What could be worse than having your portfolio mowed down by the market with retirement just over the horizon? For countless baby boomers, the other half of the double whammy is the emotional insecurity of coping with issues involving aging parents–issues of trust, dependency, fear and anxiety, control, love, and death.
If thorny problems of parental guidance are invading your practice, these answers may help you navigate through the tangle.
My client’s 87-year old father is slowly failing. Although he can’t remember to pay bills or deposit checks, he refuses to give her power of attorney. My client, who has always considered herself close to her dad, feels hurt and bewildered. How can I help her? From personal experience, I can tell you that this father’s behavior probably has nothing at all to do with your client. In all likelihood, his refusal to give up his financial independence stems from denial of his own growing lack of competence and a need to retain his dignity at all costs. If he has always been very capable, as my own father was, surrendering control will feel like a humiliating defeat to him. In addition, he may not want to burden his daughter with having to take care of him. So, as frustrating as this situation is, encourage your client to take her dad’s attitude less personally. Over time, she may be able to build an emotional bridge to him that softens his inflexibility. To make him more comfortable with her offer, she might try telling him how relinquishing money management to an adult child has helped other super-competent parents feel relieved and able to enjoy life more. I think she should also remind her father how much she loves him and respects his competence in other areas. If he still won’t budge, she has a choice between letting go and loving her dad as best she can, or taking control more forcibly at the risk of damaging the relationship. Only she can decide which option is better.
My client’s mother named her as sole beneficiary of her life insurance policy, with the understanding that the proceeds would be used for the grandchildren’s college education. However, her younger brother is so furious about being excluded as a beneficiary that he has vowed to take the money earmarked for his own children’s education and spend it on himself. My client was ready to set up college funds for each of the grandchildren, but now she isn’t sure what to do. Any advice? Before your client does anything with the money, I would recommend that she urge her brother to join her in consulting a counselor or family therapist. He needs to work out his feelings of betrayal, rage, and humiliation. I strongly believe that the mother should have talked to each of her children about her plan. If she was unsure whether the son was mature enough to co-manage the insurance proceeds, she should have explained her feelings. As painful as that would have been, it might have led to greater trust over time. At the very least, your client’s brother would not have experienced the shock of this apparent rejection after his mother’s death, with no way to salve the wound. That said, your client should try to heal this painful rift for the sake of present and future family relationships. If she feels bad that her brother was denied a role in administering the insurance benefit, she may need to explore ways to correct the imbalance with him. She definitely owes him an apology if she knew about the plan but kept it a secret from him. If the brother refuses to let go of his anger, your client’s only recourse is to carry out their mother’s wishes, perhaps by opening 529 plan accounts for the grandchildren that would keep the money out of his reach. Sadly, even if the two siblings become reconciled, the son’s legacy from his mother will always include residual feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal.