A huge charade ensued – all of my mother’s experience of managing the checking account remained the same: receiving the bills into her home, and sitting down to write the checks. There was one important difference.
My mother always kept the checkbook and ran the household accounts while she raised her family and through my parents’ retirement years. She continued to manage her money after my father died. As Alzheimer’s claimed its terrible price, she continued to control her checkbook with my sister’s assistance.
By Pamela R. Kelley
Alzheimer's Reading Room
My sister was added as a signatory to my mother's checking account, given a financial power of attorney (POA), and took over the task of supervising the account.
Then, her anxiety over my mother’s financial vulnerability skyrocketed. She noticed things like the increasing number of checks voided out because of errors Mom made in writing out the sum.
There were suspect purchases.
Checks were written out of sequence.
Mom studied and worried and perseverated over that checking account throughout the mild stage and into the moderate of her disease. She captured my sister in ceaseless conversations about her money. She spoke to me on the phone for hours about her frustration with my sister’s intrusion into her financial privacy.
Our family eventually arrived at a solution to the problems surrounding Mom’s money obsession. Rather than staggering from one problem or battle to the next, a depleting process that occupied far too many months, the phony checkbook was born.
My sister took a box of checks from a closed account, checks bearing my mother’s name, address, and proper bank. Only the account number differed, and the sequence of checks. She substituted the dummy checks for the negotiable ones, and started a new register with my mother’s accurate current balance.
Immediately, this accomplished one important benefit. The checkbook wars between my sister and my mother ended. Now, my sister could pay the bills, reconcile the account, and keep Mom’s financial house in order – all offsite and online at my sister’s house rather than at my mother’s kitchen table.
A huge charade ensued – all of my mother’s experience of managing the checking account remained the same: receiving the bills into her home, sitting down with my sister to write the checks and enter them into the register, recording her Social Security and other deposits.
The difference was that my sister was no longer striving for accuracy. She could relax into the charade and simply be with my mother through the process, validating Mom’s decisions and actions rather than “correcting” them.
The reduced conflict was beneficial to Mom, and the lessened stress was a boon to my sister. Perseverating over money and the checkbook was much less noticeable in our daily phone calls. This simple decision – to substitute checks from a dormant account for the real McCoys – eliminated a trigger for upsets.
When my mother moved across the country to live with me, her faux checkbook came along. We continue the practice my sister established without deviation. There are fewer entries now; she’s not running a household any longer. Yet every month there are regular deposits recorded, and checks written. My mother accepts the fact that Alaska stores won’t take her “out-of-town checks” and doesn’t try to tender them. Instead, she uses cash or lets me pay. If it’s the latter, she writes me a reimbursement check from her phony account. It pleases her that she continues to control her own checking account.
The only problem we’ve had with this system occurred in the first month Mom lived with us. She’d written me a dummy check to reimburse me for an expense. I left the check on my working table, only to be discovered by my husband – a kind soul who works hard in a financial institution. He saved me the effort of having to deposit the check, taking it with him one day. I received the call from the bank later, informing me that this check wasn’t legal tender. I’d overlooked sharing the chronicle of the fake checking account with him!
My mother continues to benefit from her familiar role of controlling her own money, even though she doesn’t. She concedes that she needs my help with this. She magnanimously says,
“Honey, you can look at my book any time you want.”She’s secure. Her accessible money is safe. And there is an armistice in the checkbook war.
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Pamela R. Kelley served as a long-distance caregiver, and then as full time caregiver for her mother. Ms. Kelley lives, works and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.
Original content Pamela R. Kelley, the Alzheimer's Reading Room