Money Management

If your family member experiences memory or other cognitive problems as a result of the brain injury, it may affect his ability to manage finances. A common sign is difficulty tracking how much is in his bank account. Depending on your family member’s injury and temperament, an inability to organize finances can result in bounced checks or utilities being shut off. If your family member was good at keeping track of finances before the injury, you may have added challenges getting him to see the problem.

Unfortunately, persons with brain injury, depending on the nature of the injury, can also be prime targets for swindlers. Sadly, such “financial abuse” does not always come from strangers. Younger friends or relatives manipulate many persons with brain injury, and financial abuse can take many forms. The individual might gain access to your family member’s accounts or use assets or belongings without permission. They might even forge his signature or get him to sign over disability checks.

Recipients of government programs such as social security disability income (SSDI) and/or supplemental security income (SSI) are required to have a representative payee. This person has the responsibility for annually accounting to the Social Security Administration and reporting how government benefits are used to support the individual with brain injury. A person can be her own representative payee if she is capable of fulfilling that role. It is important to assess your family member’s ability to properly manage her money before a representative is appointed. If she is unable to be her own payee, it is also important to name an appropriate person as representative payee.

To find out if your family member needs financial protection from himself or others, answer the following questions as accurately as you can.

Add 1 point for each “Yes” answer to find out your score.

Then read the summary that matches your score.

Note: This quiz is intended as a guide. It is not a substitute for the advice of a brain injury specialist, doctor, cognitive therapist, counselor, case manager, or social worker. We suggest you consult with these professionals to help you identify and find solutions for areas where you and your family member might need extra assistance.

Has your loved one:

1. Put mail in stacks and never opened it?

2. Received shut off notices from utility or phone companies (or had the utilities/phone shut off for lack of payment)?

3. Experienced difficulty reconciling his bank statement?

4. Moved large amounts of money or sold assets?

5. Remarked that he is unable to find some of his belongings?

6. Made uncharacteristic comments reflecting concern about money?

7. Made unusual purchases of goods or services, particularly through the Internet?

8. Made purchases from people who call on the phone or come to the door?

9. Recently drawn up or signed legal papers he can't really explain?

10. Suddenly acquired a very attentive "new best friend"? Or is loaning or giving money to friends?

11. Seemed to have one individual who appears to be controlling his thoughts and actions?

12. Attempted to purchase items or pay restaurant bills without having funds to cover the expense?

Your Results: 0 (Total number of "Yes" answers)

Please answer the questions to see your results.

Low risk (Score: 0)

Your family member is probably safe and able to continue as she has been if she:

  • is not suffering from significant memory loss
  • has adequate strategies to manage money on a daily basis
  • does not appear to be under the influence of one particular individual
  • has not changed his general habits or behavior
  • is not expressing new or unusual concern about money

If your family member begins to spend money in new or unusual ways, or is giving money or items away, or if someone appears to be taking control of his life and isolating him from his usual support system, you may want to investigate.

If your family member independently manages her own finances, it may be helpful to set up strategies to promote good spending habits. They include posting payment schedules on a master calendar, developing budgets, and determining how discretionary funds can be allocated for recreation.

When the representative payee is a family member or other responsible adult, funds can be disbursed on a set schedule, lessening the chance of abuse or irresponsible spending of limited funds.

Medium Risk (Score: 1–2)

Your family member may need assistance with money matters. Things to look out for include:

  • changes in his usual habits
  • signs that he is spending money beyond his means
  • controlling or overly attentive “new best friend”
  • utilities or phone shut off for lack of payment
  • money or items unaccounted for or missing

There are a variety of methods to help individuals with cognitive deficits manage money effectively. Some individuals are beneficiaries of large settlements as the result of litigation, and these funds should by all means be protected through structured settlements, trusts, and other legal vehicles. Many trust companies and private financial management companies offer bill paying services. They have bonded employees who can help your family member keep track of his bills and reconcile his bank statement every month. They can help make sure he is not without electricity or phone because of his inability to manage his affairs. They can also help monitor if he is spending money unusually or is possibly the target of a con artist.

In addition, if your family member independently manages her own finances, cognitive therapists can help develop strategies to manage checking/saving accounts and daily or weekly expenses.

If the representative payee is a family member or other responsible adult, funds can be disbursed on a set schedule, lessening the chance of abuse or irresponsible spending of limited funds.

Other methods for protecting funds may be a requirement for cosignatures for checks over a set dollar amount to prevent overspending and limited credit/debit cards with a low spending limit. Check Finding Help for links to helpful sites.

High Risk (Score: 3–12)

With so many indications of potential money management problems, it appears that you may want to step in and be sure your family member is not a financial danger to herself. The key here is whether your family member is showing changes from her usual behaviors. If she has always left the mail unopened and lets the utilities be shut off, this may simply be the irresponsible way she managed her life before she was injured. However, if these are new behaviors, you would be wise to discuss it with her. Money matters can be tricky to handle. You may want to get professional advice about how to best deal with the situation.

A bill paying service, for instance, has bonded employees who can help your family member keep track of his bills and reconcile his bank statement every month. They can help make sure he is not without electricity or phone because of his inability to manage his affairs. They can also help monitor if he is spending money unusually or is possibly the target of a con artist.

If your answers are less about the potential for con artists taking advantage and more about memory or other cognitive problems, you may want to get a referral to a psychologist or cognitive therapist to assist with developing strategies to track daily/weekly expenses, develop a budget, and create a system for paying bills on time. Check the Brain Injury Association of America website for help finding these professionals.

It is important for families to seek legal advice before making wills in which they choose to leave assets to their family member with brain injury. If the individual with brain injury is receiving Supplemental Security income and Medicaid, extreme care should be taken to prevent the individual’s loss of those benefits. Funds that are awarded in excess of the government limit will cause a loss of eligibility for SSI and Medicaid; however, certain legal remedies, such as a special needs trust, can preserve these funds for their use. Check Finding Help for links to helpful sites.

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