Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Taking Care of My Dad

When I was suddenly forced to deal with my dad's potential death or incapacitation, (see the last post) I knew I'd have to act fast. Fortunately, the topic had been broached before. A few years ago, he'd told me he wanted to create a power of attorney, so that my sister or I would take over decision-making for him if necessary. Normally, you'd think his wife would do such things, but my parents have had a lot of problems in their relationship, and basically, my dad doesn't trust my mom's judgment. Sadly, I don't trust her judgment either, so I told him the power of attorney was a good idea, but then we never got around to doing it. I reminded him about it about a year ago, and suggested he also make a will, but still he procrastinated.

Knowing that he was facing brain tumor surgery, my dad was more willing to confront these issues, though I could tell he still really didn't relish the idea of dealing with it. At a point when we were just killing time in the hospital, I reminded him that we'd discussed it and that now was the time to really take care of it. I said I'd try to get the name of a lawyer. I also gently brought up the subject of my dad's disorganization, sort of along these lines:

"You know, Dad, you're going to be walking with a cane when we get home, and with your balance and vision problems, we'll have to be sure the house is a bit less cluttered so you aren't tripping on things. I know you and mom fight about her moving your stuff and you don't want anybody to touch anything, but you've sort of joked about how disorganized you are, and I know a lot of this stuff has just piled up because you haven't had the energy to deal with it. How about if I tackle some of that for you? You know that I understand the kind of stuff that's important to you, and I'll check with you before I throw anything away. I can organize all your files and make sure all the important financial documents are together, so we'll know what bills need to be paid and how to take care of things if you're out of it for a while after this surgery. Is that ok?"

My dad agreed, and over the next couple of days, I went on a rampage. Well, a very judicious and considerate rampage! I ended up throwing out about 15 grocery bags full of paper: catalogs and magazines from the mid-90s, countless printouts of web pages from shopping sites, handwritten and typed lists of health info, financial info, and other weird compilations of data. I found all the financial papers, benefit info, car lease info, regular bill info, tax records, etc, purged the out of date stuff and filed what needed to be kept.
I probably inhaled a pound of dust while doing all this. It was also a fascinating glimpse into the way my dad's mind works. He saved everything, from the mundane to the sentimental to the just bizarre. He was also a great compiler of data-- I found his GRE scores from the 1950s, along with graph paper pages on which he had plotted the distribution of test scores and where his fell on the curve. He also had extensive lists of what food he'd eaten, daily blood sugar readings, medicines taken, money spent, books and CDs coveted, and random economic data and newspaper clippings. None of these were saved in any methodical way-- he'd get a system going for a while, but then he'd lose track of it, and you'd find the same data in a different folder later, and different kinds of info combined in one folder. It had definitely gotten out of hand, so as I talked my dad through what I was doing, he was actually very happy to see how I was organizing everything and was much more willing to dump all the old stuff than I'd thought he'd be.
Using all this info, I made a list of all his accounts. I also drew up a budget for fixed expenses, slotted in estimated amounts for variable expenses, and laid them out against his pension and social security income and withdrawals from savings, with scenarios for both parents living, and my mom alone after his death.
I was happy to discover that while he's not a rich man by any means, I think my father's income and savings should support his needs for at least another 20-25 years, or more if he makes some cutbacks in his lifestyle. My mother would only get half his pension if he dies, but I think there will still be enough money to support her for a long time if she makes smart choices. Of course, my mom has been known to make some very dumb choices when it comes to money. How could I protect her from doing that? And wait a minute, why was I puttering around in all these dusty papers and making budgets when what my father really needed was a will and a health proxy??

More on that in the next post...


Escape Brooklyn said...

Glad you were able to help your dad with all these things and I hope he's doing better!

Anonymous said...

Oh, my gosh, you are doing a fantastic thing for your dad! It will make his life easier, and your mom's, and ultimately yours, too, since you'll be able to stop worrying about his finances and the safety of his environment.

Now, when you're finished, I'll pay you to come help me! My finances are pretty well organized, but I really need help with my work projects!

T'Pol said...

Sure is good to hear that your dad is well. As a responsible daughter what you are doing is incredible. As our parents age, we need to assume the role of the parent with them.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Madame X, kudos to you! My dad was ill for a long time without anyone having a medical power of attorney. Then he died without a will. What a nightmare! Through a long, painful process I ended up being Administrator (vs Executor) of his estate and it took four years of my life to sort through, straighten out and then liquidate and distribute his estate. All this was complicated by four siblings who wanted a complete and thorough (and ongoing) accounting of everything I was doing and status of all the assets in the estate. I'm still estranged from one sister who felt she was entitled to "more" than the other siblings because "he owed her". The law (and the rest of us) saw otherwise but it got ugly there for awhile.
Good on you for recognizing the need and negotiating a good solution for your dad and your family.

frugal zeitgeist said...

If only there were more adult sons and daughters like you.

Anonymous said...

I hope your dad gets better. I was faced with this when my father fell ill and it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

S said...

Wow. You are a very strong a caring person and the fact that you are doing all this for your dad is a good story that we really do not hear about enough of these days. I am sure the ability to share this with us is therapeutic to you so keep up the good work and we all wish you and your family the best!

Tired of being broke said...

Your dad will be in my thoughts and prayers.

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Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about your dad. It must be very hard. It's a great thing thta you can go through all this stuff while he is still here. My brother and I have power of attorney and health proxy for my parents, even though they are still in good health. They are elderly and you just never know. My dad is quite organised and I nkow where to lay my hands on their Wills, funeral preferences (we have a family plot) financial info including bank accounts etc and details of their lawyers, drs etc. I think its very important.