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Six Key Steps To Help Aging Adults Prepare for the Future

Aging experts release a toolkit that helps aging adults prepare for the future and select a financial advocate.

Three national aging experts, in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, have released the "Thinking Ahead Roadmap: A Guide to Keeping Your Money Safe as You Age." It’s a comprehensive toolkit funded by AARP that guides seniors to select a financial advocate -- someone they can trust to help manage their money if financial decisions become too difficult in the future.

In an interview, co-author Marti DeLiema, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work, and Naomi Karp, an elder law attorney and independent researcher, explain the six steps to help aging adults prepare for the future. These include how to choose a trusted financial advocate and organize financial information, how to have conversations about planning, and how to think about shifting money management to an advocate when the time is right.

“Problems with financial decision-making can appear many years before a dementia diagnosis. Even cognitively healthy older adults may show declines in their financial decision-making abilities,” DeLiema said in a release. 

Studies show that about one out of five people aged 75 to 79 might have diminished financial decision-making abilities due to mild cognitive impairment or dementia; that risk rises to about one out of two for people in their 80s. Many of these people are still confident in their ability to manage their finances, putting them at risk of significant losses due to mistakes, exploitation, or fraud. Average losses range from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on the group studied.

“We heard many stories about people who didn’t plan ahead, resulting in financial losses and stress for them and their families." Karp said in a release. "We created this resource to encourage people to decide who they trust to manage their money if they need help and to help them make an action plan. The Roadmap will help prevent financial mistakes as well as fraud and financial abuse."

The design of the Thinking Ahead Roadmap was guided by extensive interviews with financial, legal and healthcare professionals. The interactive website includes informative and engaging video interviews with people who have prepared an advance financial care plan. It also features a financial inventory that people can download and fill out with their own information to make the job easier for their financial advocate.

The Thinking Ahead Roadmap also offers tips for starting an open conversation about finances. It also offers guidance on how to overcome common issues like resistance from adult children who don’t want to acknowledge that their parents are getting older or who want to put off these conversations.

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In addition to interviewing experts, the research team gathered data from more than 150 diverse older adults (age 60+) to understand where the difficulties are in the planning process and how to overcome them. According to the research participants, the most compelling reason to prepare a financial care plan is the peace of mind knowing their finances will be in good hands. As one participant noted, “Extra effort now can provide peace of mind later.” The study participants also stated the importance of planning ahead to reduce tension among family members, ease the burden on future decision-makers, and reduce the risk of scams and financial abuse.

The Thinking Ahead Roadmap website and book were supported by funding from AARP. The research that informed the Roadmap was supported by funding from AARP and the Society of Actuaries. The Thinking Ahead Roadmap can be viewed and downloaded for free at ThinkingAheadRoadmap.org. A paperback book can be purchased at cost here.