The "Magic" Answer

05/14/2012 - 1:49pm
The "Magic" Answer

            Her son called me to ask for help.  He and his brother were at the end of their rope with desperation at how to deal with their mother's situation.  She was a 95 year young widow.  She and her husband had done planning with me in the past.  He said that surely I would have the magic answer for their situation.  They needed a lifeline to be thrown to them.  He and his Mom gave me permission to write about this.


            He explained that during Dad's life she was totally dependent on him for her business, financial, and security needs.  They had been married for 72 years when he passed away.  Their marriage was a never ending commitment that continually grew with care, compassion, yes, love, for the other.


            He said that when Dad passed in 2004 she was shuffled to an assisted living facility.  After all, she was needing someone to provide security.  Her financial and business matters were handled by her boys.  I was told that from the outside, the appearance was that all of her needs were being filled.


            But it was not so.  Her boys, despite their able and proficient care, were not able to fill the shoes of their Dad.  At least when it came to "being there" and companionship, she had a massive hole.  They had their own lives and responsibilities, and lived miles away.


            She got into a "new routine" with new friends at the Center, and her memory began to fail a small amount on a gradual basis, he stated.  She had no need to plan meals, drive to the store, pay bills, or make decisions that effected her.  She still remembered fondly her children and grandchildren.  She always asked about her great grandchildren by name.  But, her son told me (I think with some guilt) that he was sure that they did not visit her enough.  There was always something else to do, or place to go.


            He told me that because of these factors she began getting close to those that she saw regularly; her Center hairdresser, the Center housekeeper, and the Center nurse.  Too close in some instances.


            He explained that when he and his brother took her car keys away from her it had created quite a disturbance, so they allowed her to keep her checkbook.  They monitored it from bank statements.  But, he turned to the purpose for him calling me - they wanted to take her checkbook away because they had seen several checks clear the bank.  These checks were payable to the housekeeper, and strangers.  They were in the thousands of dollars.  He said that they were not interested in her money, but that they thought she should preserve it for herself.  He was afraid of how his Mom might respond if they took it away from her.  Through a weak voice, and a broken spirit, he asked me for the secret solution.


            After getting over the surprise, and the honor of being so sought out, with much humility, I suggested that first and foremost they needed to preserve the dignity and freedom of their mother.  A decision should not be forced upon her.  She should have a seat at the table.  She should consent to whatever action was taken.  (After all, I have seen family relationships deteriorate rapidly when an aging parent has decisions affecting them made without having any input).  Above all, they needed to protect their Mom without demeaning or being condescending.


            I recommended that Mom needed a trust that, with her consent, would have three co-trustees; her and her two boys.  At any given point, two trustees would be required to take action.


            I suggested that Mom should have two checking accounts.  One of them would have three signatories, but require two to sign any check.  The second account would only have Mom's signature required.  But that account would be kept to a lower amount, and Mom put on an agreed budget.  I mentioned that such an arrangement would give Mom protection, and still afford her the authority to write checks without permission.  This set-up does not prevent Mom from making mistakes, but it limits the size of them.


            Mom passed away recently.  At the funeral both boys told me that the "magic" solution preserved their relationship with their Mom, and encouraged more frequent contact with her.  They both said thank you.


            PERSONAL NOTE:


            There is nothing more repugnant, or anyone so low, to me than a person taking advantage of a widow.  In my practice I have seen the scene repeat itself all too often.  That is why I formed a non-profit organization for the purpose of assisting widows when necessary.  It is called The Chera Fund (Chera being the Greek word for widow).  I would encourage others to seek out those in their "circle" that they would be able to help make fully informed, responsible decisions.