Should I look after Mom?

My wife hates my 92-year-old mom, but If I don’t take care of her, she’ll cut me out of her will! It’s a tricky one, agrees our elder. How much do you care about the money?

Dear EWC

My wife and my mother hate each other and have not seen or spoken to each other for many years. I am the only child and my father has passed. My 92-year-old mother lives alone in a very large house and her bedroom is upstairs. She refuses to sleep downstairs. It has come to the point where she falls down every day and has to crawl up the stairs to her bedroom. Sometimes she sleeps on the floor because she cannot get into her bed, or falls on the floor and sleeps there. One morning I found my mother had fallen out of bed again and crawled under the bed and got stuck. I had to call 911. She refuses to go into a nursing home or have any stranger live with her to take care of her. She now has a broken her ankle and cannot walk. She had a physiological evaluation and was deemed competent to make her own decisions even though they are bad ones. I can do nothing. My wife wants me to come home and let her fend for herself. One more thing. She has many millions and says I won’t get anything if I don’t take care of her.

Folk replies

Your mother may be stubborn, contrary, and a lot of trouble, but she has been examined and found competent. This means that as much as you might wish to, you have no power to override her bad decisions. You cannot put her in a nursing home or hire someone to care for her in her own home against her wishes. The only decision that you have to make is: will you continue to care for her in her home as best you can or will you leave her house and let her fend for herself? Your wife wants you to do the latter, but you are an only child and she is your only mother. Besides, she has told you that unless you take care of her, you will not inherit any of her money.

I cannot tell you which decision is the right one for you. If your mother is 92, chances are you are up years yourself. Is your own health up to the challenge of caring for your mom on your own? Does she need help bathing? Does she need to be lifted in and out of bed? Does she employ any household help to assist with cleaning and cooking — or are you responsible for those tasks in addition to caring for your mother’s personal needs? In short, are you physically able to manage the care of your mother?

If so, then you have to decide if this is what you want to do. You should, of course, remind your mother that if you hurt yourself or wear yourself out taking care of her that she will be on her own. If she doesn’t relent and allow you to hire a live-in caretaker, then you have no choice but to continue to care for your mom for as long as necessary — unless you are willing to risk being cut out of her will. Since she is not able to walk, how is she getting up and down the stairs? If she is currently sleeping on the first floor, perhaps she will be willing to continue doing that once she regains her mobility (if she does). She may very well not want to risk being trapped under her own bed again.

If, on the other hand, you do not care about your mother’s money, you can do as your wife suggests: return home and force your mom to fend for herself. As unreasonable as I think your mom is being, though, I feel that doing this to her would be both punitive and cruel. Your mom may not be incompetent, but it is undeniable that she is making very bad decisions. Maybe your leaving would force her to make better ones, but probably not. If falling down every day and having to sleep on the floor did not force her to change her routine and step downstairs then it is unlikely that you’re leaving her alone will either.

I realize that having to care for your aged mother is very hard on you. I had to care for mine too so I know what you are going through. It would be easier if you had your wife there with you to help you out. Your wife hates your mother, but she does not hate you; given that you are the one helping your mother, is there any possibility of your wife agreeing to help you? At least by supporting your efforts to do right by your mother?

I think you are in a very tough spot, and I feel for you. The only comfort I can offer you though is my assurance that you are doing the right thing and that nothing lasts forever. At Elder Circle, we are always here for you if you’d like to talk more about this or just need a kind word of support.

Letter #: 436167
Category: Family

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