Family crisis: Dad's demented

My 47-year-old brother is still living at home. Will he help or just take advantage?

By Cary Tennis
Published November 8, 2010 12:01AM (EST)

Hmm, Cary,

Well, I've been reading your section and wondered what would you say about this. I am an older sister with an older sister to a younger brother of 47 who still lives at home with Mom and Dad. Saying it is the big pink elephant in the living room is an understatement. It just isn't talked about except between us sisters.

I predicted years ago that my father would get Alzheimer's and my mother would say to both of us, "I just couldn't do it without your brother." That hasn't come to fruition as yet but is clearly on its way. The father hasn't been professionally diagnosed but armchair diagnosed. The point is, the parents feel that all things to do with brother are none of our concern. We have suggested in the past (Oh, the last 20-odd years or so) that they basically tell him he is not welcome at home any longer. But now with the justification of him being there to "help out," I'm afraid he will never have a life and my parents will never have theirs together.

Those comments were met with incredulous responses.

I guess we could continue to go along accepting this as none of our affair and keep walking past the pink elephant, but I can't believe we are that family.

Not That Family

Dear Not That Family,

Well, if I could do things over again (too late now), I'd maintain better communication with all my siblings throughout the whole period of parental aging, and I'd be more insistent that we meet regularly and make plans and review them and do everything transparently.

I wouldn't wait for others to agree to meet. I'd travel and meet with them. I'd just do it.

One of the hardest things to do when a parent is in the early stages of dementia is to know when and how to oppose them, or override them. I now see that early in my father's dementia, he was doing clearly crazy things, but I hesitated out of fear that opposing him was tantamount to saying, "You're crazy."

Underneath this hesitance was the fear of going up against the father. That runs pretty deep. It was hard to even know that's what was going on.

At times, I waited for consensus when I should have acted. At other times, I acted when I should have waited for consensus.

One must accept that things turned out the way they did. But things can be different for you. You don't have to make all my mistakes. You can make new ones all your own.

So my advice is: Understand all the legal and financial situations your parents are in. If you think they're making bad decisions, say so. Make sure their records are comprehensive and up to date. Be in touch with their lawyer and their tax person and their banking person, and any other people who will come into the situation once your father deteriorates. That will save you lots of trouble later. Make sure everyone knows where the will is. If your brother is taking money out of the estate, or taking property that properly would be shared by all the heirs, then that's something to address legally.

And stay on top of it! I can tell you from experience that it's very difficult to walk into such a situation and make sense of it once things are at a certain stage. Money gets spent foolishly and then it's gone. Conflicting agreements get made and no one knows when or where. I just went through my dad's papers and found numerous jotted-down wishes where he said he wanted this or that after his death. He would get nutty and scribble things down. Who knows what he really meant. Luckily, before he was too far gone, we did have a legal meeting where major issues were decided. But he had already lost a lot of money and had been taken advantage of.

I'm just saying, from experience, if you can take a steady, regular interest, that's going to help you in the long run.

The more you know now, the better off you'll be later.

Write Your Truth.

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Cary Tennis

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