Scares are for Halloween.

Don't let your loved ones fear their financial future.

During this period of economic uncertainty, rising costs, and potentially reduced earnings on retirement funds, there are many new challenges to growing older. Outliving one’s money shouldn’t be – and doesn’t have to be – one of them. 

With years of experience working with the families of seniors in our care, Good Company Senior Care wants to offer you our unique insight on meeting the challenges of senior finances. We strongly suggest a proactive approach based on a simple, five-step plan.

1. Take the first step toward financial security: Ask all the right questions.

Do mom and/or dad have enough retirement money to keep up with the cost of living? Is there enough medical insurance should something happen? Can we afford a nursing home? Have they purchased long-term care insurance? Who in the family can be counted on for help, or even daily care?

These are all good questions—and it’s high time to ask them. You can’t just guess at the answers, and you can’t just run the numbers in your head in one evening over the dinner table. But you have to start somewhere. A simple chart is a good place. Compare the income and the expenditures; compare needs and wants. Then, project forward as realistically as possible and ballpark costs over time, adjusting for increases in the cost of living.

If you’re a financial pro, you’ll have no problem applying numbers to a spreadsheet. For the rest of us, this article is a good overview. The most important thing is to take the first step.

2. Include family—and be open and honest about the future.

It may be uncomfortable, but like a preventative visit to the dentist or doctor, a little discomfort now can prevent a major crisis later. As you consider future possibilities, include your wider orbit of family and trusted caregivers. You might read this article for some insight about enlisting family support. Let everyone know the challenges you are facing and explore how everyone can and should contribute.

Financial decisions are of course about more than just money: the last thing you want to have is family dissension while a parent or loved one is sick or dying. Know in advance that pleasing everybody may well prove impossible. Likewise, not everybody can be the boss. Sometimes caregiving is a democracy; sometimes it’s more like a dictatorship. You may find that not everybody can or will pull their weight. But if you are taking the time to read this article, then you’re already a good candidate for leadership.

3. Take precautions. Don’t let your loved ones become victims of senior fraud.

There’s nothing sadder than senior fraud, and we won’t use the language we’d like to use to describe those who perpetrate it. Senior fraud, unfortunately, happens far too often—and it can happen to anyone. So be vigilant.

Here are a few commonsense rules to protect against fraud:

    • Stop all telephone solicitations to your loved ones. If dealing with salespeople, make sure they always “put it in writing.”

    • Be certain that no one is hired for repairs or other work that isn’t licensed and bonded.

    • If loved ones are active online, remind them that the Internet is full of pitfalls and scams.

    • Remind your loved ones to never give someone their ATM, credit card or PIN or Social Security numbers,
    not in person, over the phone or the Internet.

    • Check bank statements regularly and carefully for unauthorized withdrawals. When in doubt, contact the bank to stop payment on a check. Close an account if you suspect fraud or unauthorized access.

    • Use direct deposit.

And please – we can’t emphasize this enough – remind your loved ones to “just say no” to anything that sounds too good to be true. It probably is.

For more information about senior fraud, please read this article from our friends at AARP.

4. Remember: You don’t have to do this alone.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or alone, remember that help and advice are always close at hand. Keep in mind that there are, at any one time, millions of people asking the very same questions you are—and that there are millions of answers and solutions already in books and online. Seek them out. Learn from others’ wisdom and experience.

While there’s comfort and inspiration from friends and colleagues, there is a universe of expert sources instantly available on the Internet. We often send friends and clients to the AARP site. Here’s another source of insight we find credible.

In addition to AARP there are a multitude of both non-profit and for-profit social service organizations with motivated professionals helping seniors and their families all over the country right now. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a charity, church or professional organization with which your loved one is affiliated. If they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, chances are they can guide you in the right direction.

5. Meet with a licensed senior financial advisor or planner who comes recommended and is licensed.

Following on step #3, we recommend you ask the people you know and trust–and who have traveled down this road before–for a referral to an experienced financial professional. Whether they recommend a financial advisor or planner, a reverse mortgage lender, or a CPA, make sure it’s someone who is licensed, in good standing, and has experience working with seniors and their families.

With a financial inventory—income, assets, expenses and liabilities—in hand you can make the most of your meeting with the financial advisor. Just having an expert third party on hand to address what’s best for your loved ones will make the conversation so much easier. The financial professional can put into motion a holistic plan that provides peace of mind for everybody—today, and after your loved ones pass away. Taxes and complex legal issues are, ultimately, at the heart of the matter; thus an unbiased professional approach is best.

The right relationship can mean everything. We recommend you read Tips on Choosing an Advisor. If you don’t feel a particular advisor is fully competent, or is hard to understand, difficult to reach, or even dishonest, don’t hesitate to ask questions or raise objections. Solicit the services of another advisor if the first one you try doesn’t seem to be a good fit for you or for your loved ones.

Reading this article, you’ve already taken the all-important first step of addressing the issues and educating yourself. There’s a world of help available at your fingertips. Now it’s time to take action and move forward.

Jack C. Merrick is the co-owner and co-executive director of Good Company Senior Care, an independent, in-home caregiver service with offices in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.