Often a family will come into our office for a consultation faced with a very difficult dilemma: Mom or Dad, or both, are still living at home, but the kids are starting to notice some red flags. Dad is getting more forgetful, he looks like he’s lost some weight, his personal hygiene seems to have declined, he recently got lost while driving, he has unopened mail and overdue bills, his house is getting more and more cluttered, there’s expired food in the fridge, and his neighbors are reaching out to the family voicing their concerns. These occurrences are just a few of the many red flags that a loved one may not be safe living at home on their own any longer. Oh, and on top of all that, Dad thinks he’s fine at home, says he will never agree to move into an assisted living/care facility and wants to reside in his home for the rest of his life no matter what.
So, what do you do? What do you say? Where do you start? All very good questions with incomplete answers. We’ve seen this scenario play out in several different ways and, unfortunately, with varying degrees of success, depending on how you define “success.” The ideal scenario, of course, is that Dad leaves the house willingly, he understands he has limitations and knows that he needs to put his safety before his comfort, but that’s not how most of us are wired is it? For the majority of us, we spend our entire adult lives being independent, doing things on our own, taking care of ourselves, our kids, our spouses and heck we took care of our parents, why aren’t you taking care of me?!
The ironic thing is the problems we run into most often in these situations aren’t necessarily caused by a mental deficiency such as dementia. More often it’s a personality trait or combination of Mom’s or Dad’s personality and a mild mental deficiency which cause them to stand pat. People are stubborn. It’s in our nature. I know what is best for me and, sure, I might take some input from the person who cuts my hair, but I’m definitely not going to listen to my kids, what do they know? Seriously, this is what we see all the time. I tell clients this indisputable fact over and over again: kids listen to their parents better than parents listen to their kids.
If you’re in this situation now or can see it unfolding down the road, you’re probably wondering where this is headed. What’s the resolution? If Mom/Dad simply cannot live independently at home any longer, what are our options? It can be a very trying experience on both the parent(s) and the kids. What I always try to remind our clients is this: as long as you are trying your best to help Mom/Dad and are making decisions with their best interests at heart, then you have no reason to second guess yourself or feel guilty about whatever path you choose to take. Also, we are here to help. And I don’t just mean “we” as in our office, but, of course, yes we and other attorneys who specialize in this area are here to walk with you through the process and we have connections and resources to other professionals who can help too. You are not alone in this endeavor.
There are many ways we’ve seen these scenarios play out in our practice, but please take note- the optimal solution is almost always one where the family is still in control of Mom’s or Dad’s care. You never want to find yourself in court with a judge appointing a stranger to be in charge of where your Mom or Dad lives and their day-to-day needs. This outcome should only be reserved for those people who are unable to make their own decisions and do not have a capable and willing loved one to step in and act on their behalf, but all too often, for one reason or another, we see willing family members having to step aside while someone else takes over decision making for Mom or Dad.
I will discuss some of the resolutions to this dilemma in more detail the next time around including information on resources that can help, what factors to consider and your next step. I will also dive further into how families can plan ahead for these situations and perhaps, hopefully, even prevent these issues before they arise. As always, if you find yourself in this situation with a loved one right now or if you have additional questions please feel free to reach out to our office. We are here to help.
Until next time,