You have no idea how many people I talk to who have asked this question regarding their aging relatives, parents in particular: “What do I do if my parent is losing it?”
Do any of these comments ring a bell with you:
- How my father hasn’t gotten into a car accident with the way he drives, the way he can’t see, the way he can’t figure things out, etc., is beyond me.
- My mother called me the other day and said her electricity is going to be cut off. When I asked when did she last pay the bill, she had no idea.
- My parents are all excited because someone called them and offered them a way to make a guaranteed $1000 per month. My parents bought whatever was being sold.
- I went to my father’s house the other day to help him get organized and go through some of the stacks of paper all over the family room. He threw a fit when I started to move things. I had to leave.
These scenarios are playing out in households everywhere. You are not alone! So, what do you do if you feel your parent is losing it? For this conversation, let’s say it is your single dad having issues.
Here’s what to do:
- Discuss the situation with your siblings. Maybe they think your dad isn’t running on all 4 cylinders or maybe they think everything is fine. Knowing what support, if any, your siblings will give you is a good first step.
- Try to have “the talk” (money, not sex) with your dad. Try to get him to share whether he has done any estate planning documents and get to review them, It might be obsolete documents. Ask your dad if he has named beneficiaries on his assets. Ask your dad where he keeps important papers. It may take several attempts to gather information from your dad. This can be an extremely challenging project, but if you can get information while your dad is somewhat with it, it will be so much easier for you later when you try to figure it all out without his help. Never underestimate the power of persuasion and guilt.
- See if you can convince your dad to go to a website with you to see how his credit score looks. This will give you a very clear idea of what debts, credit cards, etc. he has. If you do this together, he may not feel as “violated”.
- See if your dad will let any of you go with him to his next doctor’s appointment. Ideally, you could have a conversation with the doctor about how your dad is doing.
- Try to get your dad to sign up for online banking. With online banking, you can ideally check the activity on the account frequently and make sure bills are paid, there aren’t any weird withdrawals, and not any payments to weird sounding recipients.
- See if your dad will promise that if you don’t take the car keys away, he won’t drive at night, or won’t go more than 5 miles from home, or any other condition you want to put in place.
What if your dad won’t cooperate at all; he blocks everything you are trying to do and you are at your wits’ end. See if you can do the following at least:
- Get him to put a magnet on the refrigerator saying that in an emergency, cops or fire fighters should call you.
- Get him to put a card in his wallet with your contact information or put the information on his phone. At least you will be notified if something happens.
What can you do legally?
- If your dad is slipping down the slippery mental slope, but is still reasonably competent, then see if he will agree to do Powers of Attorney. Powers of Attorney are legal documents that name someone to make decisions for an incapacitated individual. Your dad could name you or one of your siblings to handle his finances (a Financial Durable General Power of Attorney), make medical decisions for him (a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney), and make psychiatric decisions for him (a Durable Mental Health Care Power of Attorney). Powers of Attorney help you to avoid going to court to get the authority to make all of these decisions.
- If your dad is slipping quickly, and is no longer reasonably, or even really, competent, then your only other choice is to pursue legal guardianship and conservatorship for your dad. Court-ordered guardianship puts you in the role of your dad’s parent, taking care of everything to do with his person, from medical decisions to where he lives. Court-ordered conservatorship puts you in the role of your dad’s banker, handling all of his finances.
The conclusion of many of my conversations on this topic is that the law helps, but not enough. There are so many facets to this situation that need to be addressed:
Your dad’s perspective: he is fine; he wants to be independent; he is a proud man; he’s your dad and why are you suggesting these things.
Your perspective: he’s my dad and I love him; he is not fine; my dad’s independence is putting him in unsafe situations; my dad is vulnerable; what if someone takes advantage of him or hurts him.
The law’s perspective: there are only so many situations the law can handle; things have to reach a boiling point before the law can help.
How To Manuals:
- How To Bury or Cremate Your Loved One Without Going Broke
- How To Handle The Loose Ends
- How To Handle A Love One’s Taxes
- How To Organize Your Love One’s Papers
- How To Handle End Of Life Issues
Get in contact with me today to make sure your estate planning affairs are in order.