Retirement

What If You’re POA, But Aging Parents Resist You Doing The Job?

For aging parents who were responsible enough to do estate planning, the lawyer who put their will and trust together had them appoint a power of attorney for finances (POA). If they picked you to do that, it’s likely no one gave you an instruction book to go with the role. Serving as the one who takes on responsibility for your elder’s money can be daunting. Sometimes the very person who appointed you makes things quite difficult.

Here at AgingParents.com, where we offer our expertise on age-related legal and healthcare issues to families, we hear the frustrations. Some aging parents appoint the son or daughter to assume responsibility when/if they become impaired. Then they refuse to allow the appointed person to actually do the job. After all, it means giving up control and all too many elders just don’t want to let go. In the cases we see arising from this issue, the elder in question has either been diagnosed with dementia, or “mild cognitive impairment” or has the symptoms of those, even if not formally diagnosed. That means that their financial judgment is impaired and they are far more likely than an unimpaired person to make financial mistakes.

The Danger

The adult children or other appointees see the mistakes. Maybe it’s the parent forgetting to pay their bills, or getting utilities shut off for failure to heed warnings of unpaid invoices. Perhaps it’s being late with credit card payments and being charged extremely high interest rates, along with late fees. We see aging parents (or spouses) who forget to pay their taxes. The appointed POA looks at the financial records with alarm. They try to get Mom or Dad to let them take over paying the bills. Sometimes, the elder will reluctantly allow it, but the bigger picture is what happens with investments, brokerage accounts, and necessary financial decisions. These affect taxes and changes that are needed. With or without financial advisors, some elders are just plain stubborn about letting anyone else manage money and make decisions. They frustrate their adult kids, and anger them. The consequences of the failures of money judgment and unpaid bills fall on family. Arguments go nowhere.

What Can Families Do?

One solution that works for some families is to persuade the aging parent to allow you to have or set up online access to their accounts. They may not be able to see you checking up on what they’re doing with finances, but you will know what activity is there. At least you can find red flags of possible financial abuse and take action then. You can also set up auto payment for recurring bills. Those need your monitoring too, as the intermediaries for the banks on which payments are drawn are sometimes notorious for making mistakes or missing a payment.

Meanwhile, your cognitively impaired aging parent’s ability to stay on top of finances will very likely decline steadily over time. At some point they can become very vulnerable to financial manipulation, and undue influence. Even when you show your elder the mistakes, you meet persistent refusal. The family needs a strategy.

Legal Advice

We encourage anyone who finds yourself in this situation to seek legal advice from an experienced elder law attorney. Beware of those who immediately tell you that a guardianship is the only option. Guardianship is a very serious, expensive step, with potential destructive consequences. If your aging parent fights you on it, it can destroy your relationship forever. Going to court against your own parent can be excruciating. This is a last resort, only to be used when all other efforts to control finances have failed. Other options, such as “supported decision-making” exist.

Mediation

Other possibilities exist too. Mediation of the conflict is one option. That too, can have drawbacks. Every person involved must be willing to meet with a skilled elder mediator and be open to persuasion to make an agreement. Imagine that you have expressed to your aging parent that the worry over finances is a burden to you and you want to suggest a guided discussion of what to do to relieve you of the burden. All but the most self-centered and unreasonable aging parents do not want to be a burden to their families. Some of these elders can be enrolled in the idea of mediation with a neutral person if they can see the exercise as a way to avoid being a burden.

How Mediation Works

People use mediation in a broad variety of disputes. Lawyers use it as a way to avoid the risks of trying a case in court. For families, it is less understood, particularly outside the context of a lawsuit. Here’s our process at AgingParents.com.

A family member contacts us, both trained mediators, and describes a conflict in the family. Imagine that it’s the aging parent versus adult children over who should have control over the parent’s finances. We remain neutral to the conflict. We invite the elder and the adult children involved to participate in a family meeting for the purpose of working to resolve the issues. All must be willing. Usually all involved share the cost of mediation equally. A date and time are set.

We conduct the meeting in person or by video conference. The aging parent is encouraged to share their view of the problems as is each adult child. We guide the discussion, based on decades of experience as an RN-Attorney, elder psychologist team. We suggest possible solutions, and sometimes separate the parties to coach them privately on ways to progress. Possible options come up. As agreements are reached, we write them down. At the conclusion of the meeting (sometimes more than one meeting), we give all involved a copy of the agreements they reached and ask each to sign. This becomes an enforceable contract. There are consequences for not keeping the agreements. In most cases, this is a far better option than threatening to put an aging parent under guardianship or continuing endless, hostile communication.

The Takeaways:

  1. If your aging parent has appointed you as the agent, with Power of Attorney, and refuses to let you do the job, it’s best to get legal advice.
  2. If conflict over control persists, give mediation a try. It can help you avoid reaching the last resort of guardianship when your aging loved one is making dangerous financial decisions.
  3. Mediation is much more than a nice little chat. It is an informal legal process which can result in a written, enforceable agreement. Mediators are trained experts in the process.

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