By Steve Vernon

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people age 65 and older are at a high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Not only are seniors and retirees’ physical health particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, but they face another threat that’s been lurking all this time: Their financial health is more vulnerable to losses caused by fraud, unethical relatives, or simply making mistakes, often due to cognitive decline and increasing frailty.

In the current COVID-19 environment, many seniors are more socially isolated and fearful than ever, making it a more critical time for retirees to take steps to protect themselves. According to Stanford research, when seniors are emotionally aroused, either by fear or greed, they’re more likely to make poor financial decisions. And fraudsters are gearing up as if the current situation is a once-in-a-lifetime financial jackpot opportunity.

“Right now, many older adults aren’t getting their usual visits from relatives and friends. So, they’re lacking those extra eyes and ears that help keep them safe from predators,” warns Naomi Karp, research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity and a former senior policy analyst with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

For seniors in their 70s or older, it’s an opportune time to create a plan that will help protect their financial resources, not only in today’s environment, but to prepare for the time in their life when they’re less able to manage their own finances. Alternately, adult children or other relatives who have been checking up more frequently these days on older parents, relatives, or friends can take the opportunity to start the conversation about protecting their finances.

Initial steps

Begin by building a convoy of support of trusted family or close friends—it’s the best defense. Trustworthiness and integrity are the most important qualities to have when it comes to helping someone manage their money,” advises Marti DeLiema, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, School of Social Work.

Karp adds, “Your oldest adult child or the relative who lives nearby may not be the best choice. Think about the person who does the best job managing their own money or who understands what’s most important to you.” That’s the type of person older adults should rely on for help.

The next step for seniors should be to make a roadmap of their finances, so that their trusted relative or friend knows enough their financial resources to step in if necessary. The roadmap should include an inventory of the senior’s investment and bank accounts, sources of regular income, monthly living expenses, critical, periodic bills such as home insurance premiums and property taxes, and important medical insurance policies.

DeLiema offers this guidance: “Imagine your trusted adult child or friend had to take over for you tomorrow. What would you want them to know?”

Taking these steps now can put seniors in a good position to transfer management of their financial affairs when it becomes necessary. Deliema and Karp both suggest a phased transition of financial responsibilities, if possible. This can be a win-win approach that helps older adults maintain a sense of independence as long as possible and allows the trusted relative or friend to phase in the workload.

Initiating the Conversation

There can be many challenges to starting these conversations with an older friend or relative. Some seniors are shy about sharing information regarding their finances with their children or other friends and relatives, or they’re afraid of giving up their independence. Many adult children are themselves distracted with jobs and families, or they don’t want to impose on their parents.

Nevertheless, the current COVID-19 crisis is rapidly breaking down barriers and forcing everybody to be aware of making more conscious, careful, and healthy choices. The crisis is also highlighting the importance of support from family and close friends to everybody’s health and safety. Many seniors who might have been previously reluctant to ask for help may now be more aware of their vulnerability and be more open to discussing their concerns, whether it relates to health or finances. Similarly, some adult children who didn’t want to offend their parents might now be more inclined to overcome their reluctance, realizing what’s at stake.

In addition, many people who are sheltering in place suddenly have a lot of time on their hands, making it a good time to work on this project. It’s a task that’s sure to pay dividends for years to come as it helps give seniors and their families some peace of mind.

Looking for more information on this topic? Take the time to learn more about these issues from trusted sources. Start with these three helpful links from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and AARP.

And remember: Addressing these concerns now can help smooth the way for a more enjoyable, less stressful future.

Note: A similar version of this post appeared previously in

Marti Deliema, Naomi Karp, and Steve Vernon are leading a research team at the University of Minnesota and the Stanford Center on Longevity to address the issues discussed here. They are developing a robust “Conversation Guide” that gives seniors strategies and tools that will help them remain in charge of protecting their finances in their later years. They expect to complete the project in late 2020 or early 2021.

Steve Vernon, FSA., is a research scholar in financial security at the Stanford Center on Longevity.