Perhaps you have noticed an older relative is slowing down. Maybe a serious illness is making financial management tough for a loved one. Now might be the time to step in and examine what can be done to keep your family member’s financial picture under control. Here are some starting steps:

Understand the situation: Make an effort to understand what your loved one is feeling and considers important. Perhaps your relative is afraid of getting old. Making demands, such as pushing them to move into an assisted living facility, might make the situation worse. The relative might not understand his or her situation and, if your loved one doesn’t, how can others be expected to? How does the person want the situation, be it family or money, handled? What will be the trigger for the relative to turn over control to someone else? Discuss a transition plan. At this point, empathy with your loved one is a must.

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Discuss legal documents: Does your relative have health care powers of attorney, HIPAA releases and financial durable powers of attorney in place? Having these documents is necessary to allow you to manage the care and finances for your family member in the event of an emergency. Other important documents include a will and potentially a trust. Does there need to be someone available to run the relative’s business?

If these items haven’t been addressed, now is the time to discuss the issues with tax and legal experts. If they have been addressed, make certain the documents are available and everything is in place. Your relative might even be relieved to have someone else have copies of the documents.

Talk about long-term care expenses: According to the National Care Planning Council, the average nursing home stay is 2.29 years. Sometimes there is a choice between a nursing home stay and receiving care in the loved one’s home. It is important to understand what the person wants and to get a handle on the costs.

Get a handle on the bills: You may want to ask if your relative is able to pay all the bills and has enough to live on, especially if he or she seems unsure and the bills appear to be stacking up. Gather your family member’s bills. Your family member might still maintain financial independence, writing the checks for example, but needs supervision. To make it easier for care-givers, consider electronic bill payment. Keep passwords in a secure place that only the parties needing the passwords have access to.

Arrange to maintain the home: In order to retain the value of the property, the home must be maintained. This is true whether your loved one will come home after a medical stay elsewhere or if the home is to be sold.

Start a correspondence file: There can be a lot of paperwork associated with a serious illness. Start a system to keep track of all the documents, including both medical as well as non-medical. Arrange for mail to be secure. Shred all material that doesn’t need to be filed.

Pull credit reports: Ask the loved one if you may pull his or her free annual credit reports each year. This will help you confirm that the accounts are current and identity theft isn’t an issue

Ask experts: Some older folks might need help from an expert in order to move forward. Expert advice can come in the form of physicians, social workers, clergy, and financial planners. Experts can help explain what is happening and address areas of concern your relative may have.

Whatever happens in your family situation, remember that love and support wins the day.

Marc A. Hebert, MS, CFP, is a senior member and president of the wealth management and financial planning firm The Harbor Group of Bedford. Email questions to Marc at Your question and his response might appear in a future column.