5,000 a month. If you need nursing home care, we’re talking 80, $90,000 a year. So if your parents don’t have that kind of money and most people don’t, that care falls on you. And it can be a full-time job.

Steve: Yup, wow. I mean, it’s super powerful to hear this. Go ahead.

Cameron: But I was just going to say, if you’re starting to have these conversations when your parents are healthy, you can come up with a plan, maybe figure out a way to cover some of these costs so it’s not just you. Maybe saying, “Mom and dad, maybe you should downsize sooner rather than later.” If they have a two story home that’s large, let’s get you into a one story home, an apartment, a retirement community where there is the support system that’s already built in. Just taking these steps in advance should help build up your finances and prepare for this thing. Might lift some of the burden off you because if you have to do it on the fly, which is what I was having to do, you do have fewer options.

Steve: Wow. Are you the oldest daughter?

Cameron: I am the oldest. I have a sister and she lives many states away from us. So it just wasn’t physically possible for her to get involved with this.

Steve: Sure. There’s actually some data about I think worldwide, the oldest daughter tends to become the primary caregiver, and the cost is huge. I mean, by the way, I totally applaud you and all the work that you’re doing because I think that this is such a material impact to people’s lives that isn’t talked about that much or seen. But when I hear about this work, so you’re helping her when she’s in her own home and you’re helping her plan and get ready, get all these documents ready, then you invite her into your own house. And she lives with you for a few years and you’re providing round the clock care and support. And then managing your transition to assisted living. I mean, that’s a giant lift, right? And it’s not just you, it’s your husband, your kids, the whole family dynamic. So good work by the way.

Cameron: Thank you.

Steve: And for everyone else, really think about this. I mean, me think about this a lot. My brother and I obviously are involved in our own parents, my mom more than my dad. And we started to have some of these conversations, but we should be having them probably faster and getting certain things completely nailed down to make sure they’re fully documented. All the documents are put in the right place. But yeah, it’s also powerful to hear about the cost. So $4,500, 4 to 5,000 in a relatively low cost state for assisted living or in-home care. And then 80 to 90. Well, that’s 60,000 a year, right? 50 to 60,000 a year or 80 to 90,000 a year if you’re on full-on nursing homes.

Cameron: Skilled nursing, yes.

Steve: Wow, that’s a more college educations.

Cameron: I know. And the thing is these costs are just going up every year. So it’s not going to get any cheaper.

Steve: And unlike a four or five-year education, you don’t know how long it’s going to go for. I mean, that’s just a tremendous amount of money.

Cameron: And the average length of longterm care is three years. It’s a little bit longer for women. But like I said, for my mother it’s been six years. I mean, she’s well above the average at this point.

Steve: What happens? I mean, she has assets, good. And she has some income, good. Do you have a visibility, a timeframe where we have enough money to fund five more years of this, 10 more years of this? It depends on returns I guess and things like that.

Cameron: Well, we did something at the suggestion of the attorney. And this is something that you need to do well in advance also. And this is something you need to meet with an attorney with. Medicaid is the only government program that will pay for any type of longterm care. It will pay for nursing home care, and it will pay for in-home care. It does not pay for the type of assisted living facility that my mother is in. So to qualify for Medicaid, I think most people realize you have to be low income and have very few assets. Typically, it’s 2,000 in assets or less. So what you can do it’s called Medicaid planning, transferring assets. But there is typically a five-year lookback period. So if your parents were to gift you their assets so that they would be eligible for Medicaid down the road, then it has to happen basically five years before you need that care because they’re going to look back that far for any transfers of wealth.
And so this is something that we did. But like I said, it will only pay for nursing home care, and my mother is not at the point where she needs the skilled nursing home care. So we’re just continuing to pay for the assisted living now. Fortunately, she did inherit, you know, a pretty decent amount. And so what I do every month, I just sell enough stocks to cover the cost of her care. Her social security benefit covers about half of it, the sale of stocks cover about the other half. But because I’m only taking a very small amount out each month, the bulk of that, the bulk of the investments are continuing to grow. Unfortunately, we’ve had a pretty good run. Earlier this year when the stock market tanked, that was painful watching that. And I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, this is paying for my mother’s care. Please, please bounce back stock market.”

Steve: Yup. Totally. Wow. Well, it shows you what goes into this. The Medicaid planning in my wife’s family, they looked into that. What they did was they were leveraging her assets. She had set up a reverse mortgage, so they actually had used and had like a line of credit. They wanted to care for her in her house, so they ended up using some of that for most of her care. And they also tried different things. She went into assisted living, and some of these facilities, they didn’t like. So then they brought her back home. It’s tough, but they were thinking about this. And I think having that as a hedge where, hey, you will end up spending a lot of money from your parent’s money or your money, whatever you’re going to spend it. Ultimately, it’s going to, like you said, $2,000 in assets.
So if you still have a lot of assets, you’re done, you’re out of money and then you can get Medicaid. But it’s definitely worth thinking about it in advanced, especially if you think that that could be in your family like, hey, someone in my family has Alzheimer’s or they have these kinds of known potential future diseases, it’s good to be aware of that.

Cameron: And it might not even be Alzheimer’s, I mean, it could be a parent who had a stroke or maybe a parent who has diabetes and they can no longer get around on their own. And so they’re in a wheelchair, they need assistance bathing, they need assistance getting dressed. There are plenty of reasons you could end up needing that assisted living care.

Steve: Totally. I appreciate all the color. I mean, it brings it home. Let’s talk about your book and some of the big lessons. I think one of the first things you said is kind of open up by talking with your siblings first as you’re getting ready to plan. So why is that?

Cameron: Why is it so important? Because if you were to go to mom and dad on your own without letting your siblings know, it can create friction. They’re going to be like, well, wait, why did you do that without me? I care about mom and dad, why didn’t you talk to me first? You want to get on the same page with your siblings. Let them know that you want to have the conversation with mom and dad, figure out a time when you’re going to do it, who’s going to have the conversation? Is it going to be all of you or just one of you? Figure out what approach you’re going to use. And you also want to discuss what roles each of you is willing to play as your parents age so that when you go to mom and dad, it’s basically a united front.
We’ve been talking about this, we love you, we want to be able to help you. We have all kind of figured out what we are able to do. And in order to be able to help you, if you ever need that help, we need some information from you. There are things that we need to know. And so if your parents can see that you guys really are on the same page, it can kind of give them a peace of mind because oftentimes parents can be reluctant to talk to their kids especially about things like estate planning, wills, because parents don’t always divide things up equally. They’re afraid if their kids start asking, do you have a will that they’re going to have to admit that they divide defy things equally.
And so you want to let them know, “Mom and dad, we don’t care who is getting what. We just want to know if you have your wishes in writing. That’s what matters to us. We just want to know whether you name someone to make financial decisions for you if you can’t. We just want to know if you have an advanced healthcare directive that spells out what sort of medical care you do or do not want at the end of life and you’ve named someone to make healthcare decisions for you. This is what we want to know.” And so when you come together, the parents are going to see that you as the children are in this together and you’re looking out for them and that there’s not disagreement among the kids.

Steve: Yeah, totally. Do you think this kind of thing should be facilitated? Did you ever think, oh, we should bring minutes> You obviously did meet with lawyers and stuff like that later, but bring an expert in that can kind of educate you and your parents about these issues and tell these stories about, hey, this is why a POA, you gotta do it, we should do this very soon.

Cameron: Getting a third party involved can be a good way to get these conversations going because oftentimes parents don’t want to talk to their kids, and they’re not necessarily going to listen to the advice of their children. And so you might want to say, hey, mom and dad, we recently met with a financial planner or we recently met with an attorney to update our estate documents. I would love it maybe if you would consider coming with me to meet with my financial planner. And you can even do it under the guise of let’s meet with my attorney because I want you to know what documents I have. I want you to know what I have in place. And then while they’re there, hey, let’s talk about whether we should do this for you too or let’s meet with our financial planners so we can kind of update you on what we’re doing. And hey, maybe the financial planner can help you too. Getting that third party involved can make it easier to have these conversations.
There are professionals out there whose job it is to help manage this, manage the finances and the health care of parents as they age. They’re called, there are a couple of different names. They go by geriatric care managers, elder care professionals. So these people can be brought in as that third party to basically go over everything you need to know and do to prepare for these issues if they come up down the road. And then you can hire them if your parents do have issues to help oversee their care, make sure the bills get paid, deal with insurance. If they’re on Medicaid, deal with the Medicaid system. And so there are people out there who can help with these things.

Steve: Wow, that’s great to hear. It sounds like they’re going to be pretty busy. Good career for people. And I was looking at some of your stats here. So 50% of people, 55 to 64 have no will and 33% of people over 65 have no will, is that right?

Cameron: Yes.

Steve: It’s pretty high.

Cameron: It is. Unfortunately, it is.

Steve: And how about, do you know the data on the power of attorney?

Cameron: It’s about the same, about half of older adults don’t have a power of attorney, an advanced healthcare directive. And only about 11% of older adults have longterm care insurance. And so if you think that your parents have their financial act together, there’s a good chance they don’t. And it might not be the case that you have to help your parents out with your caregiving, you might have to help them out financially. They might have tons of debt, they might not have saved for retirement. That makes the conversation trickier because they’re going to be reluctant to talk because they might be embarrassed, who wants to admit to their kids, Gosh, I have all this debt, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to retire because I don’t have any savings. That can be a tough hurdle to overcome.
And so if you know your parents are in that situation, you want to be very careful about not looking like you’re passing any judgment. You can approach it from the standpoint of, “Hey, mom and dad, I found this great method for paying off my debt, it’s really helped me,” or “hey, mom and dad, I found this great way to save money on groceries.” Offering them advice, things that you’ve done that have helped you with your finances. And it’s like you’re just giving them a suggestion or offering the help them out with a task, hey, mom and dad, I know that doing your taxes really sucks. I have a great accountant, let me take care of this for you. Finding ways to help.

Steve: It’s like as a parent, you’re also reading all these books all the time about how to talk to your teenagers. Don’t look at them right in your face, sit side by side, talk in the car where you’re both looking forward, those kind of things. Similar analogies to it.

Cameron: But it’s the same type of thing because you don’t want your parents to get defensive because then they’re going to shut down. And so you don’t want to be condescending, you don’t want to issue ultimatums. You’re going to tell me this because if you don’t, I’m not going to take care of you. That’s the last thing you want to say to your parents. In fact, you want to think about this as if you were in a similar situation, how would you want your kids talking to you?

Steve: Yup, right. That’s a great way to think about it.

Cameron: You have to treat your parents with that respect even if you know that they’re making some bad decisions, even if you know they’re already … Every time the scammer calls, they’re like pulling out their credit card and stuff like that. You don’t want to call them out on these mistakes that they’re making.

Steve: Sure. And you can put yourself, say, “Hey, in 25 or 30 years, I might be in the exact same position.” I mean, if you’re still going strong, you’ll be in the same position or at least you’ll be at the same age, hopefully you’ll be better prepared. So just to recap then the big risks for parents and families all together and their children, do they have enough resources, have they been saving? Just so they can have some flexibility and for how to pay for things. Do they have the right docs, living well, power of attorney docs? Have they thought about caregiving costs and just understand what they could be, which we talked about?
Have they thought about how this might unfold given different scenarios like how they might move, where they might move to? You touched a little bit on scammers, that’s another one, but being aware of that and how to monitor for that especially in a scenario where someone’s cognitive abilities are declining. It sounds like you with your mom found that she had been targeted by ‘donation places’, had been contributing.

Cameron: Oh my gosh, it’s a nightmare when your parents are having dementia and that sort of thing. Talking to your parents about scams is really a great way to start these conversations in general because you can either say, “Hey mom and dad, I just got one of those phone calls from somebody pretending to be from the IRS saying that they were going to come arrest me if I didn’t pay the money that I owed.” Did you know that this is a scam, mom and dad? If you get a call from someone saying they’re from the social security administration and, hey, can you afford confirm your account? I need your social security number. Talk about a scam call that you’ve gotten, an email that you’ve gotten as an example and say, “Mom and dad, you need to be on the lookout for these things.”
Or, hey, I just read this article or I just heard this podcast or I saw something on TV. I think you need to know about the red flags of scams because scammers tend to look at older adults as a source of a lot of money because they know that they have either retirement savings or a pension check or a regular social security check. And so they like to go after older adults because they think they’re cash cows. You don’t want to say they’re going after you because they think you are naive, you don’t want to point that out, but you want to say they target older adults because they think they’re a good source of money. And so pointing out what scam red flags are so they can be aware. If you simply tell your parents to hang up, if they are in their 60s or 70s, they’re not going to do that.
It just goes against what they had been taught. You don’t hang up on people, that’s rude. Give them a script, give them a line that they can say, oh, thanks for calling, but I’m heading out the door right now. Give them something they can say to get off the phone without feeling bad because they’re going to pick up the phone even if they have caller id and it’s a number they don’t recognize, they might think, oh my goodness, it’s the doctor’s office or it’s my grandkids or someone calling, I have to answer the phone.

Steve: Yup. Have you put on any like monitoring. So do you keep your parents’ accounts and your accounts still separate, you’re managing them two separately?

Cameron: Yes. I have a bank account at the same bank where my mother does. And what’s great is actually I have one login that I can use. They’re separate accounts, but I can see every time I log in to see my account, I can see her’s too. And so I can see what’s going on. I was fortunate because my mother was so untechnologically savvy, she was writing checks, she didn’t have a debit card, she did not have online baking. So once I was put on as a representative payee on her account, I set up online banking so I can monitor her account because initially when she was still at home, she was writing checks to every organization. They would her send her something in the mail asking for a donation, and I knew she had no connection to them.
What I started doing is going through her mail and taking those away, “Mom, I’ll help you go through your mail just to make sure you get the bills, and all the junk we’ll toss.” And then I would go and check the account and make sure she wasn’t writing these checks. It got to a point where I had to take the credit cards away so she wasn’t buying things she didn’t need. But when a parent has dementia, it is so difficult. She was convinced once that she had won a prize and needed to wire money to collect it. And I basically spent the day at her house answering the phone every time and hanging up because she was convinced that she had to pay this money to collect a prize.

Steve: Right. I mean, you’re lucky because you lived close and you could physically monitor the mail, be there with your parents. But it sounds like putting systems in … I mean, you automated things, you have online banking. I know there are some tools where you can kind of monitor for fraudulent transactions. Have you put anything like that in place to kind of alert you or just doing it-

Cameron: No, I haven’t done that now just because I’m in charge of all of her finances now. She’s to the point where even though she functions physically, mentally, she’s really has very little ability left. And so I’ve been handling everything for years for her. What you can do though is put your parents on, do not call this, they don’t stop the scammers. What they do is they stop legitimate organizations that they have no ties to from calling us. So you can let your parents know you’re on this list, which means if you’re getting calls from people, it means there’s a good chance they’re scammers.
And so you know if the legitimate companies aren’t calling you unless you’ve already had dealings with them. And so you know that this is a scammer and you can hang up. There are things that you can put on your cell phone to prevent those spam calls, scam calls and spam calls. So things that you can do to help protect them, it’s not guaranteed 100%, but even those little things can help some.

Steve: Wow. Have you dealt with people that are doing this remotely? So more and more families are distributed across the US, any tips for folks that parents live in other states or like your sister is far away, if you weren’t there, how would you do things?

Cameron: So I would certainly encourage, put your parent’s phone number on the do not call list, put them on the do not mail list, tell them about apps that they can use on their phone to prevent the scam calls. And recommend that they are doing things the old fashioned way basically and they have not set up their accounts online to tell them to do that. And they might think, well, oh, now it’s on the internet, people have more access. That’s not you, it makes it easier. And I explain this in the book, it makes it easier for them to monitor their accounts, especially social security.
So social security now, they moved everything online. You don’t get statements in the mail anymore unless you request that. And so you need to set up that account online because when I was interviewing a fraud expert at AARP for this book, she was telling me it’s become a very big problem where people who have not up their online social security account, thieves are doing it. And then they’re doing it for you. And so you want to go and set it up for your parents and then someone can’t come up and set up a false account for them.
Then they can monitor it, key tabs on it, keep tabs on all their financial accounts. You can encourage them to set up alerts with their bank and their credit card anytime they make a transaction, they get a text message or an email. And so then if someone has gotten a hold of their debit card or credit card and they get a text message saying their credit card has just been used and they didn’t use it, they know that someone is using it fraudulently. So all these little things that you can put in place to help them. Obviously when it gets to the point when they’re having issues mentally if it’s your parent and it’s your mom and she lives alone, for example, this is the point when there really needs to be a caregiver there. If the parent is at the point where they are making decisions that are jeopardizing them financially, there needs to be care involved, like full-time care.

Steve: Right. It feels like there needs to be, it’s like our government, good checks and balances. So when you’re taking care of yourself, it’s like, okay, I make my own decisions or maybe you have a spouse and you work together on it. Then there’s this transition between the adult parent who has assets or the older parent and the adult child and just making sure there’s good checks and balances within the family. Obviously in your case, you’re managing it. You’re doing all the work to take care of your mom. But in other families, if there was visibility, and I guess it sounds like you have this with your sister. Say that there’s several siblings, kind of keeping everybody informed would be a nice way to almost doing like reporting on it so everyone could be like, okay, we understand, we’re all on the same page, here’s what’s happening, we’re executing it. That’s like running a business basically with a board.

Cameron: It is, it’s a very sporting thing to do. And the thing is if your parents are, if they feel reluctant to give up that control by naming a power of attorney, the point that you can make to them is that first of all, mom and dad, you don’t have to name just one person. You can have more than one person so that if something happens with your first power of attorney and that’s not working out, there’s another person there who can step in. The thing is you have the control because you’re naming the person you trust most to do this. If you don’t do it, then someone could step in, go through the court system to get conservatorship. And might not be the person you trust. It might not be the person you want to do it.
It is within your control now to make this very important decision. And you can also mom and dad, spell out to us the children what sort of system of checks and balances you want. I’m naming you to be my power of attorney, but I expect you to tell your brother and sister every month how you’ve managed my money. And letting the kids know, I’m putting you in this role, but I expect you to be accountable to your siblings.

Steve: Yeah, no, it’s really interesting talking about this because this intergenerational planning aspect of this is going to become increasingly important for families as more and more people go through this. And the mechanics of how you manage it I think can set it up is going to be super important. And reduce a lot of pressure because with your family and our family, if you don’t do it right or even if you do try to do it right because there’s money tied up and inheritances and care, and is it equitable and fair the amount of work that everyone is doing? It can create huge friction, huge stress, and huge friction and real issues within families unfortunately.

Cameron: Unfortunately, yes.

Steve: Well, this is super helpful, it’s super educational for me and I’m sure for many other people just how big an impact it’s had. All these things that you’ve learned about what’s important, what the big risks are, how to engage the parents and have this discussion and how to record it and manage it over time what you’re continuing to deal with,. As you look forward for your mom’s situation and yourself, any kind of big lessons or insights that you have as you look into the next 5 or 10 years?

Cameron: One of the things that I am so grateful that I did discuss with my mother before any of this happened, she made it very clear to me that, we talked about her end of life wishes. Like when she dies, what does she want? Does she want to be buried? Does she want to be cremated? And she always made it very clear to me and my sister that she wanted to be cremated. And she talked about what sort of service she wanted. A lot of times parents are very reluctant to talk about death because it’s a very scary thing. But talking about their final wishes can be a way to start these conversations. Like my mom would always complain when she was married to my dad when she asked him about this, he would refuse.
He was like, sharpen my toes and nail me into the ground. And she was so frustrated with his unwillingness to discuss it. And when they got divorced, she was like, you guys need to know, you’ve got to find this out. And she was so forthcoming with it. And I’m so glad now because when the time comes, I know what she wants, and I can honor that. And you can let your parents know this, I want to be able to honor your final wishes. Please let me know what you want because I don’t want to have to guess. I don’t want to have to get it wrong. I don’t want to have to end up spending $10,000 buying you the fanciest casket because I think that’s what you want. And really all you wanted was the cheapest one out there. They might have already bought a plot, they might have the funeral insurance, which is something that does exist.
You can start that way. So I’m so grateful that I had that conversation with my mother. At this point, I think financially things are set up pretty well. I feel so fortunate that that is going well. The bigger issue now is that as she ages and as her dementia progresses, it’s just going to be harder for me emotionally to watch. It’s been hard to watch the decline already. But because she has been relatively healthy, I just need to think about how far the dementia is going to progress. I don’t even like to think about that, I don’t even like to think about that. So really I just kind of have to take each day, one day at a time, one day at a time and try to enjoy the time that I have. She doesn’t know I’m her daughter anymore.
She’s still remembers she has a daughter named Cameron, but she doesn’t know I’m that daughter. But I do visit her, and I bring the kids, and she gets excited to see them. She doesn’t know they’re her grandchildren, but she just loves seeing the kids and their smiling faces. So I just kind of have to accept that that is what the relationship is now.

Steve: It’s gotta be so hard to kind of watch your own parent and someone in your family that you love slowly fade away. It’s not like they’re suddenly passed away, but you remember them, but they’re losing you kind of in reverse.

Cameron: And I will point out to people, because I know plenty of people will say, well of course, I’m going to take care of my parents if they need it. And I did for a while, I did. Like I said, she lived in my house. But caring for a parent is incredibly difficult because it does switch the roles. You almost become like a parent to your parent and that can be very difficult because obviously they still see you as the child, and they don’t want to take direction from you even if they cannot function mentally on their own anymore. I mean, if the parent is at a position where they can no longer take care of themselves, if there’s no one else to give the care, you’re doing everything.
And I do mean everything, the bathing, the going to the bathroom, the feeding, getting them dressed. My mother is so easygoing most of the time, but when there are health issues and we have to go to the doctor, it is the only time when she speaks very clearly and lets you know as soon as they put that blood pressure cuff on her and start tightening it to take her blood pressure, she’ll let you know right away, “Stop it, you’re hurting me. Get that off me.” And she’s had some health issues recently, and it’s been very difficult. And I’m so grateful that there are paid professionals who know how because they’re doing it day in and day out and they have experience. They know how to handle my mother and to help her and to give her the care that she needs. And I’m so grateful that we have that. Because if I were doing it by myself, I couldn’t imagine at this point in her stage of Alzheimer’s having to provide that sort of care that she needs.

Steve: Right. Yeah. You’ve got your own children, your own life and-

Cameron: It’s not easy.

Steve: It’s not simple. Yeah, it’s not easy. It’s hard to imagine. It’s interesting hearing you talk because you talk about being grateful and thankful, and it’s obviously you’ve taken a lot of lessons or maybe it has always been this way, but about how to be in the moment and enjoy your life and be happy. I’ve talked to lots of people in this podcast about what’s important. So it’s great to hear that from you. Well, this has been fantastic. As we wrap up, I’d love to hear, any care influencers, communities, podcasts that you love, resources that you found kind of along the way as you’ve gone through this?

Cameron: I would say that AARP is a great resource. They have a fraud watch network that you can use to get information about scams. They have so much information about aging issues. If you are interested in getting more information about longterm care, sites such as Care.com. And I have a whole list in my book, in the chapters and in the back, I have a whole list of resource for people. And so people can refer to that. There is a lot of information out there, a whole lot of information that can help you go through this process with your parents. The key thing is don’t wait to have these conversations, it can take a while to get through to your parents. Don’t wait for some magic moments when you think everything is right.
And you don’t have to get everything all at once, spread these conversations out over time. I give an example of that in the book of a financial planner who had the conversation with his mother over several months. Each time they met, they would speak for about 30 minutes and get information about a certain aspect of her finances. So it doesn’t have to happen all at once. If your parents are reluctant, don’t give up, don’t give up.

Steve: Is there a certain age when you think this should start or just over 60, over 65?

Cameron: No, no, no, no, no, no, earlier. You have a son who is 18. I mean, you could already be talking to your son about things like your mom and I are doing this so that we can have a secure retirement. We’re making these plans to cover long term care if we ever need it so that you don’t have to take care of us. I think someone who is in their 20s and starting out, they are in a wonderful position to start having these conversations with their parents because they can go to their parents under the guise of asking for advice. They can say, I just started my first job and I have the opportunity to contribute to your retirement account at work. Do you think this is a good idea? And then that gives you insight into what your parents have done.
I don’t know, I never had to save for retirement. I have a pension or I wish I had saved more. Or you could say, I just got married, do I need life insurance? Do I need a will? And your parents might be like, yes, of course, we got life insurance years ago, we got a will. Or they might say, you know what, that’s been on my to-do list. I haven’t done it. Thank you for reminding me. But when you’re starting out, it’s a great way to get the conversation started just by asking your parents for their advice. Don’t wait till they’re having health issues. If you can do it before they’ve even retired so you can get an idea of what their retirement is looking like and maybe plant some seeds in their head that maybe downsizing before they retire could be a good idea because it will reduce those housing costs.
They can get into a place that’s going to suit their needs as they age. Certainly if your parents are struggling financially, having these conversations sooner rather than later might help them make steps to improve their finances.

Steve: Yeah. That’s actually what we do with my mom is when she was in her 60s, we talked to her about downsizing. And we had all these financial issues that we worked through, that’s why we started this company. Some of these conversations that come up. And like you said, we’ve continued to have these discussions over the years and make adjustments. And my brother and I, I think we definitely see this as kind of like as intergenerational ongoing living plan that we’re executing with her and try to have the right conversations at the right time. This conversation is highlighting certain things we can even continue to focus on more. Is there anything else that you want to really quickly cover before I wrap this up?

Cameron: I think one thing I’d like to point out is that as much as you want to probably be able to help your parents, you still need to remember that your finances take priority especially if you have children who are counting on you for support, young children. Now, you don’t want to turn the tables and jeopardize your own finances by continuing to support your children into adulthood because a lot of Gen Xers and baby boomers are doing this. They’re really sabotaging their own retirement savings by continuing to support these kids well beyond college. As much as you might want to be able to help your parents out, there might have to be limits so that you do not damage your own finances and then put your children in that situation of having to hurt their finances to support you. You need to keep this in mind.

Steve: Right. Yeah. When we’re doing planning, one of the things is plan for yourself first. And obviously, if you have young kids, you’re planning for them in your own retirement. Then your kid’s college education, probably then your parents’ situation. But you have to kind of keep all this stuff in mind because these things that are outside your control, someone has a stroke suddenly, you get this phone call, nothing’s ready. Then you’re put in a position of we might be making pretty much life and death decisions about resources overnight. And then you have to kind of weigh these things up, all right, well, do we drain all our resources?
And when you see the stats about how I think the majority of bankruptcies are caused by medical issues, even if you have insurance. Someone gets cancer or someone has a heart attack, you blow through your insurance, you hit all your deductibles, whatever. You’re still paying all these costs, and it blows up your situation. That’s why it’s worth it to plan for this stuff and really get educated like this, be thoughtful. All right, well this is super helpful, Cameron. So thanks Cameron for being on our show. Thanks Davorin Robison for being our sound engineer. Anyone listening, thanks for listening. Hopefully you found this useful. Our goal at NewRetirement is to help anyone plan and manage their retirement so they can make the most of their money and time.
And if you’ve made it this far, I encourage you to check out Cameron’s site. So cameronhuddleston.com and her new book. Please check out our site and planningtool@newretirement.com where you can build your own plan for free or take advantage of some of our premium services including access to CFP. And we also have a private Facebook group or you can follow us on Twitter. And all the links to Cameron’s site, the book and everything will be posted online and the transcript. Finally, we are trying to build the audience for this podcast. So if you could leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or anywhere, we’d appreciate it. We read them and try to improve our show based on your feedback. And with that, Cameron, again, thanks a lot. And everyone else, have a great day.

Cameron: Thank you.

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Do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable

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Take financial wellness into your own hands and do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable.

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