Financial Secrets

Financial Secrets
When my mother’s mental decline became too obvious to ignore any longer, I discussed with her the need to move her closer to me. She had lived a thousand miles away for 22 years, which had been the perfect distance for us. However, I could not adequately care for her from that distance. She agreed moving to Ohio would be the best option.

I arrived in Florida the day before her 82nd birthday. The first order of business was to renew her driver’s license, license plates, and the license for her mobile home. We arrived at the license bureau, took our number, and took a seat. Totally unsuspecting, we then moved to the teller and submitted our request for the various renewals. I was not prepared for the response. We could not renew her driver’s license or her license plates because she did not have car insurance. Apparently, her insurance was canceled six months prior when she failed to pay her premium. She had been driving for six months without car insurance. My head was spinning.

After straightening out the fiasco with the license, and spending a small fortune to reinstate my mother’s car insurance, I next tackled the issue of putting her mobile home on the market. The idea was to sell her mobile home and then move her to Ohio. In order to sell the mobile home, I needed to give a copy of the title to the real estate agent. My understanding was that mother’s mobile home was paid off and her title should be somewhere in the house, so I started digging. Her kitchen table, as well as a card table in the living room, was piled high with paper. I started plowing through the mass organizing into piles as I went along. If I thought my head was spinning at the license bureau, now my head was about to spin right off its axis.

In the mess of paper, I found bills that had not been paid for months. I found disconnect notices for phone, electric, and cable. I found the many notices from the insurance company about her coverage lapsing. My mother’s financial picture was definitely painted in red. Disturbingly, I discovered a payment book from mother’s bank. When I asked her about it, she told me it was for a loan she had taken out for the addition to her mobile home but it was just about paid off. A call to the bank informed me this was not the case. The outstanding balance on the loan was over $20,000. The market price of her mobile home was about $4,500.

Desperate now to uncover all of mother’s financial secrets, I methodically assessed all of her expenses and tallied up the damage. Mother’s income consisted of social security and a part-time job at a local grocery store. In addition to the $20,000+ loan securing the mobile home, she also had an unpaid credit card with a balance over $11,000. I had no idea of my mother’s financial nightmare. She never confided in me. She never asked for advice before taking on any of this debt.

The lesson learned here was communication. Mother’s financial picture did not have to be so bleak. She could have explained her situation to me and my sister. We could have helped her with this mess well before it reached the crisis stage. I know my mother is a private person. I think all of us are to some degree. Looking to the future, I intend to bring my children into the loop. I believe if the day comes when they will need to care for me, I need to give them as much information as possible to make their job easier. In the present, I am doing all within my power to eliminate my last modicum of debt. I want to be debt-free so I can focus on saving money. I am still at least 10 years from retirement and believe my goals are within reach, provided I have no catastrophic illness. I believe the important thing is to have a plan and be working toward an objective. If life throws me a curve in the middle of my plan, at least I will not have to be devastated by the curve. If my mother had developed a plan and communicated it to me and my sister, none of us would have had to suffer the devastation of the next year or so.

Some questions to ask yourself in planning for the future: Do you have a financial plan in place? Have you talked with a financial advisor? How much debt are you carrying and how long would it take you to become debt-free? Parents, have you shared your financial picture with your children? Children, have you asked your parents about their financial picture?

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