Each of us wants to control decision-making about our lives or at least have the ability to transfer a decision to someone else of our own choosing.  When it comes to financial matters, autonomy is an important contributor to well-being and life satisfaction.  Regardless of where one lives (e.g. in a private home or in an institutional setting), their health diagnosis (e.g. a diagnosis of dementia does not describe a person’s ability), their age or their level of wealth (e.g. poverty is not a sign of inability), financial decision making needs to be retained for as long as possible.   I define financial autonomy as:

The capacity to control money in one’s own self-interest in alignment with personal values and needs. (Marson & Hebert, 2008; Moberg & Rick, 2008)

 Disagreeing with someone’s financial judgement is not sufficient reason to restrict or remove their financial control.

The challenges of aging

Aging is accompanied by many losses.  The popular saying “aging isn’t for the weak” has grown from an acknowledgement that challenges faced by older adults are at times, extraordinarily difficult but often unavoidable.  Although the experience of aging is unique to each person there are many common losses.  These losses can include diminishing physical and cognitive abilities, the death of friends and family members, an inability to maintain a private residence and removal of the right to drive.  Many of these losses are out of our control.  However, financial control should not be simultaneously decreased with other age-related losses.

Considerations for preserving financial autonomy

For adults, control over money decisions is about remaining autonomous.  Control does not mean that every financial activity or decision needs to be conducted independently.  Money management is not a binary state in which we can either manage our finances or we cannot.  Instead, just like aging, money management is a continuum.  Aging ends when we die.  Money management ends when we no longer participate in any financial decisions.  We place a lot of emphasis on helping older adults age-in-place.  Physical adaptations are made to homes, security and alarm systems are installed and maintenance services are hired – each to help keep the aging occupant safe, while preserving privacy and dignity.  The same efforts need to be made for financial matters.  Currently most of us, financial professionals or not, do not understand how to have financial conversations with aging adults as equal partners.  Instead, we intervene too quickly, sometimes with the best of intentions, other times with selfish motives.  The outcome is a loss of dignity for the older person.  The opportunity is before us to learn more about financial management capabilities and age-related changes.  Preserving financial autonomy and the associated well-being needs to be a priority.