Ask Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin which is harder: landing on the moon or dealing with the dynamics of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. He might balk at the question. Buzz Aldrin is undoubtedly an American hero having been a member of the of the illustrious Apollo 11 crew and the second man ever to walk on the moon. He has undergone significant challenges and stresses during his life. However, his greatest trial, and that of his family, is perhaps dealing with the repercussions of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Earlier this month, Buzz settled a series of lawsuits filed by him against his children and counter-suits filed by his children against him. In his estate plan, Buzz had granted his children power over his business and financial affairs in the event that he became mentally incapable of making decisions. Subsequently, his children determined that Buzz's mental state had indeed declined to such an extent that they needed to exercise their power and control his assets. By taking this action, they specifically prevented Buzz from making financial decisions over his own affairs. Buzz sued and the children counter-sued. Fortunately, these series of lawsuits have settled as both sides felt it was critical to reconcile before the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.
The Gray Area
Buzz's story is not uncommon. For many individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's, there is a clear delineation between mental competence and inability to make decisions. However, it is equally as common to find individuals in the “gray area,” those who are not quite competent to make sound financial decisions but are able to handle their day-to-day affairs. This gray area is often the most difficult area to handle for the individual and his or her family. Like Buzz Aldrin, this difficulty is especially pronounced between parent and child. Most of the time the children have good intentions in trying to help their ailing parent, but often the parent considers the children's efforts as an encroach on their personal freedom and sometimes as an attempt at theft.
How to Handle the Gray Area
So how should children handle parents that are in this gray area? What can be done to avoid direct confrontations such as we have seen with the Aldrin family? Here are some basic guidelines children should consider before taking actions that could potentially disrupt and damage their relationship with the parent.
Have Your Parent Mentally Examined
This may seem an obvious solution, but taking a parent to the doctor or psychologist can often be a difficult task. Many parents consider the idea of being mentally tested as a personal afront. Individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's disease often do not consider themselves to have issues. They think they are perfectly fine and do not need help. One way to encourage your mother or father to go undergo a mental evaluation would be to tell them that you want them to maintain control over their finances. But you have some concern about their decision making and want to make sure they know what they are doing. Tell your parent that such an evaluation would provide peace of mind for both of you.
File a Conservatorship
Should your parent refuse to undergo a mental evaluation, consider filing a conservatorship. A conservatorship is a drastic action but often necessary especially when a parent does not have a valid power of attorney or has signs of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. By filing a conservatorship, you can have the court compel your parent to be mentally examined and the results would be reported to the court. At that point a hearing would be had to determine whether certain rights of the parent should be taken away.
Have an Intervention
Sometimes when there are serious concerns among close family members and friends, sitting down with the parent and coming to a resolution as to how to handle the situation will help defuse potential conflict. Parents who fall into this gray area will often be open to giving up some control over their finances and ability to make decisions if they are shown respect and love. Approach this intervention with proper planning, discussion, and empathy and it can lead to positive results. For example, if there is a concern about frivolous spending or giving large sums of money away, the parent may agree not to write checks in exchange for a certain allotment of cash per month. Or, if the parent has a business, they may be agreeable to giving up part control of the business to a child or trusted advisor. If the parent agrees to give up some control over their affairs, remember that whoever gains control must be as transparent as possible with the decisions they make. Keep receipts, records, and prepare monthly accountings of any activity taken on behalf of the parent.
Bottom Line: Have a Conciliatory Approach Parents with Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease
If you know or suspect your parent or loved one has dementia or Alzheimer's disease understand that their condition is sensitive. Sometimes the need for help is clear but other times, their lucidity may not be as obvious and they may be in this gray area we described. Above all, remember that your mother or father likely sacrificed much for you during your life. Be respectful, patient, and try to work towards a resolution in the most amenable fashion possible. As Buzz Aldrian's family eventually worked together to reach a resolution, so can yours.
Dealing with a parent with mental infirmities is challenging. If you have questions about the best approach to take, give Crow Estate Planning and Probate a call at 931-218-7800. Attorney John Crow will be happy to speak with you about your problems and formulate a plan to resolve them.