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Posted January 9, 2007

Ask An Expert

Elderly Behavior: Stopping Dad's Free-Spending Lifestyle

Q. My 89-year-old father is a spendthrift. He'll order 25 steaks from a catalog for only himself and my mother. He'll buy mugs at the thrift store -- we counted 200 in his house. He went to the grocery store today and brought home a pumpkin pie, a cheesecake, a dozen glazed donuts, cupcakes, Christmas cookies, chocolate chip cookies, two different types of crackers, strawberry shortcake, seafood salad, and other foodstuffs. No, they are not expecting company, nor are they planning to entertain.

My mother does not stop him, claiming that he enjoys shopping and she does not want to stop his enjoyment. He suffers from short-term memory loss, exacerbated by severe alcoholism. No, an intervention is not possible! What to do about all this spending?

Dagmar, California.

A. I can only imagine your frustration as you see this money needlessly and extravagantly spent. As you say, your mother is not willing to try to curb your father's spending, and an "intervention" is not possible, so there is very little you can do yourself to change the situation.

Your parents' budget may be able to tolerate this level of spending at the moment. The big concern is if this compulsive shopping escalates and becomes more expensive with time. In that event, your mother's financial future may well be in jeopardy.

Even though your mother is not ready to tackle this now, the most productive thing you could do immediately is to help her get good advice about all of her available options. Do your best to persuade her to have a conversation with an elder law attorney about how she can protect her assets and what legal recourse she might have when she is ready to intervene with your father. If at all possible, go with her because two sets of ears are better than one.

If she won't go, then I strongly suggest that you go alone. You may well have to help her with this information in the near future.

You can find an elder law attorney at the website of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys website. A single consultation will not be very expensive. If your mother is frightened to take money from a joint account, give her the gift of a consultation. It will be well worth it. One very important thing to get advice about is your mother's legal liability, if your father were to have an accident while driving intoxicated. A single lawsuit could easily put them into bankruptcy.

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, and she can be reached at

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