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Posted November 13, 2008

Ask An Expert

Elderly Care: Guarding Dad Against Gold-Diggers

Q. My father is 80 years old and was recently diagnosed with myelofibrosis, which will likely require some caregiving. He is of pretty sound mind, although I would disagree that he always makes good decisions. He has been known to give people money without getting paid back, and gives people a place to live without knowing anything about them.  

About a year ago, he took in a 43-year-old woman who has given him or us little information about herself. We don't even know if she has a driver’s license. When she moved in with him, he was not sick. She has been a caregiver (she says) for the last 20 years, and now that he is sick, she has appointed herself as his caregiver. He, of course, likes her company, so he is very hard to deal with when we try to get information about her or question her motives.  

Since he isn't feeling well, we don't want to pressure him or her for fear of making his condition worse. However, none of us (9 kids) has a good feeling about her.  

Up until now, she hasn't done anything we can pinpoint in regards to taking money, etc. But we feel she may be gaining his confidence, and he could sign over who knows what to her.  

She has been caught in lies often, is vague about information as to where she works or has worked in the past, she has children but doesn't associate much with them, etc.  

We want her out, but we know dad likes her company. We do not want to make his condition worse by escorting her out.  What do you suggest?  

Mary H., Parkersburg, West Virginia.

A.

 With all the stories we read about people who insert themselves into seniors' lives, only to eventually take advantage and exploit them, it's no wonder you and your siblings are worried. I give you lots of credit for having your radar on high alert. Unfortunately, smelling a rat and catching the rat are two different things -- if, indeed, there is a rat to catch at all.
 
I'm sure you have two concerns: you are probably worried about your father's resources disappearing into this woman's pockets, and you are also right to be concerned about the quality of the care your father will receive if his condition worsens. This person moved in when your father required no care, so you have no direct caregiving history. The fact that she seems to be wary of giving anyone information is a bright red flag, of course.
 
Because your father is apparently of sound mind, you are seriously limited in what you can do. As frustrating it is to watch someone make horrible and potentially devastating choices, you do not have the right to "escort her out" of your father's home, as long as he wants her there.
 
One thing you can do to ease your mind about your father's assets is to suggest that your father let an accountant, maybe a CPA, handle his checkbook and bill-paying. As he has a condition that may make managing his finances and other affairs difficult in the future, this is something your father could do to insure that his financial affairs remain in order. Because your father is undoubtedly aware that all nine of you are suspicious, it might be easier to "sell" the idea of professional financial management than to ask him to appoint one of you.
 
However, convincing a traditional in-charge kind of man to let someone else manage his money will be a challenge, and I am not optimistic.
 
You could also initiate a background investigation of this woman by hiring a professional. The more information you have, the better. A date of birth and Social Security number would make a background check much more efficient, of course.
 
If you discover negative information, you can present it to your father. What he chooses to do with any information you may unearth is legally his choice to make. Unfortunately, the law gives each of us the right to make terrible choices, so long as we have the ability to understand the consequences. As long as your father is legally competent, he has the right to change his legal documents, to marry, or to do whatever he chooses with his life and his assets.
 
The best advice I can give is to visit frequently. If he will permit, attend doctor's visits with him. If you see mental changes in your father, be sure that his doctors are aware. If his mental abilities decline to the degree that he may lack capacity, ask his doctors to document these changes (if any of you have the legal authority to work with the doctors in this way). 
 
And remember this: avoid confrontation. Becoming aggressive with your father or his companion may encourage your father to give her legal authority, money, or even to marry. You want to avoid contributing to any defensive need on your father's part to do something drastic just to show you he's in charge.

This answer is provided by Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW, a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. Molly, a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues, is the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is www.eldercareteam.com, and she can be reached atmolly@eldercareteam.com.

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