Helping is often a matter of degree.
We’ve seen cases where the parent and child may have been estranged for years. Then the parent starts to decline physically or cognitively and has no one to help. In some of these situations, the adult child continues to have no part in the life of their parents.
Estranged Child Planning
We will start with the situation that more people are familiar with, which is Estranged Child Planning. This usually occurs when one of the adult children does something to displease their parent, prompting the parent to cut the child out of the will or trust.
We have seen situations where, after a period of reflection, cooler heads prevail, parties resolve their differences and the estate plan is again revised to read as it did before. In other cases, where the child has made some really poor life choices the changes may be permanent.
Some parents would not make this decision under any circumstances – but extreme life events that never would have been anticipated can result in this decision being made.
This is a huge decision. If this is the case in your situation, please contact your Estate Planning Attorney and get the documents prepared correctly.
Estranged Parent Planning
This situation can also work in reverse. As mentioned above, the parent and child may have been estranged for years. Then the cognitive or physical decline starts and the parent has no one to help.
In this case, the parent’s options may be (1) rely on the assistance of other friends or family; (2) the parent may have enough resources to hire third-party assistance in the home; or (3) the parent may become a ward of the state.
Options (1) and (2) are often temporary. Friends and remote family may help for a short period of time – then when the care needs increase, they may find they are too busy to help. Likewise, the parent may have enough money saved to bring in care for a while, but when the money is exhausted and they still need assistance, the options narrow down to the adult kids making a decision to help – despite everything that has happened in the past OR they watch the parent become a ward of the state.
The Mirror Test
I visited with a lady once who told me a story. She said “Mom was never much of a Mom to us. She never did a lot to care for us when we were little and in many cases, we were left to fend for ourselves. But now she has early dementia and physical problems. She needs my help and I won’t turn my back on her. She is far from perfect, but she’s the only Mom I’ve got”.
Considering their past, this was a brave decision made by the daughter. There is no “right or wrong decision here. In the same circumstances others would have decided not to help. One way or the other, you just have to pass what we refer to as the “mirror test”.
At the end of the day, when you look at yourself in the mirror, can you be at peace with yourself, knowing that you made the right decision? You have to answer to no one but yourself and the decisions are often not easy.
Sometimes it’s not so easy. Perhaps there were issues of abuse or severe neglect in the past that make it very difficult for the adult child to find a way to help. In many situations where past events have created permanent scars, the help provided is often a matter of degree. Some will pay for third party care out of their own pocket. Others will help their parent qualify for government assistance or will help them access available community resources. In cases where the past circumstances were not quite as extreme, some adult kids will go all in and provide hands on assistance.
Consider Building a Return Path
Whether the estranged loved one is a parent or a child there are often possibilities for change. Time and circumstances often help families realize that there are opportunities to work together to mend fences.
As plans are made, it is often wise to decide what actions you will take now to be in your loved one’s life. It’s also sometimes wise in your planning process to create a return path to allow for reconciliation and positive change in the future.
We wish you the best in your attempts to plan in these difficult situations.
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