My 92-year-old mother refuses to sell the family home to finance her care. Many of you must have gone through this. Every parent's home is special to them. How did you approach the conversation? What points did you make? What worked? What didn't? How do you help someone who has never dealt with money---but wants to control the money to feel independent---to understand what has to happen when the cash runs out?

Please understand: she's legally competent.

Here's the story.

My mother, 92, is in assisted living. Her doctor says she needs someone in voice distance 24 hours a day, although she is still in good health for her age. We expect her to live past 100 if she can keep from falling---which she has been doing often for the last few years. We considered various options---shifts of caregivers in her home, moving her in with one of us and getting a caregiver in while we're at work, etc. In the end, the ALF provided the best combination of care, supervision, medical attention. safety, and cost.

It's a modest facility, but the staff is wonderful to her, and she likes them. She has a private room and bath, cable and private phone, weekly appointments with her own hairdresser, her own newspapers, an on-call caregiver who drives her to the hairdresser and takes her to appointments, and generous pin money. Friends and relatives visit her and my brother and I fly to see her several times a year. Although most of the residents of the ALF function well below her level---it's depressing!---there are a few nice people who could be friends if she would let them. (They're "so old," she says.) In other words, she's much luckier than many her age and the family would never want her to have less than she does now.

All of this costs about $3,300 per month due to the extras (the facility fee is only $2,050). My late father's pension and her Social Security cover about $2,700, so there's a $600/month shortfall for her personal expenses. That isn't the problem; we can deal with it.

The problem is that she owns a large old home---which is falling apart fast---on a large lot, and the cost of maintaining the empty house is an additional $2,500 a month: insurance, taxes, essential repairs, yard maintenance, exterminators, minimal utilities, etc. (I know that sounds high for an empty house, but it's a special place with special problems. Take my word for it.)

So there's actually a $3,100/month shortfall, and no way my brother or I can pay it. At first, it came from savings and now it's coming out of a secured line of credit on the house. But the monthly payments on the loan are already coming out of the borrowed money, and are going up each month as she draws down the line of credit. So she's borrowing money to pay for borrowed money --- heading for disaster. The cash flow situation will come to a crisis in a few months.

We know all the details because my brother is co-signatory on her bank accounts, pays her bills out of them, and arranged the line of credit for her.

My brother and I want her to sell the property. Even in today's market, the invested capital would produce the extra $600 per month she needs to be comfortable in the ALF and the money would be there if/when she needs more expensive nursing home care.

How on earth can we convince her to do this? She's legally competent. She just absolutely does not understand money. Our late father sheltered her from all that. They weren't wealthy but she never had to budget or save. She shuts down and tunes out when I try to explain her finances to her. I prepared a cash flow and explained it step by step. She says "she guesses she's just stupid" and "can't follow all that." (She's not at all stupid; she's a bright woman.) I understand that it isn't the money alone that shuts her down---it's her attachment to the family home, the memories, her sense of identity.

I try to be sensitive to that. Letting the old place go is heartbreaking for the whole family.

We really have to do something very soon. Please help me make this as easy as possible for her to understand and accept. What worked for you and your parent?

Love to you all,


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The risks and futility of paying a loan with a loan is not something she is apt to grasp, no matter how sharp she is. Her sharpness does not extend to finances -- it has never had to. So emphasize the hardship this is/will be for you. (Or better yet, have her doctor mention it, if that works out.) Now $600/month may not be a hardship for you, but I'd still present it that way. And someday you will be 90 and perhaps wish you hadn't had to spend that extra money on mother's care. Is there somebody who is standing by to help you out if you fall short?
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This is so hard. Unfortunately, there often has to be a crisis of some kind before a parent decides it's time. For our mom, it was a hurricane. My uncle and aunt were forced from their home recently by SuperStorm Sandy. Losing control is a major issue, so you really have to take her around to show her what her options are and let her participate in the decision making. We have very good videos in our 55 Plus section on ConsumerMojo.
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Thank you all. Jeannegibbs, you understand her so well! Bless you for your suggestions. I have seen your comments on other posts on this forum, and I know you're a wise woman.

3 pink roses, yes, we have all the usual documents in place; we just don't have control over her finances, and apparently can't get it. Thank God, she doesn't have Alzheimer's. She does have lapses of memory and moments of confusion, but the confusion has mostly disappeared since she went into AL. Really, she's pretty much on top of things. The attitudes and behavior are so "her"---my father took care of everything.

And emjo, I love your suggestion, but the truth is that Daddy would have just given her whatever she wanted and worried about the consequences later. I'm going to give some thought to what he would have done in this situation---fortunately, he never had to face it. They were OK financially while he was alive.

I know it's going to take time to work through this.

I like Jeanne's suggestion about getting someone else in on this. After all, my brother and I are her kids---what do we know? We're just kids (in our sixties/seventies!) I can't think who it would be, but I'll give some thought to it. Jeanne, there's no one in her life that's really an authority figure except her doctor. She's unchurched, so no clergy. Her personal relationships at her bank are just with the tellers. No accountant---my father handled everything during his lifetime, and my brother handles things now. I wonder if her doctor would be willing to step outside the boundaries of their relationship. He's the only person I know that she really regards as an authority figure. It would be a lot to ask of him and it might be unethical for him to do it. I know he's fond of her, but still...

Just for clarification: my brother and I aren't paying her bills yet---she's borrowing to pay the bills. But Jeanne, we could frame it as something that we will soon have to do, unless the property is sold. She might respond to that. I'm feeling particular urgency right now, because just since I posted my plea this morning, I found out that yesterday she gave a $250 gift? loan? to her on-call caregiver. This isn't the first time, but it's the largest single amount since November. But that's a separate problem. (No loans have been repaid.)

Please stay with me, guys...I feel so alone with all of this.
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I think Jeanne's suggestions are good.

Indeed it is a diffiucult situation.

What would happen if you stop making these extra payments, particularly the payments to do with the house, which are the ones that are most troublesome. Tell mum that you simply can't keep doing it - explain what a hardship it is to you, and that as of X date you will have to stop. Then let her think about it a while. You said she is bright.

Another thought is to approach it as dad would have approached it. He was the one who made all the financial decisions. How would he handle this if he were alive? Would your mum respond to doing things as dad would have wished to?

Good luck!
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In addition to what Jeanne said, does she have a health care proxy and POA? If the doctor says she needs to be within voice distance 24/7 then he should invoke the health care proxy and POA should go into effect as well. Perhaps speaking to an elder care attorney would be in order at this juncture. Some lawyers will give a consultation with no fee.

Do you think it is possible that she does have some dementia? My MIL could fool the doctors; but she did have it and then alzheimers as well. I don't know about the legalities of all involved when property is involved. Just a thought. Hope something works out for you. Hopefully, an outside person, as Jeanne suggested would probably be best and easier. Take care.
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I think your mother needs to hear a different kind of message -- about people, not about numbers. And ideally she needs to hear it from an outside source.

Is there someone in the community she respects? Clergy, her banker, an old friend of your father, her insurance agent, anyone? Someone who could give her the hard message you are probably reluctant to give:

"You are so lucky to have a good pension. That is a nice income for someone your age. Your husband did well by you. But even that good pension and your SS is not enough to cover the costs of you staying here and also maintaining an empty home. Your children are trying hard to make up the difference and it is a real hardship for them. The amount over and above your income is more than $1,500 PER MONTH for each of them. That is a lot of money for them to come up with each and every month. Of course they are not expecting an inheritance, but it would be wonderful if you could at least free them from this burdensome financial responsibility by letting them sell the empty house. That house was a wonderful setting for your long marriage and raising your children. You are not going to use it again. Your children are not going to use it. That wonderful house deserves some other family to live out their dreams in it."

In other words, focus on the hardship this is for her children (most Mom's truly do not want to cause hardships for their children) and what a great gift selling the house would be to another family. Mom isn't going to follow cash flow sheets. All she needs to know is that she doesn't have enough income to pay her way, her children are trying to make up the difference, and the house needs to be sold to solve this.

Good luck to you and your brother. This is not remotely easy!
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