General Question

prolificus's avatar

When one has more financial resources than his/her parents, how does one balance self-care with elder-care while maintaining appropriate boundaries (see details)?

Asked by prolificus (6583points) January 13th, 2011 from iPhone

My folks do not have any retirement money whatsoever.  Social Security and Medicaid benefits are their sole source of income and health insurance.  They share their apartment with their adult son and adult grandson.  The adult son has a history of sporadic employment and poor financial management.  Supposedly, the adult son and our folks split household expenses 50/50; but more often than not, there is a $200 monthly shortfall for my parents to fill (which translates to other family members having to fill in the gaps).

My partner and I do the bookkeeping for my folks because they became incapable of managing their money without incurring fees for insufficient funds on a semi-monthly basis.  Prior to overseeing the books, there was a financial emergency requiring money wire-transfers at least once every other month.  For over a year now, though, the bail-out emergencies have been minimal due to careful bookkeeping on our part.

I am the youngest of three, and the only daughter.  My eldest brother (who does not live with our folks) has made countless promises to assist, but rarely if ever follows through with action.  The role I’ve played in my family had been the emotional caregiver of my folks.  In many ways it has been a complicated relationship and anyone who’s been following my story will understand the complexities.  Over the years I’ve distanced myself from my folks, going as far as moving several states away from them.  Despite the distance (emotional and physical), there remains an expectation from my dad for me to keep them above financial hot water.

I’m not rich, but I’m not poor either. However, if I support my folks the way they want me to, I will end up like them financially.  I’ve offered to help them move out by me in order to manage eventual long-term care.  However, they refuse to leave their adult son and adult grandson.  Also, they do not want to leave familiar territory, which I completely understand.

I’ve maintained contact with their Office of Aging case manager, and I’ve investigated possible low-income housing for them.  Because they intend to share space indefinitely with their son and grandson, low-income housing is not a legal option.

It feels like a no-win situation for me.  By helping my folks, I feel like I have the opportunity to show forgiveness (to how my parents treat me), honor (to my parents) and integrity (to my spiritual beliefs).  Yet, I realize I must set all sorts of financial and emotional limits, for obvious reasons.  Both my partner and I have assisted my folks financially (on a limited and reasonable basis), but it’s never enough.

Considering these details, what would be the appropriate boundaries and actions for me follow?

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15 Answers

Crossroadsgrl's avatar

First off, you’re thinking in this is very mature…so it is NOT a no-win situation.

I don’t have a suggestion even….I just appreciate your maturity in realizing the forgiveness it would demonstrate, the honor it would show, and integrity.

Sounds like YOU will understand what decision to make…and YES, knowing the boundaries of it is critical…whatever they are for this specific situation

But you also need to take care of you too. But then….again I’m not sure. You’ve thought it through a great deal before ever asking.

Best of luck in what you decide…and can’t you back it OFF if it turned out to be too much??

zenvelo's avatar

The issue you are dancing around is the son and grandson living with your parents. You and your partner might set a good boundary by telling your parents you cannot support four people.

At this point, as long as your parents do not need a conservator, you must be emotionally strong and provide them either the low cost housing alternative or the move. And you need to make them understand that as they get older you cannot take care of them when they need long term care.

I think you are doing a great job so far taking care of yourself. You owe it to your self and your partner to make sure you have a comfortable retirement when your time comes. You cannot sacrifice your future for their uncooperative present.

Crossroadsgrl's avatar

Absolutely, Zen

faye's avatar

I don’t see where it said son and grandson were living with parents. It should be a shared percentage from all 3 of you if your parents need it. You guys need to get together, figure it out, and get your 2 brothers on it. If you make more maybe you could give more but not all. This is coming from someone who didn’t have to deal with that. I would sure be on my big brother to give it up, though, I know I would.

snowberry's avatar

It sounds like a tangled mess for sure. I don’t know what to tell you, other than to keep in mind that relationships change. Eventually something’s going to happen to change the dynamics. Perhaps Gramps will need round the clock nursing care (the kind that family will not be able to provide), and Granny will want to be near him. Or any other number of things.

When and if that happens, be ready to act. Good job about staying in contact with the case manager. In the future, that person may be your best asset in this whole deal.

Also, since you are managing the money, be certain to keep excellent records. If ever there is a question regarding how you are managing the money, you need to be able to prove you are above reproach. (It happened to me)

faye's avatar

Sorry, I do see where it said share space, my brain stopped at near.

bkcunningham's avatar

@prolificus how old are your parents and the adults living with them?

funkdaddy's avatar

@prolificus – I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I think many of us will face the same situation if we haven’t already.

At least for me it comes down to what I’m comfortable with in terms of helping. At the end of the day we’re usually not talking about life and death, we’re talking about debt and convenience. That’s not to minimize the importance of the decision but just to put in perspective that you do have the option of saying no at some point. It’s easy to forget, we tend to want to do everything possible.

If your parents asked for $50, you’d send it to them without hesitation. If they asked for $5000, you probably wouldn’t or couldn’t. It’s just not realistic to think you could do that on a regular basis.

Somewhere in the middle is a number you might sigh and worry about, but would still be “comfortable” sending over for their well being and your piece of mind. You’d honor your values, take care of those you love, and hopefully still be able to pay your own bills.

I think finding that number is the tricky part, because it’s not going to always be the same and there’s no solid formula. If I was in your situation, I would hope I could plan my finances and goals (retirement, paying down debt of my own, home down payments, large purchases, etc.) and budget those separately. Anything I had above that, or “emergency money” I’d feel ok helping someone out with as long as I didn’t feel like I was being taken advantage of or that the “emergencies” were frivolous. (that sounds harsh but I don’t know how else to put it, “we’re about to get kicked out of the apartment” is an emergency, “we need a new couch” is not).

At least for me, there’s rarely much “extra” money laying around and emergency money tends to find it’s way to emergencies all by itself without outside help, so I don’t know how realistic this approach is. I think a lot of it comes down to what amount would build resentment between me and the other person. If I’m going to resent them for needing and taking the money, then I probably shouldn’t give it. You seem to have a lot of capacity to care for your parents, and want what’s best for them, so maybe this would be a good guide for you? Perhaps trusting yourself to know when it’s too much (along with a chat with your partner) is enough?

I think it’s also important to note that (at least in my family and my wife’s family) we often feel bad for the things we can’t do to help, but rarely take credit or happiness from the things we can. There needs to be some kind of balance. We should feel good about all the things we can do to help and not beat ourselves up when something is just truly beyond our means.

I hope you find a solution that works and I hope things get easier for everyone involved at some point.

wundayatta's avatar

If I understand this correctly, your parents want to support your son and grandson (perhaps believing they are helping with money), but, since they don’t help with money, you end up with the burden of filling in the shortfall for both your parents and your brother and your nephew—all of whom are adults and should be supporting themselves. You can’t kick out the brother and grandson because your parents won’t allow it. They are not capable of understanding their financial situation any more, if, indeed, they ever understood it. So they insist on spending money they do not have (thus your money) on their son and grandson.

That’s what I got out of what you wrote—trying to read between the lines a bit. Is this correct?

I have seen situations like this before. Generally they were handled in one of two ways. You got a friend to play heavy and intimidate the son and grandson to leave (I don’t advise this in this case), or you bribe them to leave. It might take 10K apiece. It all depends on what everyone there thinks the value of money is. Once they leave, you can manage your parents situation more easily. You might even be able to get them to move near you at some point, now that they are no longer responsible for son and grandson.

snowberry's avatar

@Wuydayatta Not such a good idea. If OP hands off a chunk of money for freeloaders to leave and they do, there is nothing to prevent Gram and Gramps from letting them back in.

prolificus's avatar

@all – thank you so very much for your thoughtful answers. I’m sorry I did not respond sooner. After I posted the question, I hit the exhaustion wall because of the medication I’m taking. I hope to have a more on-topic response a.s.a.p. Meanwhile, I’ve been reflecting on the Q and the A’s. Thanks again!

wundayatta's avatar

@snowberry Good point, although I’m sure there are ways to work that—such as paying it out in bits and pieces, or putting it in escrow until he has been out for a specific period of time. It also would help to be made the caretakers for the parents.

snowberry's avatar

@wundayatta Absolutely. If you control the purse strings, there should be no problem whatsoever. If that should happen however, be certain to keep careful track of how the money is spent. That means save every receipt. If anyone were to say OP were acting inappropriately, they’d heed all the proof they could get.

OP should consider contacting an attorney in this event, just to cover the bases.

funkdaddy's avatar

Up to $20,000 plus attorney’s fees pays a lot of small monthly shortcomings due to having them in the house and even overdraft charges if needed.

I don’t see how throwing a large sum of money at a (relatively) small money problem really solves that portion. It also sets a precedent that you’re willing to pay to keep them away and sets up a whole secret family dynamic that would have to be addressed at some point down the road.

They aren’t mob goons you’re trying to keep away from your territory, their family living with their parents and grandparents.

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