How I Became A Parent To My Parent

I never thought that I would become my mother’s parent. The story began when my parents married in the 1950’s. For the time period, our family life was typical of middle class America. Dad worked and Mom took care of the four children and the home. Dad was the picture of health until he fell victim to pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed in April and left us in November of the same year. He was only 57.

For fourteen years, Mom busied herself with things at home, visiting family, social activities, and traveling. Then hurricane Katrina blew through and forever changed Mom. Mom’s beloved home was flooded. The house had to be gutted then rebuilt while she lived in a FEMA trailer for a year. Somehow, our mother, who had always handled everything, became incapable of making decisions for her home. My siblings and I took turns helping her. We attributed her lack of decision making to the overwhelming experience as a whole and did not think a lot of it.

Mom had been back in her rebuilt home for a year when she made her annual trips to Georgia and Texas to visit with children and grandchildren. It was then that we all determined that there was something seriously wrong. Mom was 72. We discovered that Mom had dementia, vitamin B deficiency, and had had a series of mini strokes. Couple the cognition issues with a host of other health problems and we were told that mom could no longer drive or live without assistance.

I lived in Georgia and my siblings lived in Texas. We gave her choices of where she could live, but alone in New Orleans was not one of them. It was gut wrenching. She chose to move to Texas to be near the majority of the family. So, two of us helped move her from her 5 bedroom home into a new efficiency apartment inside an assisted living facility.

We faced our second tough question…what to do with all of mom’s things and the house? As we got deeper into the process, other questions surfaced.

  • What other assets did Mom have?
  • What kind of insurance did she have?
  • Did she have the resources to pay for her care?
  • What about her legal affairs?

It was overwhelming and complicated by the fact that none of us lived in New Orleans. All four children worked and had families of their own. How were we to squeeze caregiving and all of the other tasks into our already packed schedules? Where do we start? Who can help us?

We did not find anyone who could help. As an accountant, I was tasked with handling most of the “business” items. My siblings handled more of the caregiving responsibilities and my brother also acted as consultant and helped with some of the business related items as well. 

The list of things to do included:

  • Determine her financial situation and add someone as Power of Attorney to her accounts.
  • List home for sale and then maintain it until sold
  • Disburse, donate or dispose personal property (that house was FULL of stuff!)
  • Manage mom’s commercial building that she rented
  • Determine insurance coverage and/or risk
  • Ascertain what legal documents exist and determine adequacy (all had to be redone)
  • Ensure medical directive/living will accurately reflected mom’s wishes
  • Pay expenses and taxes
  • Process tax returns
  • Devise financial plan to manage principal assets and cover mom’s care

Mom did have the resources to cover her care with careful financial planning. I have been able to manage the assets, pay the increased expenses, and actually grow the principal.

This has been a bittersweet journey. I have truly enjoyed the time that I have been able to spend with my mother and other family members, but wish the circumstances could have been better. My mom actually slips and calls me mom from time to time. I consider it an honor that she knows I am taking care of things.

When we started on this journey, I was working as a CFO. My job was challenging and rewarding, but took a tremendous amount of time and energy. I made the difficult decision to step down from my CFO role and focus on managing my mother’s financial/business needs and spend more time with her. Going through this process at the same time that friends were struggling with similar situations made me keenly aware that many do not have either the time or skill set to accomplish what I had for my mom. So I made another decision. I founded Mitchell Hayes, leveraging my financial expertise, life experiences, and training as a CDFA so I could help other people in the midst of “life transitions” like divorce, or the type of senior progression my Mom went through.  If you find yourself, a parent or a loved one in a similar situation, Mitchell Hayes is here to help. We develop every unique client solution using our proprietary, eight-step approach which includes: 

  1. Establish financial goals and priorities
  2. Determine current monthly/annual budget
  3. Document assets and liabilities
  4. Analyze the information
  5. Develop financial scenarios and budgets for the future
  6. Review scenarios and budgets with you to develop viable plan for the future
  7. Refer you to appropriate professionals to assist with: legal needs, insurance requirements, management and/or sale of real estate, sale of personal property, tax planning
  8. Follow up to ensure that all loose ends have been addressed

Contact Mitchell Hayes at 404-870-9040 to schedule an appointment.