The Struggle: Taking Over Finances For Your Aging Parent

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Senior woman counting money

Here is a true story about an older person with cognitive decline who was being manipulated by his live-in girlfriend. His son was not sure of what he could do.

Jay is an only child and his dad, Jeremy is 88, in failing health. Jeremy lives with his longtime girlfriend, Wilma. Jay is having a very hard time moving forward to take control of his dad’s finances, which are considerable, even in the face of Wilma manipulating his father. A lot of cash and valuable real estate is at stake. From the look of it, Wilma is getting Jay to sell off things, putting the cash in places she thinks Jay can’t find and trying to keep Jay from ever seeing his father without her present.

Jay doesn’t want to stir things up.

What’s wrong here? The signs of financial elder abuse are popping up and Jay is hesitant to admit that his father is no longer competent. Over a year before the odd financial transactions started, his dad’s doctor warned Jay that his father had dementia, that it was advanced and that he needed to be aware of this problem. Jay took no action.

The warning signs Jay saw: Wilma would not let anyone talk to Jeremy without her listening in or being present. She isolated Jeremy from others. Wilma had persuaded Jeremy, a confused property owner to sell some real estate and she had him put the cash in an account outside Jeremy’s trust.

Jay, whose real name is not used here, sought advice at AgingParents.com where he got expertise he needed to get moving. Here is how that worked.

First, Jay was asked to send all his father’s estate planning documents to us so I could determine what it would take under the terms of his family trust to have Jeremy resign or be removed as trustee of his large estate. The trust provided that a letter from Jeremy’s doctor stating that he knew his patient and knew that Jeremy was incapacitated for managing his finances was needed. Given that the doctor had already told this to Jay in so many words helped. Getting the letter was not a problem. I helped Jay understand what words needed to be on paper to be consistent with what the trust required.

Next, Jay needed to meet with Jeremy’s estate planning attorney to do the paperwork showing that Jay, the appointed successor trustee was now the sole trustee and his father was no longer in that position. That worked well, as he and his father had met with the attorney previously. The attorney knew what Jeremy had wanted.

Third, Jay, with the certificate showing that he was now the trustee in hand, had to go to the banks, and to the property managers working for his father to let them know that he was now the decision-maker. In addition, he had to go to his father’s home and gather up all financial records so that he could regain the control Wilma had sneakily been taking by manipulating Jeremy. Jeremy was easily confused, easily led and afraid to do things without Wilma telling him what to do.

The takeaway from this story is that when your aging parent begins to decline in health and shows signs of dementia, you can’t let that continue without putting your loved one at serious risk of manipulation. Yes, it’s work to change the legal documents. Yes, it all takes your time. And yes, it requires coordination between you, the adult child, the estate planner and the doctor to keep your loved one safe. But if you want to preserve your aging parent’s legacy for your own offspring and yourself, take the time. Note the danger when there is an unmarried companion of your aging parent who can get into a position of diverting wealth from your loved one’s estate.

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