Originally created 09/30/03

Money managers help keep elderly on track



Unlike many adult children of elderly parents, Kathy Lightner didn't panic when she noticed both her mother and mother-in-law struggling to keep up with their daily affairs.

Where others saw a stressful time ahead, Ms. Lightner saw a business opportunity.

The former schoolteacher from Evans is betting there are other senior citizens who need help paying their bills on time, balancing checkbooks and making sense of confusing Medicare and Social Security claims.

"Sometimes they are too sick, have problems seeing, or maybe arthritis makes it difficult to write," Ms. Lightner said. "Or when a spouse dies many are overwhelmed and not used to managing the accounts. I can do that for them."

Besides seniors, Ms. Lightner said her personalized bookkeeping services are a good fit for what she calls the "sandwich generation," parents bogged down while taking care of both their young children and elderly parents.

As Americans live longer and young professionals spend more hours at the office or on the road, a need for the type of work Ms. Lightner does has grown. Increasingly, such grunt work has been farmed out to this new group of money managers, where they once were handled mainly by lawyers and financial advisers.

Still, Ms. Lightner is careful not to overstep her bounds. When asked about taxes or stocks, for example, she will provide her clients with a list of professionals to field questions. She also has been busy contacting civic groups, state agencies and retirement homes, such as Brandon Wilde on Washington Road, to both familiarize herself with their needs and offer her services.

The newness of the profession and the lack of any regulatory group to monitor these daily money managers does raise questions over minimum credentials and the potential for abuse.

Ms. Lightner has experience working at a credit union and some business background. Some calling themselves money managers have business degrees, while others have no training at all.

That wide range of experience concerns Ron Schoeffler.

"There is a need for the service because lots of seniors get confused by paperwork and don't stay current," said Mr. Schoeffler, the executive director at the Senior Citizens Council, which Ms. Lightner has been hoping to work with. "But I'd be concerned by the exploitation angle and the integrity of the money manager so they don't take advantage of the senior."

To bolster her credentials, Ms. Lightner joined the Maryland-based American Association of Daily Money Managers, becoming the first person to do so in the metro area. According to its Web site, there are seven members in Georgia and five in South Carolina.

The 400-member group was started eight years ago and represents money managers in 42 states, said Patricia Monalio, its president.

While members pay a fee to join and sign an ethics policy, Ms. Monalio makes it clear the group doesn't guarantee the work or moral behavior of anyone.

"You can never certify anyone's honesty," she said. "People have to absolutely check references and make sure they are comfortable with the person."

She also suggested that clients check to see if a money manager is insured like Ms. Lightner, and if the contract allows for family members and lawyers or accountants to see what the money manager is doing.

Ms. Lightner won't have any trouble convincing her first two clients - her mother and mother-in-law - of her integrity. She hopes to build her client list to six by the end of the year.

MANAGEMENT TASKS

What a daily money manager does:

  • Pay bills
  • Balance checkbooks
  • Prepare and deliver bank deposits
  • Organize tax records and other paperwork
  • Negotiate with creditors
  • Provide referrals to legal, tax and investment professionals
  • Source: American Association of Daily Money Managers

    Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com