I’m sitting in the lobby of Happy Acres waiting for the business manager to return from lunch. I just spent half an hour talking with Mom, who’s doing much better than she was a month ago. She still struggles to find words, and she’s still confused, but now she’s able to conduct conversations and (more importantly) recognize people and tell the date.

Mom’s main concern now is finding an apartment to herself. She currently has a roommate whose moodiness makes Mom uncomfortable. When the business manager returns from lunch, she and I will discuss the options. Should Mom move to one of the open apartments on the assisted living side of the building? Or should she simply wait for a single to open up in the memory care unit? And how will we as a family cope with the costs?

The high cost of (assisted) living
Mom’s living situation is not cheap. She’s gone from having no housing expense to shelling out $2860 a month for room and board (in a shared room!). Plus she’s paying $910 a month for additional services, such as blood-sugar checks and daily medications. That’s $3770 a month to live at Happy Acres.

Can Mom afford $3770 a month? That’s the question I’ve been trying to answer all week. I set up a separate installation of Quicken to track Mom’s finances, and I’ve been entering every bill and receipt we can find. The picture is still incomplete and will remain so until this time next month. But eventually we’ll know how much money she has and what her cash flow is like — how much she’s gaining or, more likely, losing every month.

At the age of 63, Mom’s life savings is relatively small. She has $27,348.98 in the bank. Fortunately, she also has an unknown amount in a retirement account through the box factory. (We think this is around $100,000, but finding that actual information is low on the priority list.)

Mom’s salary from the box factory is about $2000 net (after taxes) every month, plus the company pays her $2750 in monthly rent. This the system Dad set up before he died in 1995, and it seems to be working well. In theory, Mom will have $1000 left over after paying Happy Acres every month. But, as I said, we’re still trying to figure out where all of Mom’s money is going.

Unraveling her expenses is a challenge, in part because her records were sloppy and incomplete over the last few months. So far, we’ve learned the following:

  • Mom has five life insurance policies of unknown nature. I discovered these on Sunday, and haven’t had time to figure out what the terms are. “Nobody depends on your income, Mom,” I said today, “so why do you have these?” “I wanted to leave something for you boys,” she said. My heart broke. I’m grateful that she’s thinking of us, but she needs the money more than we do.
  • She has many “credit protection” programs on her credit cards. These only cost a few bucks a month, but they add up.
  • There are a several other automatic charges on her checking account and credit cards that I can’t decipher. I asked Mom about them today, but she doesn’t know what they are either.
  • Mom’s only debt is about $10,000 owed her car. (We don’t know the exact amount; we only have the payment coupons.)
  • She has a cell phone she’s never used. I’m not sure she even knows how to use it.
  • And so on. There are new surprises all the time.

My next job is to cut services she no longer needs — like the unused cell phone. That may mean dropping some life insurance policies (though this will be a family decision with Mom’s input). I’ll also cancel her satellite TV service and newspaper. We’ll drop her phone service and auto insurance down to the bare minimum.

Note: In all of this, the Power of Attorney is like the flaming sword of justice. Without it, we couldn’t make any of these changes. Companies would just keep billing Mom for satellite TV that she could not use. But with the POA, we’re able to make any changes we want. It’s a powerful tool.

This isn’t difficult work, but it’s time consuming. Everything happens in slow motion. I started today with six hours to work on Mom’s affairs. I’ve spent five hours on them so far and haven’t even accomplished half of what I set out to do. I spend a lot of time waiting. And searching. And driving. And thinking.

All of these steps are necessary because assisted living is expensive. As I said, Mom is spending $3770 per month. If a one-person room were open in the memory care unit, that would run another $1300. To move to a similar arrangement in the regular assisted living side would only cost an extra $350 a month, but I’m not sure if she’s ready to move over yet. That’s why I’m waiting to meet with the business manager right now.

How things stand
A month ago, I felt overwhelmed by Mom’s situation. Today, I feel optimistic. The family has pulled together, and we’re each trying to do the things we’re best at. Mom’s condition has improved some, although it’s obvious she still needs constant care. Happy Acres seems to be doing a great job, and Mom likes it here, which is something of a miracle. (This morning, she even did tai chi!)

Taking care of her affairs is a lot of work, and I’m glad my family has spread the load around. Even when I’m only focusing on my bailiwick (money!), it still takes two or three days a week for 4-6 hours at a time. I’ve spent sixteen hours working on Mom’s money this week. I don’t begrudge this, but it is like a part-time job. The main drawback right now is it takes time from my writing, both here and elsewhere. You have all been very understanding so far — for which I am grateful — but I still feel bad that I’m not able to contribute more. (Second drawback? I’m stress eating! Twinkies, pepperoni sticks, sugary sodas. This is not a good thing)

Time for me to pack up. The business manager just returned from lunch. I’m not sure where our conversation will lead or what the future holds for Mom and my family. I’m just happy to know that for the time being, we have enough money to give Mom the care she needs. I’m just hoping we can continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Note: Thank you all for your kind comments and email messages. I was only able to reply to a few (though I hope to answer all of them eventually), but I read every one. I’m grateful for your kind words of support. Thank you.

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