Life and Money With Helaine by Helaine Olen

How to Support Difficult Parents

Dear Helaine: My father has always been the type of person who lived with the idea of “sticking it to the man” as an undertone to his life. As I was growing up, my parents saved enough money to buy a house, which is almost fully paid off, but that was about it. They saved little money, and my father’s jobs rarely lasted long. He would find another job and then things seemed stable again. Money was always tight. But about 20 years ago, it seemed like things changed. My father set up as a contract computer programmer. He was successful for several years, and was finally able to set money aside. But then that ended, too.

My parents are now 65 and almost out of money. My mother has cancer and can’t work. My sister pays her to watch her children three days a week after school. My father refuses to take a part-time job. My mother feels trapped, but says there is nothing she can do. They receive Social Security checks, but my mother’s healthcare expenses are not small.

I’m at a loss about what I can do to help. I have thought about having them live with me, but they want to remain in their home as long as possible. Financially supporting my parents would compromise my own retirement. My siblings are not in a position to help, either. What can I do? -- Out of Options

Dear Out of Options: The hardest lesson in life to learn is that we can’t save other people from themselves. I’m sorry you are learning it via your parents’ rapidly deteriorating financial situation. The good news, as you know, is that they are not out of options. They can tap into their home to come up with extra money if they need it. They don’t even need to live with you. They could simply sell the residence and move to a lower-cost condo. That’s their choice.

Your choice is whether you want to consider enabling this situation in the future. I don’t recommend it. If your father doesn’t want to get a job -- and I mean even a part-time retail position -- you most certainly shouldn’t financially support that decision. As for your mother, if the time comes when their precarious finances impede her ability to access needed medical care, you and your siblings could consider paying for it directly, if you can afford to do so.

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