| January 09 2012
Often, when people get older, they do everything they can to hide the fact
that they suffering from health problems or diminished mental capacity. Take the
story of a man I knew and his elderly father.
The son was a lawyer. He worked as a litigator, and he didn't have any
expertise in elder law or financial matters. Recently, his father had fallen in
the home that he shared with his second wife, the son's stepmother. The father
had sustained some fairly severe injuries and needed to be hospitalized. Because
the second wife had no experience handling the finances, she asked the son to
step in and figure out where the money was so she could pay the bills. The son
quickly discovered that the father had purchased an annuity from an insurance
salesman at a local bank. In fact, the father had tied up almost his entire net
worth―about $2 million―in annuities.
Right away, the son was concerned. Since he was a lawyer, he wanted to read
all the insurance and annuity contracts and find out what exactly they said. But
as he started looking over the documents, he realized that the language was
extremely vague and, despite being a lawyer, he was in over his head. That's
when he contacted his financial advisor, who brought me into the picture.
When I sat down with the son, the first thing I asked was, "What else do you
think is going on?" The son, not surprisingly, said there wasn't anything going
on, and that his father and stepmother were doing fine. The house was clean, the
car was washed, nothing was wrong. I explained that things might appear to be
fine, but that he needed to be careful. Older people often try to hide things
from their children, since they don't want the kids to realize they have
problems or are disabled.
In this situation, it soon became clear that the father was trying to hide
that he was suffering from dementia and that it was no longer safe for him to
live in his home. He and his wife had a lovely house in the suburbs, but it was
isolated, and they needed help to meet his needs.
Not only was the couple trying to hide their health problems, but the son was
also in denial. I had to convince him, using fairly strong language, that his
parents were in danger. The father was suffering from dementia and had other
health issues, and the stepmother wasn't able to manage things on her own. She
couldn't drive or handle many other activities. In addition, it was becoming
apparent that she may have been in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Like
many older adults, the couple was doing everything they could to convince other
people that there wasn't a problem, like carrying cheat sheets to help them
remember the names of family members or keeping things in their pockets to
remind them of things. But eventually, those little compensation methods weren't
In this situation, it was really difficult to convince the son that he needed
to do something. First, he was hesitant to intervene, since he had a busy career
and didn't want to become a full-time caregiver, even though he was the only
living relative. In addition, the father had inherited some property on the East
Coast, which the son expected to receive after the father passed away. I
explained to the son that his father might need the money from that property to
pay for his care, and that there might not be an inheritance. That made the son
really furious. He didn't understand how that was possible. What he hadn't
realized was that the government doesn't pay for nursing home care unless you're
broke. Property, if it's not your principal residence, is an asset that has to
be spent before you can qualify for public assistance.
What I hope this story helps you realize is that often parents will do
everything they can to make sure their children will continue to see them as
strong and able to take on the world. They want the kids to think that there
will never be a problem, and that the parents will take care of everything. In
this case, the son was in his fifties and he was just beginning to realize this
wasn't true. His bubble was about to burst and that didn't sit too well.