Your Disabled Relative & Finances

The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Washington Post a number of years ago. The author is Michelle Singletary, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Post.

Many people with disabilities struggle to maintain their independence and with money-management. Aspergians are no different. One of the many problems they face is the inability to manage their finances.

In this article, Ms. Singletary discusses the process she used to help her brother, who suffers from epilepsy, establish an independent life.

My brother was sweet and gentle, but too trusting. People would often take advantage of him. On several occasions, he was conned out of significant amounts of money.

After dozens of arguments, he and I finally managed to develop a relationship that preserved his sense of independence, but allowed me to stay close enough to oversee his finances.

Financial and legal experts say my experiences are fairly typical. Here are a few guidelines to help you deal with a sibling who has a disability or continually needs help with financial problems:

SET LIMITS. This was one of the hardest things for me to do with my brother because whenever he asked for money, I would feel guilty if I didn’t give it to him. We finally agreed on a number of expenses I would cover. For example, I would take him grocery shopping every month, pay to replace his glasses or give him extra money for clothes.

KEEP CONTROL OF SOME OF THE MONEY. Twice, Mitchell received lump sums of money. I persuaded him to let me put the money in a trust account, and I invested it in government-backed securities. I was the trustee for the account which was for emergencies only.

OPEN A JOINT BANK ACCOUNT. A checking account seemed like a bad idea, because of the risk of overdraft problems, so I opened a joint savings account. The money was Mitchell’s, but I had the bank send me a copy of the monthly statement. We also used the same financial institution, allowing me to transfer money to him easily.

SEEK HELP FROM NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS. Don’t try to be a martyr. We received an enormous amount of free help from the Epilepsy Association of Maryland. Mitchell was assigned a counselor–free of charge–who assisted him with job training and placement, developing a budget, housing and state and federal benefits.
CHALLENGE THE SYSTEM. When Mitchell was turned down for Social Security disability, the Epilepsy Association advised me to hire an attorney to appeal. After a lengthy process my brother won the benefits and back payments from the original date of his application.
It took more than a decade for Mitchell to achieve a relatively stable life. We had our share of fights but we always tried to work it out. Mostly, I stopped feeling sorry for my brother–and that really empowered him to take greater responsibility over his life. Mitch was finally living the independent life he so desperately wanted.
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