I am compelled to share these stories with you, sad as they may be. I hope you can learn from the way others handled what was supposed to be doing the right thing. Or so they thought.
Are you honoring your impaired aging parents’ independence by letting them do whatever they want? All of the elders in these cases had mild cognitive impairment. Their adult children took no action as a result of the diagnoses. Two of them already had power of attorney documents for their elderly parents and thought they might need to use it one day. To them, at first, it wasn’t time yet.
Rob knew his Dad had memory issues and early dementia, but Rob let him control what he did with his own money. Bad idea. Dad fell in with some new “friends” who were a couple of con artists and they were steadily depleting his checking account every month. Until Rob found out about the “friends” he didn’t monitor what was happening to the checking account. Dad’s independence led right into looming financial ruin. The burden then falls on Rob. He could have taken over the checkbook and protected his Dad. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it until it was too late. He wanted to “honor Dad’s independence”.
Like Rob, Mitch had durable power of attorney over his mother’s finances. He also wanted to honor his mother’s independence. She started writing checks to everyone who asked for money. This included every charity, fundraiser, and magazine salesperson who called on the phone, as well as her church. She was giving away far more than she could afford to do. Finally, Mitch got suspicious when she found a new “boyfriend”, 30 years younger, who had no job or place to live and she invited him to stay with her. Does “honoring her independence” make sense now? How much harder will it be to get rid of the “boyfriend” after he moves in and gets more control over Mitch’s mom? Mitch wishes he had gotten Mom’s money into a safe place and given her only what she needed to live on and have some fun things to do. He never thought she would give it all away, or take in a scammer.
Jennifer has been having dinner with her Dad at their favorite restaurant for years. He lives in assisted living. He is 93 and still drives. This week, the local authorities have been posting notices all over the county and on TV that Jennifer’s Dad is missing. It seems he drove to the restaurant, in the rain and had dinner with Jennifer. But he never made it home that night. Jennifer speculates that “in the dark and in the rain, he might have gotten lost. Confusion must have set in”. The problem with her thinking is that confusion doesn’t suddenly “set in”. It’s probably been there for years and she didn’t want to face it that Dad should not be driving, particularly at night. If an aging parent goes missing, it is inevitable that his loved ones will wonder what they could have done to prevent it.
All of these situations are true cases. All of the adult children have something in common. They want to believe that their aging parents are still 100% capable even though many danger signs are there indicating that they are not fully capable.
We see an aging parent beginning to fail in some way and we pretend it’s not true. They always handled the checkbook fine so why not now? The answer is that aging and dementia take their toll. At least a third of people over age 85 have dementia and there are probably many more who have symptoms of the disease but have not been diagnosed. Parents with memory loss and dementia need our help a lot more than they need full independence about everything, especially money.
Rob will very likely end up supporting his father, a huge burden for him. Mitch is now facing possible legal action to have his mother declared incompetent before the freeloader she let move into her home steals her blind. And Jennifer’s Dad is now missing for a week. No one can find him or his car. Will he be found alive? All of these adult children have a much more sober look now at this concept of “honoring their parents’ independence”. They all have their regrets.
It is my sincere hope that you will see that “honoring parents’ independence” can be a myth. It sounds nice. We do honor their independence as much as we can but within safety limits.
If you have a loved one with memory loss, beware.
Here are three things you can do now to help your aging parent have freedom but under your watchful eye and your necessary control.
1. Get a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances and a healthcare directive as soon as your aging parent is given any diagnosis of “early memory loss”, “mild cognitive impairment” or dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. All of these conditions are highly likely to put your parent in danger with financial decisions sooner rather than later.
2. Suggest adding your name to the checkbook or other accounts where your aging parent keeps the cash. You can then monitor the accounts online as a safety precaution. If need be, you can transfer the bulk of assets out of a parent’s reach so they will not be ripped off by having access to it. They keep the regular check book, but with a lot less in it. Ditto for other accounts Dad or Mom can tap. Cut up excess credit cards and watch all activity online.
3. Have a heart to heart talk with any elderly parent over age 80 about driving. My mother in law, Alice is 91 and still drives, but she limits herself to daytime and short distances. She does not have memory loss. Most elders must limit driving as they age. If Jennifer had recognized that her father could get confused, she could have offered to drive him to dinner or suggested other means of transportation at night and in the rain when visibility is more limited. Maybe it was time for him to give up the keys well before the night he went missing.
If you have trouble with your aging parent and they don’t want to talk about the subject of money, much less give anyone a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, you will benefit from our eBook “How to Talk to Aging Parents About Finances’. Get your copy now by clicking here.
Until next time,