Last week the unthinkable happened, 5 days had passed and neither my sister nor brother had heard from Mom and she wasn’t answering our calls. My heart pounded in my chest as I knocked on the door, fully expecting Mom not to answer. When I saw her face appear in the window, a mix of emotions washed over me. Tears streamed down my face as I hugged her not wanting to let go!
It turns out Mom’s phone line had been disconnected because she hadn’t paid the bill in several months. We had all noticed Mom’s memory was not as sharp as it used to be, but she had never missed paying a bill in 40 years. Suddenly, my siblings and I were faced with the reality that the woman who spent her entire life taking care of us, now needed our help.
This was not going to be easy, there’s no arguing that the women in my family are quite capable, some would even say head-strong (or pig headed). The conversation about ‘power of attorney’ with a fiercely proud and independent woman was something that we avoided like the plague!
After an agonizing 3 hours with the telephone company being bounced around from department to department until someone was willing to speak to me about reinstating my 80 year old mother’s account, I called the lawyer recommended to us by the Transition Network to discuss our options. We were concerned about other areas of Mom’s finances and the state of her bank account. Mom was defiant that it was none of our business and she was never going to hand over Power of Attorney!
Realizing that Mom has been dealing with her own frustrations, anger and denial over a failing memory, our lawyer helped us facilitate a civil and calm conversation. She admitted that she had been feeling depressed and some things around the house had been slipping. However, she remained headstrong and adamant about staying in control and was not even close to handing over the keys to her finances. Our lawyer helped us achieve a compromise, a baby step of sorts, to add our names to all of Mom’s accounts so that we could have oversight or intervene in an emergency. We also set up a Credit Score watch that would alert us if there was any unusual activity impacting her credit score. Now we are able to check in periodically to make sure everything is okay and mom doesn’t have us hovering and maintains her dignity.
We know that establishing power of attorney is still necessary, but now it can be postponed until Mom is less emotional and can come to terms with memory loss and it’s consequences.
You do not need to have power of attorney to have your name added to a loved one’s accounts. I would recommend every caregiver talk to their parents and arrange for access and names to be added to all bills, credit cards, investments, insurance, and bank accounts before finding yourself in a desperate situation. These are difficult situations and unpleasant things to think about, but it is a much softer transition to the conversation about Power Attorney. If you need help facilitating these conversations, or require assistance in making decisions, the lawyers and financial planners at the Transition Network are an amazing resource for help.