Three young adults in New Paltz, New York (120 kilometres north of New York City) found $40,000 hidden in a sofa they had purchased from the Salvation Army for $55. The money belonged to a 91 year old widow whose children donated the sofa while their mother was having some health problems. Luckily the money was found and returned to the widow (a deposit slip identified her) by these three honest individuals.
Hidden money or other valuables is common with older adults. There is no way to determine how much of it becomes permanently lost or stolen but it’s likely much greater than most of us imagine it to be. This is another reality of the aging of our population.
Why are money and valuables being hidden so frequently?
Families who have an older member with a complete mistrust of the financial system and an unwillingness to use bank accounts will expect to have to ‘locate’ valuables if their family member is no longer able to look after themselves. However, many families may be surprised to find that their aging parent who was a regular user of financial institutions has begun to hide large amounts of cash or other valuables in their home. This situation arises because the person may be:
- Finding it too difficult to physically access cash when needed so their home becomes a mini-bank;
- Distrustful of their joint bank account or power of attorney situation. Possibly they were pressured by family members to place other names onto the accounts;
- Experiencing some mental health changes such as dementia or paranoia;
- Requiring third parties to enter their home to assist them but is distrustful of these ‘strangers’.
Where are the valuables hidden?
Locating the cash and valuables can be extremely frustrating. The hiding places are clever and well-concealed. They may be hidden within the home but also within garages and storage sheds. After a lengthy search for missing items one family found valuables taped to the bottom of the kitchen garbage can. The parent had recently been admitted to the hospital and told them the valuables were hidden but could not recall the location.
When cleaning up the home of an older person, behave like a detective, checking each item carefully before releasing it to a third party or throwing it away. Get inside of cupboards and closets and check for gaps or movement in flooring, walls or ceilings where your hand may fit. Check the lining of every container, pockets of all clothing, contents of socks and remove every drawer for a clear view of each space.
Do you give them cash when they request it?
In some instances the older person may be asking that family and friends bring them money. In these situations where the individual’s health is failing, they often have no actual need for the money on a daily basis but possession of money provides them comfort. Try not to place the older individual at risk of losing, destroying or having the money stolen from their home. If the individual’s awareness of currencies is diminishing try using alternative currencies such as play money from the dollar store or a foreign currency that has a similar size and look of our currency but the actual value of the money is minimal. This approach limits any financial loss, reduces the appeal of the home to unscrupulous persons and keeps older person satisfied.
Interpreting accusations of theft
Don’t ignore accusations of theft but do give them careful scrutiny before taking action. In one situation an older woman had hidden her valuable jewellery in a closet because people were regularly in the home assisting her. Unfortunately for a period of time she forgot that she had hidden the jewellery. This resulted in a third party being wrongly accused of theft and their employer, police and insurance company becoming involved. Her memory returned a couple of months later and the situation was sorted out but it was certainly unpleasant for the accused.
Money and valuables have meaning for each of us and may represent independence, control and memories. It can be a tricky balance between safety and access for the older person in your life and today’s solution may require that you revisit it if health declines occur.
Photo via Pixabay from Magma