Dear Family Resource,
The last time I went home to visit my parents I noticed their house was more cluttered than usual. There was spoiled food in the fridge and I even found bills that had not been paid. I think it’s time for me to take over their bill paying, and maybe other things as well. The problem is my mom refuses to even talk about it. A few years ago I asked if they had a will and my mom said the topic was “too depressing” and she just wants to “focus on the positive.” Meanwhile, my dad just shrugs, smiles, and goes along with whatever she says. Do you know how I can start a conversation with my parents about their unpaid bills and future planning?
~Parents Won’t Talk
Believe me, I’ve heard versions of this problem before. The story is the grown kids notice a change in their parents but the parents don’t want to talk about it – and there could be a number of reasons why. They could be worried about a loss of control over their finances, health care, where they live, etc. They may be extremely private people who are not accustomed to letting others help, or their cluttered home and unpaid bills may be a sign of age-related memory loss or even dementia.
Your question addresses household issues (bills, clutter, food), but I’m wondering about your parents themselves. It seems to me that some fact-finding is needed. Have you noticed other changes in their behavior? Have their roles in the marriage changed? Who has paid the bills in the past? What’s going on with your dad? Is he alert and oriented? How about your mom?
You’re right about wanting to talk about these issues. All of us need to name a beneficiary so our estates don’t end up in probate court. They should also name a Power of Attorney for Health Care who can make health care decisions on their behalf in case they can’t do so for themselves.
Do you have any siblings you can consult with? Sometimes talking to parents together with another family member can work better than going solo. I’m also wondering if your parents have a trusted advisor they’ve known for a while. This could be their physician, accountant, stockbroker, or someone else with whom they have a long-standing relationship. Your parents may be more open to discussing medical issues and POA with their physician and finances with a professional they have worked with before.
Before any appointment, make a list of your concerns and give their physician and/or financial advisor a call. You might consider discussing the idea of a care manager with your parents’ physician. If the physician thinks it’s an idea worth exploring, ask that he/she present the idea to your parents.
Ultimately, without having your parents declared legally incompetent, you have to wait for them to agree to let you or someone else help. Sometimes it takes a crisis like a hospitalization or a bill being sent to collections before a person is willing to accept help. I know that it’s tough to watch this happen to your parents, but as a loving, concerned, supportive daughter, I urge you to stay involved and keep a positive attitude. We are happy to speak with you to provide you with resources and to give you information on home care services that could help your parents continue to live together, safely, in their own home. Please feel free to give us a call. Home care could be an answer to some of your family’s needs.