If you love your children…

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 5:16 p.m.

 This has been a sad time of year for a few of my friends as they have either had parents who have passed away, parents whose chronic age-related illnesses have gotten worse or parents who have been forced due to deteriorating physical and mental ability to move into a nursing home.

Someone once told me that no matter how old you are, you are still someone’s child, and even in middle age, I find that I miss my deceased mother’s guidance and the guidance of my father who is suffering the ravages of dementia. He does know he’s losing it and it saddens him. There is no question that no matter how old you are, it’s tortuous to watch your parents come to rely on you instead of it being the opposite way around, the way it’s always been for most of us who have had parents who did their best to bring us up.

What is so difficult for most families, however, is to undergo this kind of pain and to make matters worse, deal with disorganized finances of parents who could not face the fact that someday they might not be able to take care of themselves.  This was the case with my parents.  Although they had made out a will, they never created any trust funds, always kept their home in their own name, and never discussed any of their finances with my sister or me.  They assumed that they would live in their home until they keeled over. 

Then my mother’s cancerous tumour burst in her colon and as I sat with my father in the hospital while my mother was in surgery, it became all too apparent that Mom had been hiding the severity of my father’s dementia so that they could continue living in their own home.  Both were in their eighties and once they both came out of the hospital (yes, Dad had to be hospitalized at the same time with heart and respiratory problems), my mother and father had to be moved to a nursing home, which in the United States can cost $10,000 a month…each!

The usual practice below the border is that once placed in a nursing home, the elderly run through their money quickly, voluminous forms are filled out, and they go on Medicaid.  They lose the ability to pass down money, homes, etc. to their family.  I remember a horrible moment in a nursing home room in upstate New York with my parents and their elder care attorney when after learning what the nursing home would cost and what Medicaid would eventually take, my mother looked me in the eye and said, “You would have been better off if we had died.”  Sadly, if my parents had faced up to age and been better informed, this might have been avoided.

Firstly, colon cancer – if Mom had gone for regular checkups, the polyp that turned cancerous could have been removed, but my mother was too frightened to go to the doctor.  Secondly, if my parents had kept up with their taxes and if they had gotten financial advice when they were in their sixties or seventies, they could have made provisions to protect their family estate so that they wouldn’t go through the pain of watching the government take their home and all their savings.  We, their children and grandchildren, might have had more time to focus on their care then spending hours on the phone trying to settle matters and not fight with one another about the best way to deal with all the issues that we had to face. 

It is very difficult for all of us to face old age and death.  We don’t like to talk about it and we don’t like to think about it.  As I get older, I can understand how difficult it might be to talk with my children about these matters, let alone trust them with my finances, but if we love our children, this is precisely what we must do.

If you are in your sixties or seventies, I urge you to take a deep breath and make plans for illness and incapacitation so that things work smoothly for your children and so that they can take care of you instead of taking care of your money.  It’s the kindest thing that you can do for them and they will praise you for it, and you will keep your children from the kind of battles that might keep them from talking to each other for years. On the other hand, if you’ve done this already, kudos to you…go play with your grandchildren.



Yes. Very good advise. Though I think older people in the US have a much more difficult go of it than older people in Canada. Still...planning for our own disintegration - as unpleasant at it is - is important so that we do not burden our children with unnecessary red tape and frustration.

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