My parents lived the American Dream. They worked hard, raised a family and started a business. After originally meeting as factory workers in eastern North Carolina, they eventually accumulated a net worth estimated at $10 million to $20 million.
After my mother’s early onset dementia and my father’s mental breakdown, they now live in relative poverty.
Having a family business that grew up as I did was ideal. I learned trade skills, office skills, accounting and business management. The income from the business paid for my academic education in computer science and political science. By my early 20s I had a very strong foundation including professional electrical and heating contracting licenses.
Unfortunately, I also have a fundamental personality conflict with my sister. As a result, I left the family business during my late 20s. I temporarily returned several times over the years when my father requested help, but I largely built my life outside the shelter of his efforts.
Removal from the business also limited my contact with my mother and father, so many danger signs were missed.
I had always reasoned that my father had the resources to provide care for my mother. Even so, I had tried repeatedly to get him to move nearby so we could help with day-to-day care.
When the problems with my family became suddenly clear, my wife agreed to abandon virtually all equity from our young business and move to South Carolina.
Over five years later, things are vastly different. I had my father committed approximately six months after moving here — diagnosed with paranoia, delusions and homicidal ideation. Initially, he was much better but he deteriorated over the following two years and refused medical treatment. Now he has abandoned his assets and his business and left my mother under our care with nothing in her name and no income other than a disability check of less than $800 per month (they were legally divorced just before her diagnosis of dementia).
In short, we are left in a home subject to foreclosure, caring for my mother with very limited resources while everything my mother and father built is in jeopardy.
Attempts to get additional medical help for my father have been unsuccessful. One doctor refused to commit him a second time, saying that he has a right to be crazy if it destroys his finances and doesn’t physically harm others.
Without an order of guardianship or a power of attorney, there appears to be no legal way to salvage my parents’ assets short of a guardian for my mother suing my father and seizing assets that are currently in his name.
There is a natural unwillingness to prepare for the shift in responsibility that occurs when parents must depend on their children.
The results are obvious in hindsight. Parents “taking responsibility” for their own affairs without any allowance for their incapacity may actually force a burden on their children.
In my opinion, the costs and discomfort from “Butting In” are far lower than the potential regrets from “Butting Out.”