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Know This: Your Aging Parent Living At A Distance May Be At Risk

By October 3, 2023November 15th, 2023No Comments

American families are often scattered across the country. Kids grow up, find
opportunities they like in other places and move away. The parents may stay
put, happy to remain where they’ve lived most of their lives. Then aging
happens. And with it, risks no one really thought about.
At, where we advise families about age-related issues, we
see this repeatedly. A concerned adult child in one state sees red flags of Mom
or Dad being in trouble in their home state and it’s far away. What to do?
Here’s a real-life example:

Case Study

Zita is in her 50’s working full time, and generally doing fine in her life. She
has an historically difficult brother, Rocky, who has been estranged from Mom
for six years. They ceased contact after Rocky visited Mom and was reported
to be horribly verbally abusive to her, leaving her crying for days. Zita did what
she could to repair the damage in her visits to Mom and encouraged Mom to
cut off contact with Rocky. Mom did. Both Zita and Rocky live several states
away from Mom.

Mom Has Dementia

As the six years passed with no contact from Rocky, Mom developed memory
loss and confusion. She was diagnosed with dementia. She moved into a nice
assisted living home and was adjusting well. Then Rocky showed up out of
nowhere from his state. He told her she had to come and live with him. He was

work disabled and probably just wanted her money. He took her out for a meal
and upon returning, took Mom’s purse and refused to give it back. He
withheld her medication. She had no ID, credit card or money. She did have a
cell phone and she called Zita.
Zita took off work, and immediately flew out to see Mom. She was very upset
when Mom told her that Rocky demanded that Mom come live with him, like
it or not and he was going to get her to sign a Durable Power of Attorney
(DPOA), giving him full authority. Zita needed advice. We urged her to get
Mom to sign a DPOA appointing Zita immediately. She did so. We advised her
that leaving Mom there, vulnerable to manipulation by Rocky was simply not
safe. She needed to give notice at the home and move Mom closer to her right
away. She did so.
Zita and another family member took care of Mom for a  few weeks while Zita
searched for a suitable seniors’ home for Mom. Meanwhile, Rocky, who
appeared to be increasingly angry and irrational, told Mom he was coming to
pick her up and take her to a family gathering hours away. Zita had to take
action to stop him.

What Zita Could Do
We advised Zita to email Rocky and let him know that Mom was not going to
attend the gathering, as her dementia made it too hard for her to enjoy such a
thing. Mom forgets what Rocky told her by the next day. She is easily confused
and overwhelmed.
Zita then blocked Rocky from Mom’s cell phone, as he kept calling and
pressuring her to come with him. She will not reveal Mom’s whereabouts to
Rocky but expects that he will eventually find out, show up and try to take her

away with him. She has the authority to stop him but it may take further legal

action to fully protect Mom.

Legal Options For Zita
Zita recognizes that Rocky, with his history of verbal and emotional abuse of
Mom, is probably just after her savings account and her pension checks. He is
unemployed. If his behavior to pressure Mom or interfere with her care
escalates, she has some choices.
One: She can seek a protective order from the court against Rocky, trying
for no access or limited access for him to visit Mom. She would aim for a court
order that if Rocky is allowed to visit, it would be only with supervision by
someone in authority.
Two: She can seek guardianship (called conservatorship in CA) over Mom,
which is a very significant step. That could become contentious with Rocky
objecting, but the evidence of what he has done favors Zita’s request. That is a
drastic and expensive step, but it would allow Zita total control over Rocky’s
contact, visitation, or other communication with Mom. It may be a last resort.

The Stress
Zita is suffering the effects of having to do so much so fast, and in the face of
an unstable sibling who seems to believe he can do whatever he wants. She is
paying the price, not just financially from loss of work and bonuses, but
emotionally. Her health is suffering. Her stress has skyrocketed. We advised
her about many ways to get support as a caregiver, and protector of her Mom.
She bears this burden without any dependable help from any other family
member. She is doing all she can now to take care of herself.

The Takeaways
A Plan Is Needed
When your aging parent lives at a distance, it’s very important to talk with
them about what to do if their health declines. We can’t live in denial that this
can happen! Families can do planning in advance. They can decide if it’s best
for an aging loved one to move closer, particularly after loss of a partner or
spouse and declining health. Some adult children move in with the aging
parent. Leaving her alone can be a setup for danger from predators like Rocky.
Who Has Legal Authority?
A very important matter to discuss is the aging parent’s estate plan. Zita’s
Mom had given authority (Durable Power of Attorney, or DPOA) to both of
her adult children on her legal paperwork. That would have been a nightmare
for Zita being forced to make decisions with Rocky. After the terrible incident
of abuse of Mom by Rocky, it would have been appropriate for Mom to change
the Durable Power of Attorney to remove him. It can be revoked. No one
brought this up nor suggested she do it. When the crisis came, Zita had to
scramble to get the new DPOA in a rush and under great pressure before
Rocky could get his hands on Mom again.
Zita has Mom safe for now and things have not escalated with Rocky as yet.
But she expects he will act out of desperation. He wants control and can’t get
it. She is facing the difficulty with courage and acting fast when needed. We
expect she will prevail.

The Takeaway:

Heed the warning in this story. If your aging parent is far away, don’t expect
that they’ll be perfectly fine to the end of their lives. Do discuss the
possibilities of loss of independence with them. Take leadership. The burden
of ignoring the potential dangers could fall on you.

Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney,

If you find yourself in a situation like Zita’s, you can find help with us at We’re a
nurse-lawyer, psychologist team here to help relieve your distress when you don’t know what to do. Call
today for an introduction at 866-962-4464 or contact us online. We respond promptly!

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