Caring for Aging Parents Can Be Challenging

(Last Updated On: March 19, 2017)

Caring for aging parents can be challenging. I hope that by sharing my experience I will provide you with ideas on how to minimize these challenges.

Background

I am an only child in my mid 50s who lives a 6 – 7 hour commute by car from my parents. I live on the outskirts of the west end of Toronto and my parents live on the outskirts of Montreal (roughly a 6 – 7 drive door to door). The commute via plane or train would have only shaved 2 -3 hours from my commute so this made regular visits difficult (particularly in the winter).

A couple of other challenges include a language barrier. My parents reside in a province in Canada where French is predominantly spoken. I have not lived in that province since I was 16 and my French is rusty at best. In addition, Quebec is the only province in Canada under which civil matters are regulated by French-heritage civil law. The province in which I reside operates under Canadian common law and while I am not a lawyer I have some knowledge of the laws under which our province operates. As for the laws in the province of Quebec, I have absolutely no clue.

My mother’s eyesight is poor, and therefore, she never learned to drive.

My parents lived in the same house since 1984; I have never lived in that house. My mother continued to live there after my father passed away in early 2003 at the age of 76. She is still alive and will be turning 92 at the end of 2016.

I repeatedly asked her when she planned to sell her house and to move into a seniors’ residence. She always said she was working on it and not to worry. She would take care of everything in due course. I asked several times over the course of many years but she refused to discuss the subject.

Situation

In February 2015, I received a phone call from a social worker informing me my mother had fallen in her home and had sustained some injuries. My mother never called me, never approached the neighbors, nor did she call 911 as she was too embarrassed.

Two days later when the pain became unbearable she reached out to a neighbor. She was promptly brought to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a broken wrist, a severe bruise on one knee, and two black eyes. After 24 hours of observation she was released and transferred to a convalescent home.

The following day I took the train to Montreal. My mother had never let me enter their house subsequent to my father passing away in 2003 and when I entered I immediately understood why. While the house was not nearly as bad as what has been featured on A&E’s episodes of “Hoarders” it was a mess.

I immediately contacted 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. The following day two crew members and two trucks arrived at my mother’s house at 7:30 AM. We would fill up one truck and once that was full, we would fill up the other while first was driven to the closest dump site and emptied. This went on until 7:30 PM. All said and done…6 truckloads hauled to the dump! You think that was all we had to contend with? Not a chance. We had a major snowstorm all day!

Despite my numerous requests of my mother to provide a copy of the most current copy of her Will and Power of Attorney to manage her health and her finances, she repeatedly told me everything was in order and that she would send me a copy in due course. When I learned the documentation I needed was in her safety deposit box, I had to have her request that the bank grant me access to the safety deposit box so I could retrieve the document(s). Sure enough, the Wills had been prepared long before my father passed away. In addition, there was no Power of Attorney. In essence, I could not do anything until I engaged the services of a Notary to prepare an updated Will and a Power of Attorney giving me full rights to administer my mother’s affairs while she is still alive.

Matters were further complicated in that my mother had literally done nothing from a legal perspective when my father passed away in 2003. Her principal residence was still in joint name with my father and all school board tax and property tax related invoices were still being addressed to both my father and mother. My mother would merely take these invoices, cross out my father’s name, and make a little note that my father had passed away in 2003.

Steps I Took to Put Everything in Order

I immediately engaged the services of:

  • Housing Counsellors for Seniors Visavie Housing Councellors for Seniors to help me locate a suitable place for my mother to live. My wife has engaged the services of aPlaceforMom to assist her in her search for a senior’s residence for her parents (they reside in a city in Ontario) so when the time comes for her parents to relocate she would not need to scramble like I did.
  • a Notary (used in the province of Quebec) to wind up my father’s estate, prepare Powers of Attorney so I would have oversight as to my mother’s health care requirements and her finances as well as a new Will. (NOTE: My wife and I used a Barrister and Solicitor for our Wills and Powers of Attorney since we reside in the Province of Ontario.)
  • NOTE: I strongly suggest you avoid the “Do-it-Yourself” Will and Power of Attorney kits. Have you heard the old adage “penny wise, pound foolish”? Well, that is what can happen if you try to do things yourself and you have no experience in such sensitive matters. You would literally be making decisions with small amounts of money (pennies) that negatively impact larger amounts of money (pounds, as in Great British Pounds).
  • a professional cleaning company to do a very thorough clean of any and all real estate which you will be listing for sale.
  • a professional painter to repaint any and all real estate which you will be listing for sale. Once again, if you insist on doing this yourself, go right ahead. Just be sure you do a very thorough job. You want to ensure all real estate you intend to list for sale is in a presentable condition.
  • Removed and transferred the contents of my mother’s safety deposit box at the bank to one I hold at my local bank branch. Closed mother’s safety deposit box at her bank branch.
  • Updated all bank and investments accounts to ensure I had full access. NOTE: I strongly suggest you do NOT convert your parent’s/parents’ accounts to joint accounts with you. You should merely have Power of Attorney. Converting accounts to joint name could create considerable grief from a tax and legal perspective. If you don’t believe me, get legal advice in this regard.
  • Listed property for sale. I suggest you engage the services of an experienced real estate professional. A few of my mother’s neighbors reached out to me with referrals but these agents were either new to the profession or were family members. I passed on all those referrals and went with one who was acting on behalf of a friend of my parents who had recently sold her house within 2 weeks and who had been a top achiever for several years in a row. My mother’s house, by the way, sold within two weeks of listing and we had multiple offers. Don’t scrimp and save on professional services. It will probably come back to bite you if you do!

I am happy to report that all is now in order and my mother is thoroughly enjoying living in her seniors’ residence.

Greater Complications Can Arise

My parents never divorced/remarried and I had no siblings so my circumstances pale in comparison to those where:

  • blended families are involved
  • siblings do not get along
  • siblings get along but their spouses start to meddle in affairs in which they should not be involved
  • the Executor is one of the beneficiaries and, worse yet, when that Executor has no experience whatsoever in matters of winding up an Estate and is not prepared to engaged the services of a professional
  • the Executor is less than honest or of sound mind

If any of the above applies to your situation it is that much more critical that you engage the services of a professional.

I am certain you have heard or read about Estates that have not been left in order. One example in particular which is ingrained in my mind is that of a woman who divorced her first wealthy husband. She subsequently remarried another wealthy man. As fate would have it, her first husband passed away and had not updated his Will; she was still the beneficiary. Her second husband passed away at a later date and he had updated his Will to reflect her as the sole beneficiary!

In order to avoid complications in the event of our demise, my wife and I have engaged the services of a Trust company to handle all our affairs even though we only have one child. While we have to pay for these services, this is a regular part of their business. They know what needs to be done and they stay current on legal matters pertaining to the administration of Estates. This is definitely not something we would want our beneficiary to deal with.

Now, don’t raise my blood pressure by telling me you don’t have a Will or a Power of Attorney over your health and a Power of Attorney over your financial affairs. Perform a search on the internet to see what happens in these circumstances! That should, hopefully, be sufficient incentive for you to get professionally prepared documents as soon as possible.