After Chris Wong’s father suffered a heart attack in 2015, his mother felt a greater sense of urgency to ensure that her affairs were in order, including letting her children know where to find important financial documents.
“The problem was that all that documentation was in a shoebox that my mom would bring out during family dinners from the refrigerator,” Wong says. “My mom thought that was the safest place because it was fireproof.”
His mother’s unorthodox method inspired Wong to launch LifeSite, a virtual safe deposit box that lets you store and share financial files online. (His father had surgery and now counts himself as a LifeSite user.)
Wong is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs who are developing web-based services and apps to help protect the finances of older adults, often in response to seeing a relative who is struggling to manage his or her money or who has been the victim of financial fraud. “The need is only going to grow with an aging population,” says Mark Schwanhausser, director of digital banking for Javelin, a financial services consulting firm.
If you and other members of your family are helping your parents manage their finances, technology is coming to your rescue. No matter what the task or challenge at hand, these six services can making everyone’s life easier—and reduce the risk of scams and fraud at the same time.
Keep key documents where everyone can find them: LifeSite
With LifeSite’s virtual safe deposit box, you can scan everything from insurance policies to passports with your phone, store the images at the site, and give all authorized family members access via computer, mobile phone, or an Alexa-enabled smart speaker.
A checklist helps guide you on what documentation to store. You can also sign up for alerts when bills or policy payments are due.
In addition, you can access your parent’s bank, investment, and debt accounts for free, as needed, through a partnership that LifeSite recently launched with Morningstar, one of the largest financial data aggregators in the U.S.
Cost: $79.99 a year for a family plan
Offload bill paying: SilverBills
With SilverBills, you can make sure that Mom and Dad’s bills are paid on time and the wrong hands don’t gain access to their accounts.
Marci Lobel-Esrig founded the service in 2015 after witnessing the hassles her elderly aunt endured having to pay bills by check or in person. Bill paying is often “a portal to financial exploitation,” says Lobel-Esrig, and it can be difficult for seniors to find a trusted person to undertake the task.
Once you authorize the company to get the bills (by mail or electronically), the service monitors them for errors and pays them by debiting a bank account or sending an electronic payment. Anyone okayed to manage a parent’s finances can view transactions online.
By reducing the need for paper bills and mailed checks, SilverBills also helps reduce the risk of financial fraud.
For Monica Stynchula on St. Petersburg, Fla., using SilverBills to pay her 83-year-old mother’s bills has eased tensions between her and her four siblings, who live far from each other. “We outsourced something that was complicated to handle,” she says.
Cost: Roughly $100 a month, depending on the number of transactions
Protect against financial scams: EverSafe
Howard Tischler was inspired to launch EverSafe in 2015 after discovering that telemarketers had sold his elderly mother an $80-a-month auto club membership, among other products. At the time, she was legally blind and didn’t own a car or even have a driver’s license.
A tech entrepreneur with a background in finance, Tischler teamed up with Liz Loewy, former chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s elder abuse unit, to found a site that helps protect seniors against fraud, scams, identity theft, and age-related money missteps.
EverSafe analyzes financial transactions and credit data for erratic activity. If it spots anything outside the norm, such as a larger-than-usual withdrawal, it notifies the senior and a family member, financial advisor, or other trusted advocate, via a text, call, or alert on the EverSafe app.
Tischler notes that seniors are most likely to be financially exploited by a family member or someone they know, so transparency can be a deterrent. “If you know someone is looking over your shoulder, you’ll be hesitant to do something wrong,” he says.
Cost: $7.49 to $22.99 a month, depending on the types of financial accounts and amount of data that is monitored
Keep an eye on Mom or Dad’s spending: True Link
Another way to protect your parents from financial fraud—while also preserving their independence—is the True Link Card, a reloadable Visa card that caregivers can manage.
You can program the prepaid card to work only at designated establishments and even set spending limits. The card blocks merchants identified by True Link as scammers. (CEO Kai Stinchcombe founded True Link in 2012 after finding that his grandmother had given tens of thousands of dollars to solicitors.)
Marcie Rogo, True Link’s head of marketing, says that by having their own Visa card seniors can maintain their dignity, yet be protected. “There’s no other card where you can set this level of detailed restrictions in such a customizable way,” she says.
Cost: $10 a month per card
Share information among the whole family: Onist
Onist brings family finances under one umbrella, allowing you to share financial information among family members. The idea for the Onist app came to co-founder Brad Kotansky after his father began experiencing health difficulties and Kotansky found taking over his finances from afar challenging.
You (or your parents) can link bank accounts to the site, monitor spending, upload key financial documents, and share all this information with other relatives and a financial advisor. “The whole point of this is that finances are a household affair,” Kotansky says. Having more trusted “eyeballs” monitoring elders’ accounts, he adds, it’s more likely that bad outcomes are reduced.
Cost: $100 a year per household
Help your parents budget: Golden
When Evin Ollinger was visiting his parents at Christmas 2016, he learned that his father, who had faithfully paid his mortgage every month for 42 years, had forgotten to do so for the past three months. “He could have faced losing his home, and I wouldn’t have known it,” he says.
Like other financial apps, Golden, launched by Ollinger this past April, allows you to view your parents’ accounts and pay their bills. Plus, you get fraud protection.
An extra feature it adds: budgeting tips. Golden uses artificial intelligence to automatically analyze your parent’s financial picture and suggest safe ways to reduce expenses—savings that can assist in funding a parent’s care.
Cost: $20 a month.
How to vet the helping hands
With any caregiving service, you may feel trepidation at the prospect of handing over your parent’s financial data and passwords to a third party. To make sure an app is trustworthy, ask questions.
Find out what types of events the company has been participating in and awards the service may have won. AARP, for example, vets all the vendors at its events.
A partnership with a large financial institution can also be a sign of credibility. Theo Lau, a consultant who helps financial institutions develop longevity strategies, points to LifeSite’s partnership with Morningstar and the many financial institutions using its service as a good sign.
Lau also suggests checking the company’s website to determine who’s investing in them. Have reputable funders and organizations put their trust in the brand?
Finally, make sure the service lets you monitor account activity and receive notifications of suspicious activity within seconds of a transaction occurring. “Look for things that allow you to be a fly on the wall and the auditor,” says Schwanhausser, so you can quickly determine if something’s amiss.