What to do when major customers refuse to cooperate

I recently attended a Satellite Beach High School reunion in Florida, where my wife and I graduated in 1985. It was an amazing event that allowed me to reconnect with many old friends. I played bad golf with old mates from our bad golf team, lounging on the beach and of course I remember the old days.

My how things have changed. Some good change. We’re all thankful that mid-’80s wardrobes and hairstyles disappeared, and thankfully, we’re thankful that there’s no cell phone evidence of some of our silliness. Scorpions laughed a lot over the weekend, but we also regret the other changes.

For example, the list of our departing colleagues is longer. We’re also older, and staying up late takes a bigger toll. So many times, we’ve found ourselves comparing drugs and complaining about the government like a group of elderly fanatics. Sadly, nearly everyone I spoke to told a story about the trials and tribulations of helping their parents or other seniors manage health issues.

Many of these stories will be familiar to financial planners reading this column.

My friend Billy’s mother was hospitalized for sepsis, a deadly blood infection. As is usually the case, she had significant cognitive and physical disabilities due to the infection and was sent to a rehabilitation center to recuperate. Bailey found that he could not pay his mother’s house bills because no one but her had the authority to cash the money out of her checking account.

My friend Chris’ mother passed away in 2017. Although the estate was relatively simple, it took a while to finalize the settlement. The issues arose when the estate was examined. Chris’ “father” attempted to challenge the will and claim some assets. The quotes were used here because he left the house when Kris was in diapers, and she had nothing to do with him, or talked to him, or heard from, or even heard of since she was in college over 30 years ago.

Your head will probably go to the same place where you saw it during these conversations. Both situations could have been avoided with some proper planning and documentation. Bailey’s mother could have put her accounts into a trust, power of attorney, or add a co-owner. All of these options have their pros and cons, of course, but all of them could have helped pay the bills.

Fortunately, Billy’s mother recovered well and was able to get her documents out. Two years later, she became ill for a long time and Billy managed to manage her affairs before her death.

Chris’ ordeal might have been prevented if her mother had not relied strictly on a will to transfer assets. It turns out that the will is good. She said what she wanted and it was done right. In the end, the assets were eventually distributed as her mother wanted, but between court costs, attorney’s fees, seemingly endless delays and the stress of confrontation, the losses were huge.

It would very likely have been different if Chris’ mother had established and funded a living variety fund in the garden. When her father saw the obituary, it could still cause some trouble, but he would have found far less information in the public records, which apparently prompted him to go down this path.

Even worse are the stories people tell about caregiving, a topic not even covered in really great documents.

For example, documents do not help people deal with uncooperative elderly people. This is a particularly difficult problem when there is cognitive decline. In my family, as my father’s dementia worsened, he wouldn’t do many things he was supposed to. For example, when he died, we found a lot of pills that he hid in strange places instead of swallowing them.

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