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.
I’ve been urging a client couple to buy long-term care insurance, but the husband has balked. I thought the issue was the expense, but the wife recently confided that his father has an advanced case of Alzheimer’s. She believes her husband is in denial about the possibility of ever needing long-term care himself. Under these circumstances, I feel this coverage is more important than ever. Without using scare tactics, is there a way to encourage him to consider it? Watching parents forget who you are as their personality slips away is nightmare enough for any child. Worse yet is fearing that you might eventually suffer the same fate. It’s perfectly natural to flee from having to deal with such a dreadful situation. You’ll need to be exceedingly gentle and sympathetic to help the husband face his fears about his own future. I would start by asking him how he feels about what is happening to his father. (You may need to meet with him alone to discuss this, if he won’t open up in front of his wife.) If his mother is alive, how is she coping? How is his father’s situation affecting his parents financially? How well off will his mother be after his father’s illness has run its course? Finally, when you have fully heard his concerns, you can slowly broach the subject of long-term care insurance, why you think it’s the right action for your clients to take, and why now is the right time. Consider positioning it as financial protection for each other. With this coverage, neither will have to bear the full burden of tending to the other, and the cost of one partner’s prolonged care will not impoverish the survivor. If any of your friends or other clients have benefited significantly from long-term care insurance, share these stories with this couple. Don’t urge your clients to act until you’ve given them enough time and space to air their feelings. And however you decide to act, be prepared to provide patience, support, and a sympathetic ear. It may take a while for the husband–indeed, for both of them–to stop reeling in shock and begin thinking in a more balanced way about their future.
A man of 79 and his daughter are both clients of mine. He is a very conservative investor, with enough money in annuities alone to live well for the rest of his life. His daughter would like him to convert some of his Treasury bonds into stocks to provide a more substantial inheritance for his children and grandchildren. However, he’s too worried about the possibility of needing the money himself to agree. Any ideas? For people who were scarred by the Depression, it’s often difficult to appreciate the reality of having enough income to last the rest of one’s life. If your older client can’t quite believe it, take time to empathize. Have you shown him projections to drive home the unlikelihood of his ever running out of money? Generate numbers for the worst-case scenario so he can see that even in the most dire situation, his future will be secure. You might then ask whether he would like to pass on greater financial security to his family. By investing a small portion of his assets more aggressively, he may be able to leave his family much more. If he doesn’t respond positively, so be it. After all, it’s his money. You’ll just have to tell the daughter that if she wants her father to change his mind, it’s up to her.
A client has been trying to encourage his 82-year-old mother, whose health is fragile, to move to an assisted living facility near him. However, she doesn’t want to move hundreds of miles away from her small town, friends, and extended family, particularly since he has been too busy to visit or call her often. He says he would stay in closer touch if she lived nearby, but I know him well enough to have my doubts. How can I talk to him about this? One of the hardest things for grown children to do is to let their parents deal with issues of aging and dying in their own way, even if the children are convinced they could do it better themselves. I would address this gently with your client in an unstressful setting. Begin by sympathizing with his predicament–how busy he is, and how he’d like to do more for his mother. Empathize with his sadness at living so far away from her, and not being able to remedy the situation in a simple way. I would then ask him about the support system she has in her small town. Is it strong? If she needed help locally, could she get it? Assuming he agrees that she would be well cared for, you might observe that his mother seems to know what is best for her. Instead of uprooting herself to a place where a hardworking and very busy son might be her sole source of support, she feels it’s better to stay close to her comforting friends and familiar surroundings. Perhaps there are other ways he can express his concern for her. For example, you might suggest that he schedule regular phone calls or more visits, pay for some of the cost in an assisted-living facility in her area, or devise a mutually agreed-upon plan to take effect if she needs hospitalization. If you have any personal experience with these issues (direct or indirect), share it with him. When children with busy lives of their own live far away from a parent in declining health, there’s no perfect solution. Allowing one’s mother or father to grow old in familiar surroundings can often be a greater gift than insisting they relocate in order to meet a son’s or daughter’s need for peace of mind. In general, guiding older parents is an enormous challenge that taxes people’s ability to think calmly and clearly. Emotionally close relationships raise issues of love, support, and care, while more troublesome feelings surface when the relationship is strained, distant, or hostile. In your practice, you’re apt to deal with adult children who fear inheriting their parents’ illnesses and weaknesses and resist facing their own mortality. Older parents may deny their own aging. Mix in unresolved issues between the two generations, and you have the potential for a maelstrom of guilt, fear, anger, denial, and even outright panic. To help these clients, try to resolve your own personal issues about aging and mortality. From this relatively calm place, you can take time to hear your clients fully. Then gently help them consider creative ways to make the best of a situation that is inherently fraught with pain, but as old as mankind.