Fixing Family Fights About Aging Parents Finances

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Have you had to deal with this?

Some families are being torn apart about disagreements over finances, care, aging parents and each other’s roles. It often looks like this:
Imagine that you have an aging loved one who has cognitive impairment.  You are aware that your loved one is “slipping”.  You tell yourself it’s ok.  You do nothing more than try to pay closer attention.  You may ignore the fact that if your loved one has dementia, it is not going to get better.  You ignore the reality that if a person develops dementia, he or she is not going to be able to manage money for very long and that alternatives must be in place.  Then something happens that brings you to a crisis.
It may be loss of money to a scammer.  It could be huge mistakes in careless spending. It could be that bills are not paid and the utilities are cut off.  Whatever the event, it brings you and your family to the boiling point. Some are angry.  Others may be in denial still.  A family fight breaks out.  Siblings accuse each other of wrongdoing.  The elder accuses you of plotting against him.  It’s a nightmare.
Aging parents and conflict about finances is a painful and destructive issue.

Whether siblings are arguing with each other over how to pay for a parent’s care, or it’s about Dad mishandling the checkbook after being diagnosed with dementia, it is a source of enormous distress.  Part of the problem is that when an aging parent’s mental capacity begins to decline, it is subtle, uneven and can be hidden for a time.  Most families are in denial about cognitive impairment.  It is just too painful for so many to accept and take in.
Adding to the stress of a parent’s cognitive impairment is the consequence of denial:  money issues arise and no one is prepared to deal with them.
Here are some suggestions for avoiding those nightmare fights over money that can be prevented by planning ahead.
1.  If you have a loved one with cognitive impairment, whether officially diagnosed as dementia or not, be sure you have the critical legal documents you need properly prepared and signed.  You need a Durable Power of Attorney for finances and an advance healthcare directive.  Do not wait.  Eventually, your loved one may be unable to sign any legal document. Lack of signed legal documents can force you into court for a guardianship (conservatorship in CA) and cost time and money you don’t need to spend.
2. Educate yourself.  You need to know what assets your aging parent has, what debts exist, and whether any arrangements, such as long term care insurance are available to help with the cost of care.  You need to know what income your parent receives and how that income is being spent.  If you/your family members are able to contribute to the cost of caring for an aging loved one, including providing some care yourselves, be sure you write down the agreements as to who will do what.  Strive for equity.  Most of us can do something to help, even from a distance.
3.  Seek advice from a qualified financial advisor to use any assets you have in the best way possible to care for your loved one. He or she may seem “fine” now, and able to manage independently. With cognitive impairment, this independence will not last.  Not everyone is ready to handle the behavior changes, need for constant supervision and help with activities of daily living that dementia causes. Paying for help is an issue  you must face.
4.  Have a family meeting to discuss the need for care and the sharing of responsibilities.  Someone needs to take leadership and develop an agenda for topics that should be discussed.  Identify them and be sure everyone has the information well before the meeting.  If there is no one in your family who is good at leading a discussion, we are here to help.  It’s part of our services here at  Outside expertise can give you the best chance for success.
5.  Include your aging loved one, even with cognitive impairment, in the planning process as much as possible.  This does not mean that you allow an impaired person whose judgment is not intact to make all the decisions.  Ask your loved one for his or her preferences. Respect your parent’s values as much as possible. And use your own good judgment to keep your elder safe.

Suppose you’ve done all that, and the fight rages on.  Anger flares. You’re frustrated.  It’s time to get help. Consider mediation, a smart way to resolve disputes without any courts or lawyers.  Here’s a 4 minute video we produced to illustrate the process. 11534608  We do family mediation by phone, Skype, Skype video and in person.  We’re here to help. Contact us at

Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt and Mikol Davis,
****P.S.  We are always here to help you get through the challenges of aging.
Please let us help you help the ones you love.
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