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Incapacitated parent? Tread carefully

May 04, 2009 | | Comments Comments Off

Dear Liz: My father-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years back and his condition has steadily worsened. He can no longer write checks or keep track of due dates. My mother-in-law now must step in to maintain the family’s books, which she has never done before. I hope to work with her to develop a basic budget, but therein lies another problem. My father-in-law has made a very decent living and until he became sick, neither of them needed to worry about basic daily expenses or even small luxuries. As the medical bills mount, she is concerned that expenses are outpacing income, but he is reluctant to economize. To develop a budget would mean confronting his illness head-on, something he has managed to avoid for almost four years. Do you have any advice on handling this process of ceding financial control from an ill spouse to the partner?

Answer: Incapacity is hard for everyone involved, but failing to acknowledge the new reality could leave your in-laws in dire financial straits.

It often helps to involve a trusted third party who is not a family member. Your father-in-law may well resent your intrusion into their finances but may be willing to work with an accountant or a financial planner, particularly if it’s framed as a way to help his wife deal with her new responsibilities.

Your in-laws also should consult an attorney experienced in estate planning and elder care issues. At some point, paying for long-term care is likely to be an issue, and an attorney knowledgeable in this area can make appropriate recommendations.

Whatever you do, tread softly. You don’t have this disease and can’t know how he feels — or how she feels, for that matter. Offer to help, give your support, research and recommend appropriate resources, but try not to judge or impose your idea of a solution on this couple. This is their path to walk, not yours.

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