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    Bob Mauterstock

    Are You The Alpha Child?

    Who is the “Alpha Child”?

    The Allianz Life Insurance Company conducted a study they defined as “The American Legacies Study”. They gathered information by conducting over 2000 interviews with Baby Boomers and their parents. One of the findings their study revealed was the existence of the “Alpha Child.”  This is the child that keeps the family connected, who is always the first to make sure that family gatherings occur on a consistent basis, and communicates often with his siblings and parents. He or she is the child who the parents are most comfortable discussing money issues with. This is the person we want to organize and co-facilitate the Family Meeting.

    The Alpha Child in your family may be you. Examine your relationship with your parents. If the above listed characteristics describe you, then it is most likely that you are that person. But don’t let your ego get in the way. Be objective in your evaluation of your relationship with your parents and your siblings’ relationship with them. If you are married, discuss it with your spouse and ask for his or her feedback.

    Obviously if you are the only child, you may think that you don’t have a choice. But in some cases if you are the only child, your spouse may act in the capacity as the Alpha Child. Your parents may have more confidence in talking over issues with him or her than they do with you. After all you are their child and they may never give your opinions the same weight as your spouse or another person outside the family. Your husband/wife might be brilliant in your parents’ eyes. There is no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of this situation.

    I am an only child and I have acted as my mom’s financial advisor since my dad passed away almost 10 years ago. But every time I give her an investment recommendation and it works out, she seems to remember that it was an idea my wife came up with. So whenever we need to discuss an important financial issue with her I discuss it with my wife first and she will often propose it to Mom. It has a much better chance of getting adopted than if I brought it up.

    The Magic Of The Family Meeting – Part One

    Transforming your relationship with your parents about money is not an easy task. With the right tools, though, you can do it. You will be able to discuss issues and topics that were previously off-limits and figure out ways to work in tandem with your parents to improve, modify, or change their financial circumstances. You will have a new sense of freedom in your communication with each other and no longer fear the forbidden topics of money and death.

    But to get to this place, you will have to take a series of well-planned steps that require your patience and persistence. The first step is to plan out a Family Meeting to sit down with your parents, review their finances, and help them make plans for their future. This family meeting is an integral part of your new relationship and has a number of different pieces that need to be put in place before the meeting occurs. If these pieces are not prepared properly, the Family Meeting can become a disaster; resulting in hurt feelings, anger, and possibly the breakdown of all financial communication.

    The Family Meeting should be planned well in advance to avoid any such nasty surprises. One of the most important things to do first is to identify who amongst the children is most appropriate to coordinate and lead the meeting. This is the child that parents can easily communicate with, the child that they are comfortable discussing their personal affairs with, and the child that has no fear in asking them important questions.

    The second person you want to involve in the Family Meeting is one of your parents’ trusted advisors. In your own case, your most trusted advisor might be your financial planner or your accountant. But that might not be true for your parents. In their generation, they might not have had much contact with a financial planner. They may never have used an accountant to prepare their taxes. Take a look at their situation. Who did they turn to when they had a family crisis? Who have they sought out when they had financial questions? That is the person you want. It may be a family lawyer, a local bank executive, or even a minister, rabbi, or priest. The important thing is that your parents are comfortable with them and trust their advice.

    The trusted advisor’s role will be to present the idea of the family meeting to your parents and convince them (if necessary) that it is a good idea and will benefit the family. He or she will also share with them a list of topics to be discussed at the meeting.

    In Part Two we will discuss the Agenda of the Family Meeting.

    Do Your Parents Have a Durable Power of Attorney?

    Estate planning is such an ominous term. Most of us try to avoid it as long as possible because it deals with our death and ultimate demise. I would rather we rename it “Transition Planning”. It is the planning we must do for our parents and ourselves to avoid legal delays and complications when the ownership and/or control of our assets shifts to another person or entity.

    I have observed a number of situations where estate planning was not done properly. One that is still vivid in my mind involves one of my clients who was a retired physician. He was failing both physically and mentally when his wife decided to place him in a nursing home. She began making decisions regarding his finances, continuing to use their joint check book to pay the bills and make purchases, etc. Then without warning, she was contacted by the attorney of the Doctor’s first wife’s family stating that she had no authority to act in his behalf even though she was his second and current wife.

    The family alleged that she was acting irresponsibly and making financial decisions that would result in the depletion of the Doctor’s assets so that nothing would be left for his  children. Unfortunately,she had no document that stated she had the right to act in his behalf. She was forced to go to Probate Court to prove that he was incompetent and become his conservator. (A conservator has the legal right to act on behalf of a mentally incompetent individual.)

    She had to testify before a judge in probate court that her husband was incompetent—an event that proved very embarrassing for the whole family. The judge ruled that the Doctor could not handle his own affairs and his wife was named as his conservator. But the legal process took more than a month.

    The whole mess could have been avoided if the Doctor had signed a very short three page document called a “Durable Power of Attorney” while he was still healthy. This document gives an individual the right to make financial decisions for you when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. A regular power of attorney only allows you to act in the person’s behalf if they are mentally competent. The “Durable” power works regardless of the individual’s mental state.

    Dementia Dilemma

    For the past several months my 88 year old Mom has had difficult moments. On a few mornings she woke up and thought she was in her old home  and not at the independent Living Community she had moved into. Once in awhile she thought she was at the Senior Center waiting for a friend to pick her up, but every time I went to see her she recognized who I was and seemed relatively lucid.

    Then things changed. She caught a very uncomfortable stomach virus and had to go to the hospital to get treatment. While she was there her alertness diminshed dramatically but she still recognized who I was.  After four days in the hospital she was moved to a rehab. facility. I went to visit her there and she surprised me by calling me by my father’s name. I had become my father. After an hour visit I told her that I had to go home and would be back in two days. She was very angry with me expecting me to stay there with her. There was nothing I could do to diminish her anger. She expected her husband to stay with her or at least visit her every day. When my father was very sick with Parkinson’s she visited him every day in the nursing home and she expected him to do the same for her.

    How do I respond? Do I go along with her and become my father for her? Or do I continue to remind her that I am her son. She was very angry today when I called her, asking why I was not with her. Then she asked me how long we had been married. I was in a no win situation. I told her I would see her three days this week and she was very unhappy, expecting more.

    Dementia is a very elusive force, slipping into the background one moment and returning with power a few hours or days later. It seems to appear in stages, at first a moment or two here and there, then just in the mornings and now as a full time agressor. I felt very confused and depressed when I first noticed that my mother no longer recognized me as who I was. I had always feared that this would occur someday. But now it is here and I must come to grips with it. Should I embrace it as part of my Mom’s existence or fight it and her every chance that I can?

    Elder Mediation Resolves Family Conflicts

    “My daughter is insisting I move in with her,” complains Martha. “She just wants to control my life and take away my freedom,” she continues.

    Jenny, Martha’s daughter worries that her mother keeps falling, and fears one day she will break her hip or hit her head.

    “I’ll take my sister to court before I will let her get control of mom and my inheritance,” exclaims Jim about Jenny’s desire to move her mother in with her.

    It is amazing how quickly formerly cordial relationships between family members will sour when the family has to deal with care of elderly parents or inheritance at their death. Sometimes the consequence of dealing with the final years of elderly parents can break families apart and create long-lasting animosity.

    The National Care Planning Council has seen an increase in requests from caregiving children for help in solving disputes with siblings. In one case, the caregiver was being sued by her sister for abusing their parent and stealing the Social Security checks. In another, the caregiving child would not allow siblings to see their mother, claiming they would take advantage of her.

    A lot of times it is a “she said,” “he said” situation with neither party really understanding what the elder person needs or wants.

    Some families find it hard to communicate with each other when their parent is in need of care. Perhaps when they grew up together they were not accustomed to come together as parents and children to work out problems. And now those children are older and taking care of parents and they don’t have this family council strategy to rely on. It may seem unnatural to them. But that is often exactly what is needed, especially in situations where perhaps one child is caring for the parents and the others are left out of the loop.

    Children all have a common bond to their parents and as a result a common obligation or responsibility to each other. When disagreements arise, suspicions begin to grow. Suspicions or distrust often lead to anger and the anger often leads to severing the channels of communication between family members. This can occur between parent and child or between siblings or between all of them.

    It is often at this point that a neutral third party can come in and repair the damage that has been done and help correct the problems that have come about because of the disagreement.

    A practitioner experienced in elder mediation is a perfect choice for solving disagreements due to issues with the elderly. You can learn more about Elder Mediation at mediate.com