Helping Aging Parents Plan for the Future
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Helping Aging Parents Plan for the Future
I'm hoping someone has good advice out there. My
mother-in-law moved out of state when my husband was a
toddler. She was pretty much absent in his life except for
a couple weeks here and there until a few years ago when she
moved back to the Bay Area. She sees us every couple months
and is trying to re-establish contact, mostly now that he
has children of his own. That, and the fact that she is in
her 70s without a partner to care for her in her later
years, are two of the reasons she moved back. I do not care
for her at all, and he is pretty indifferent toward her.
She was not part of his life for such a long time and is
frankly such a bland person and emotionally closed that it
is hard to be around her. Financially she receives a small
social security payment each month along with a 401k that is
running out. She rents her house and makes car payments, but
otherwise she doesn't have a lot of extra expenses. My
husband and I have been getting into arguments about
financially supporting her as she gets into her older age. I
am inclined not to do it as we are completely strapped
financially taking care of our kids and living in the Bay
Area. He thinks we're legally obligated but I disagree. Can
someone shed some light on how this works if she doesn't
have enough money to live on but we don't want to have to
support her? Obviously I don't want her to be out on the
street or anything, but I feel angry about having to support
someone who was completely unavailable for my husband from
early childhood on.
Not loving my MIL
You are not legally obligated. But why let this create
conflict with you and your husband? You should both sit down
with her and have a serious conversation - maybe she has
financial expectations of you, maybe she doesn't. Get the
full story, share your position with her, and the
communication should help you feel better, or at least more
like you're on the same team as your husband.
Wish My Husband Would Do This
I don't think there is a legal obligation, but as someone who
is now caring for an elderly parent who wasn't "there" for me
in some ways (not as much so as your MIL, however) I can tell
you that guilt is a really, really heavy burden and one it is very
hard to free yourself from. Your husband may have a lot of
trouble not helping his mother even though his rational side
says he doesn't owe her anything. Please have some
compassion for how hard this is for him. (I do have a lot
of sympathy for you, too!) Personally, I'd suggest
talking to a family therapist about how to handle this.
I am not an attorney and do not know with certainty but I am
fairly sure that people are not legally obligated to provide
for their biological parents. As far as morally obligated,
she is not the one who raised your husband so I don't think
he is morally obligated either. You should not support her
financially in any way but why not allow her to spend a
little time with your family since she is probably lonely?
You are NOT legally obligated to help your MIL in any way.
I believe that Medicare will pay for her to be in a nursing
home if she can no longer pay her rent. You can contact
Area Agency on Aging (www.aging.ca.gov) for some guidance,
if you want to help your MIL with those sort of practicial
issues...but you don't have to do so!
Wow, what a generous and caring husband you have - who is
willing to sacrifice to take better care of his mother than
she took care of him. You should be proud.
I had a friend with a somewhat similar situation - not
financial support, but husband kept trying to maintain a
relationship with his mother, who was, objectively speaking,
just a horrible person. My friend kept trying to point out
to her husband all of his mother's bad qualities (of which
there were many). The more she pointed them out, the more he
defended her, and eventually they divorced. Loyalty to one's
parents, no matter how bad they are, is a powerful human
emotion (and I think a good one). I recognize that money is
tight for most of us, but I think you need to start with the
perspective that your husband's desire to help his mother
financially is legitimate and even good, and accept that
part of your family budget is going to help support her. If
you're having a hard time doing that, I'd suggest working on
changing your attitude instead of your husband's mind.
I think your husband is right on this one
My partner's parents were prototypical 60's hippies who
never reentered the mainstream after they left. While they
have passed along great core values to him (their only
child), they have managed to make it to their 60's without
savings, jobs, or any plans for their long-term care. They
are not married and have no social networks to rely on so my
husband and I are now brainstorming how to prepare for their
old age which they both show signs of entering and for which
we seem exclusively responsible.
His father is an artist who earns about $30k a year in cash.
This money is always gone as quickly as it comes in. His
mother is an aspiring artist who used to work in medical
reception but has not been able to find a job in nearly 4
years, possibly due to age discrimination and possibly in
part to an under-medicated thyroid condition. (I know, it's
bad.) Mom has just filed for food stamps and job skills
training but dad has really no plan in place and aside from
being eligible for VA benefits (!) is apparently eating only
what he is growing in his garden... admirable but
problematic for obvious reasons.
The hardest part for us is that we're slowly saving to buy a
house and build a life for us and our small children. It's
difficult to think about that savings and *not* help dad who
needs money for food but our future and our children are
what my partner and I had prioritized in our planning before.
I'd like your suggestions for several things to get us
started on what is a really difficult task financially but
more importantly, emotionally. Has anyone been in a similar
situation with their parents? How do you get a plan in place
to help them save, find the right social services to
contact, support groups, agencies, or senior consultants?
How do you talk to your parents about these tough topics
without offending them? (Last time he tried, mom said ''just
wheel me out into the forest when the time comes...'' ) In
addition, I'd love suggestions on a counselor or support
group to help us deal with the anger he's feeling towards
his parents for refusing to deal with this situation.
A little too much to handle
why not look for a home that has an inlaws unit (or
ability to easily add one) and keep your inlaws in it. 60
is pretty young still and they can help with babysittin.
The Fathers VA can help contribute to mortgage and food.
Theres still alot of foreclosures on the market so you
might be able to find one to fit your whole family at a
It's interesting to see that you are facing some of the same
problems my siblings and I face, though my parents are
definitely not what you would call ''counter-culture.'' They
just don't like to save, plan, or think about the
difficulties of old age or (dare one even say it) death. I
love their youthful, free-wheeling ways, but sometimes I
worry, too. I think my Dad would be deeply offended if he
thought I was sitting around imagining how he might become a
burden to his kids in old age -- he would definitely come up
with the ''push me into the forest'' line (though in his case,
it would be a ''crick'' instead of a forest). It is a
delicate balancing act: letting elders have their autonomy
and dignity in the later stages of life, and giving them the
support we feel they need (or feeling guilty about not being
able to give the support). But I do think that you might be
leaning too much toward the latter side -- feeling that you
are responsible and that their situation will leave you
feeling either guilty or impoverished, depending on how you
act. Give the responsibility back to them. Without saying
''I wash my hands of you, then,'' let them know that you are
concerned and loving, but you won't be able to come up with
the cash for crises. If they then prefer not to plan with
you, you have to let them be, but absolve yourself also.
And you can think a little about what you would be able to
do (take one or both of them in, help them locate services)
in order to assuage your conscience. But they might say no!
And that's something their dignity might demand.
loving daughter of free-wheeling folks
Oh yes, I have been there. I know exactly what you are up against! And my
mother said almost those exact same words to me. But I didn't let her ''go
into the woods to die'', of course, I took her into my home and got her signed
up with Social Security, Medicare, Charlotte Maxwell Clinic and a number of
other great social services which are available to low-income people in crisis.
Help is out there, when you need it. And its hard to know what kind of help,
medical and otherwise you will need, until that time comes.
I understand that you are trying to plan ahead - a foreign concept to your in-
laws - and maybe you will encounter some considerable resistance, at least
as long as they are healthy and have some options. That's ok. You will need
some good financial advice, which I don't have. But rest assured, your savings
is not in jeopardy. Their choices, and limitations, will impact you, but mostly
on the emotional level. You are right: resentment is the biggest obstacle, and
now is a good time to sort it out so that your whole family can have a loving
and respectful relationship with his parents, whatever their situation. Protect
the relationship and you will be very glad you did, in the end.
I would be happy to talk with you directly if you like, since my recent
experience is so very similar. I suspect there are a lot of us beginning to
encounter these problems, offspring of the original hippies, now ''sandwich
generation'' with young kids of our own.
My mom reached her mid-60's with no job and no retirement - she
had been a teacher for years, but she cashed out her retirement fund in her late
40's and then had only my deceased dad's tiny social security
widow's benefit to live on
when she finally got to the point where she could no longer find work.
I was sending her money every month to cover utilities. But the story
has a happy ending. I found Section 8 senior housing for her here in
Berkeley - there was a wait of several years during which she lived with
my sister in the South, and then she came here and has been very happy
in her apartment building in Berkeley. She pays only 25% or her SSA check for
rent, and can get by on the balance. She is now in her 80's. She has Medi-Cal,
sees a wonderful doctor at the Over-60 Clinic in Berkeley, and has
an in-home helper paid for by Medi-Cal so she can live independently.
California actually does a very good job supporting its poor seniors.
I recommend that you start to get together
some information about this for your in-laws, so you are prepared when the time comes.
My elderly mother-in-law recently had a scary round of falls and
mental confusion. Though she seems to be recovering, my husband
and I are now aware that we need to make plans for her eventual
incapacity -- hopefully that will be years down the line, but it
could be next week if she has another bad fall. We'd like to have
a plan in place before we're in crisis mode. She has virtually no
assets so will be relying on Medicare/cal for her eventual care.
How do we start planning? Who do we need to talk to? Lawyers?
Social Workers? Elder care specialists? Her insurance is through
Kaiser right now, do they have resources of this sort?
Hoping for the best, planning for the worst
What you've had is a warning, especially in terms of the mental
confusion. I urge you to see an estate planning attorney sooner
rather than later; if you wait, and her mental acuity declines
too far, it will be too late for simple things like a durable
power of attorney (to let you deal with her finances) or a will.
An estate plan includes these documents and more. If you get it
all set up before you need it, you won't have to worry about it
when the time comes (even if it is far in the future, as we'd all
It might also be a good idea to start checking into the medical
resources available to her. If you're going to need a longterm
care facility at some point, for instance, you don't want to be
searching for a good place at the same time as you're trying to
deal with a crisis. As with the legal/financial aspects, it helps
to have a plan in place.
you might want to check out a book called 'moving mom and Dad'
by Donna Robbins. She has a website at ultimatemoves.net which
also details the various services she provides to families
dealing with these kinds of issues. Donna was very helpful with
my mom. Good luck.
Hi there...good for you for wanting to plan for her incapacity
sooner than later. I am/was a geriatric SW for a long time
(now a SAHM) and encourage you to contact the SW dept at Kaiser
to talk w/a SW there about completion of a Durable Power of
Attorney(DPAHC), DNR etc. Since she doesn't have many assets
(or none at all), this will make it much easier and you may not
have to contact a lawyer to create a will/trust, etc. The SW
dept at Kaiser can give you community referrals for low cost
lawyers as needed. Whoever the primary agent/decision maker
will be for her should also discuss her wishes w/her primary MD
(if she has one) and what she wants her code status to be in
the event of an irreversible situation. I have seen time and
time again a bad fall being the end of any kind of
independence. Good luck....anon
It's very important to have a plan in place before it's needed,
and most of the nice nursing homes have a waiting list.
Would she like to try an assisted-living facility for now? They
have resources to help plan an eventual transfer to a full-care
facility later, if needed.
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