Tough Love.

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I am new here and don't know how this forum thing works. I am in genuine need of some USEFUL advice without judgement or horror stories. I am just now entering this phase where I am becoming my parents' keeper. I already have a hopelessly tangled situation that I don't know how to deal with...

I live in GA, 8 hours away from where my parents live in LA. I am MUCH closer than either my older sister (CA) or my younger brother (CO), though. My husband, my brother, his wife, and myself all have full time careers, children in college, and major financial obligations. Both my parents are loosing their memories and may have early Alzheimer's &/or dementia (testing and treatment is being arranged). My brother is supportive and helpful. My sister is another "issue" altogether.

My sister is inexplicably homeless. Every one of us has rolled out the red carpet for her to move in while she gets back on her feet. She refuses to leave California. She has major health issues, hasn't worked in over 20 years, and maxed out her government disability several years ago when she took a buyout. Now she is leeching my parents' resources at an alarming rate. Each time she calls them up for money, health insurance, etc... it's always my father who is "guilted" into helping her. She is hitting them up more and more often. My sister has a cell phone, provided by my parents. She won't answer any of our calls or e-mails. The only time anyone hears from her is when she calls my parents for more money. I've thought of going to California, finding her, and physically forcing her to return home with me. I don't think I can physically or legally do that, though. I know I need to use some tough love and tell her how she is affecting all of us. However, she has alluded to suicide in the past and I do not want to push her over the edge.

My parents saved and planned for my father's retirement. Their savings took big hits, first, with 9-11 and second, with the Wall Street/ mortgage fiasco. They can still live comfortably, but have to closely watch their budget. In short, they cannot afford to support a 53 year old child.

I have POA for both parents. They are, however, still functioning adults and I have no right to tell them how to use their money. My mother is furious and giving herself a nervous breakdown over the whole situation with my sister. It is really starting to take a toll on her health. I am VERY concerned for her. I talk with them at least once a week. My mother (always a worrier) is growing increasingly frantic and her mind seems to be increasingly scattered. I know it's related to my sister. What can I do??? I don't know the law. Even if I did, this is my family, not some hit and run driver. I just don't know what to do.


First of all, do your parents WANT your help with this? I mean are they asking for you to run interference between them and your sister? If so, then that's different, in the fact that you already have POA, so you really could take over the finances totally if they needed you to, in order to stop their 'guilt' giving. I just don't know how far they need you to go with this, which makes a huge difference in what happens. If they are in need of a backbone in dealing with the daughter that is mooching, then you can do that right? But only if they're willing to give up some control. I'm POA for my mother-in-law who has dementia and is legally blind. When she gets these calls from strangers that want her to 'invest' or 'buy' or whatever, she tells them they have to talk to me since I have the checkbook etc. Well needless to say, they hang up fast and she never hears from them again. The same would be true with your folks when your sister calls wanting money. All they'd have to tell her is, 'call your sister, she's in charge of the money now'. I guarantee that at least THAT problem would be over. You've got other issues though with their mental situation. Don't wait till they're too far gone mentally to move them into a retirement/asst living place that they can enjoy NOW, rather than being forced into one later on. Strike while the iron is hot so to speak.
If your parents are indeed in the beginning stages of dementia, this may be the time for you to step in and exercise POA authority. Offer it as a service you are willing to provide, before you have to deal with a totally bleak financial picture. Inability to handle finances is often one of the very first signs of dementia ... but since it isn't often visible it can get really serious before someone realizes it is a problem. At the very least, start looking closely at your parents' financial transactions. Are bills being paid late? Are some paid twice? Are there things that are draining the accounts besides your sister?

If your parents are of sound mind, they have a right to spend their money as they see fit, whether you think what they are doing is wise or not. But if you suspect that the soundness of their judgment is being to be questionable, then you have a duty (in my mind) as POA to step in, as gently as you can, and protect them from themselves.

And NancyH is right ... it is time to start thinking about their long term housing situation. Maybe changes aren't needed at this time, but it is better to think ahead than to react in a crisis situation.
My parents had a similar situation with my brother, who was an alcoholic. My mother gave and gave to him. I would tell her to stop, because she was only hurting him. However, it was her son, so she couldn't bear to see him in need, even if it was alcohol creating the need. She could never deal with it. He ended up drinking himself to death.

I think Nancy's advice was so excellent. If you have POA, your parents could refer your sister to you for money. Tell them they will have to stand tough, no matter how painful it is for them. I do not know what your sister's disability is. Is she able to work at all? I do know that if she is not allowed to find and stand on her own feet, she will not get better. The question is how to help her find her feet. Bailing her out is only hurting her. The money may better be invested in retraining. I saw a wonderful statistic the other day that people over 55 are being hired at a much higher rate than before. She still has time to get on her feet.
Nancy: I believe that my mother IS asking for help in her own way. My father is incapable of asking for help. He will fight any move to remove his autonomy. I am in touch with the local Alzheimer's Assoc office to recommend a doctor to send them to. My mother has already agreed to go. My father will be difficult.

All: Thinking about the moving issue is too overwhelming right now. I hope to get the finances stabilized and treatment for the memory issues first. I need to take this one (or two) step(s) at a time. Otherwise I might go running for the hills.
If they want your help, offer to run interference for them with your sister. When she calls, just have them say "you'll have to talk with your sister, she handles our finances now"....and that's that. If they keep giving her money, and I was in your shoes with POA, I would think they can't make sound decisions about needing finances for their OWN future health and life care. If your parents want to continue with phone, tell your sister that you will provide her with a basic CRICKET style phone for $30/month as long as she returns your calls/texts within 2 hours, and if she doesn't you will be forced to cancel the plan. If you force her to, she may straighten up. But if she doesn't, at least your parents won't be robbed of their last years of care because they can't afford it. I think the sign has been posted: help them, they need you to protect them from your sister. No one is saying this is cut and dry, but imagine if she takes everything and their lives are cut short because they can't afford care what you will be living with the rest of your life if you don't try to help. Your Sis is gonna be mad for awhile, but it will sting less than living with the other outcome.
Your parents have the right to their own money and to make their own decisions. Since none of you live close to your parents you will have no idea of how their day to day living is going. You're merely guessing about their mental capacities.

Go and stay a few months with your parents. Get the real story. If you find that they BOTH (which is unlikely), need help, with their activities (and not just their finances), then ask a doctor to help them come to some decisions about assisted living.

Seems like you're more worried about your future than your parents' health and future living requirements.

As for your sister, it's none of your business.
Ctaker6, just FYI, this post is from 2012.

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