A Family of Strangers

Couples are re-marrying in their 60’s 70’s and even 80’s. Their children were adults with established lives when the parents marry. They can be convivial, but few feel the need to be part of an extended family.

In an ideal world, when the parents become old and in need of help, the “strangers” who comprise these separate families will come together and share the tasks that create safety and well being for both parents. In the real world, that may not happen unless the parents, in advance of the inevitable incidents of aging, have done some serious planning.

What kind of planning can parents do? They can look at all the adult children and choose the children whose lives demonstrate their capabilities. Make a decision as to who can be depended upon to make good decisions about the management of money and who will advocate for them with their doctors. Very quietly and in confidence, contact those children; gaining their permission to place these responsibilities in their hands. The parents meet with an attorney and get their wishes legally in place long before the first incident of aging.

It need not relate to age order, sex, or whose child it is. When the first incident of aging occurs, will the children who were not selected have their feelings hurt? Probably. They’ll get over it. They will quickly see that their parents have saved all of them from experiencing destructive family arguments in which no one wins and everyone loses.

When family battles occur at the bedside of an aging parent, it has little to do with what is good for the parents and everything to do with power, control, jealousy and money. In some families where the adult children meet at their parent’s wedding and again in the hospital social workers office, it may be impossible to avoid conflict. Parents who have chosen their representatives can rest assured that if need be; the courts will back their decision about family leadership.

Adversarial committees do not make good decisions.

What if none of the adult children are good candidates for family leadership? There are wonderful people called Guardian/Conservators and Geriatric Care Managers who can be hired to act in the parents’ best interest. For the parents who think there will never be power struggles between their children, blended or not, these two groups of professionals are available should war break out. It might be a good idea to designate professional management if parents are overly concerned about hurting the feelings of their children.

A power struggle in front of aging parents is the most painful thing that can possibly happen. It is easy to prevent by thoughtful advance planning. Ask your parents to help you avoid future problems by seeking the advice of an elder law attorney before the first incidents of aging. If they can’t conceive of any problems happening. Ask them to do it for you.