“Honor thy father and thy mother.” This commandment, deeply embedded in our Judeo-Christian heritage, is a fabric of our daily lives. A fabric that draws little reflection, that is until an event or circumstance occurs and unnerves us.
Millions of Americans are unnerved by the scourges of dementia and Alzheimer’s – both patients and their family members. Family members can be torn different ways – ways that are unsettled by uncertainty as to whether action or inaction is called for in the protection of a parent.
Children of Alzheimer’s patients are challenged in so many ways – these are just a few examples:
Dad is retired. Mom died five years ago. Dad owns his own home in Brentwood. He has a secure income in retirement and a number of liquid investments. Dad’s three children live nearby – a daughter in Santa Monica, another daughter in Irvine and a son in San Clemente.
The siblings get along well, call each other often and share updates about their father.
The shared updates include information that dad is becoming more secretive, less willing to talk about his finances, and increasingly guarded on the phone.
Dad’s housekeeper is a constant presence with him. The siblings learn that dad has given her at least $75,000 over the last two years. The children call me. They tell me the story. They wonder what they can do.
I do some quick fact-gathering. Does dad have a trust? Who is the trustee? Are any of the children on dad’s accounts? If not, who, if anyone else is on the accounts? Is dad diagnosed with any disease?
Describe dad’s memory – his functioning – his ability to carry on everyday life. Have the three siblings met with dad and discussed their concerns? Will dad give one or more of the siblings a power of attorney to assist him with his finances? If not – is there an alternative to a conservatorship of his estate to protect him? Are there other methods that might protect dad against elder financial abuse?
There are – but in classic terms – it’s complicated. In the meantime, the children go through an unsettling ambivalence. If we move to protect dad, will he be mad at us? Freeze us out of his life? Write us out of the will? Become so separated from us that protecting him will become only harder.
If we don’t move to protect him, will he give everything to the housekeeper? Lose what cognitive ability that he has? Become oblivious to those around him?
These are tough questions. Questions that should be asked. Better to ask the questions that to ignore the obvious. In the end, children who want to honor their father and their mother might find it a difficult choice. At what point do we intervene and at what point do we step back? It’s not always clear.
At Hackard Law we litigate estate, trust and elder financial abuse cases throughout most of California’s major urban areas – including Los Angeles, Sacramento, Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Diego counties. If you’d like to speak with us about your case call us at 916 313-3030.