Dad and His Two Sons: Where Did the Money Go?

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He’s a disabled vet. He has trouble handling money and trusts his adult sons to help him, and watch over the funds. Sons promptly spend whatever they want, select a neighbors dad as their “financial adviser” to invest the rest of the money, and no surprise, it’s all soon gone.

Dad is now living in poverty. Sons are going to school, or working, having a good time and seem to be entirely disinterested in their father’s fate.

Is this about greed? Of course. Is it about a sense of entitlement by the sons to do whatever they wanted with Dad’s money? Yep. What have we come to when we think of a parent as a “throwaway” person who does not deserve our concern and care? The sons seemed to have no idea of a duty to their father to be sure he would not struggle in poverty.

This situation is real. The Dad called us at in hope of mediating the case with his sons. Our jobs as mediators are to remain neutral, to suggest solutions, to help the parties work out a plan to resolve the conflict. Dad wanted the sons to pay him back for what they had taken, buying new cars, traveling and having a grand old time. They didn’t have his permission to deplete the funds.

The sons did not care to really participate in problem- solving with their Dad. They met, but would not offer any cooperation with trying to fix the situation. Dad didn’t want to sue them and he generally gave up. It was quite sad. The best we could do was to get them all to agree to keep talking and to work on re-establishing their relationships.

This is an example of financial elder abuse. It came about as a result of many factors. First, Dad made a dumb decision to just give all the money to his sons, in their early 20’s. What was he expecting? Neither had proven themselves to be particularly skilled or wise about handling money, much less Dad’s money. He might have put it in a trust and had a qualified trustee manage it for him. Yes, it would have cost fees to do that but the trustee has a legal duty to do what is right for the person who owns the trust.

Another factor in the financial abuse was the opportunity it gave the sons, who obviously did not understand that the funds weren’t for their own enjoyment. Communication was either lacking or poor. Nothing was ever put in writing.

A third factor was that the sons chose an unqualified “advisor” to invest the money for them. They knew him but did not educate themselves about his qualifications nor his track record. He made very poor choices and lost the remaining money on bad investments. Dad would have been better off with a conservative investment in bonds or other low-risk choices. An experienced and qualified financial adviser is a must when a large sum of money is at stake for any elder.

We think this is a somewhat unusual situation. Yes, there will always be greedy kids. However, we see many honorable, loving, trustworthy adult children stepping up to do the right thing with an aging parent’s money. We encourage, acknowledge, and applaud those adult children. For many of us in the caregiver role, handling an aging parent’s funds is one of the caregiver’s jobs.

If you are spending your hours at night or on weekends watching over your aging parent’s accounting, paying bills, minding the books, we respect what you’re doing. The time it takes, the attention you give it is an act of caring. You are truly honoring your loved ones and are making the world a better place.

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