Coping with the Financial Ruin and Illness of My Mother - Advice Please

Updated on June 22, 2011
M.S. asks from Chicago, IL
11 answers

My mother is/was very reckless and impulsive with her money, especially with regards to real estate - buying and remodeling various properties. She made a very good income and was able to afford the various properties with her income, plus borrowing against other properties, including her retirement savings.

Over the last few months, she suffered some neurological issues which caused her to stop working. Needless to say, her habit of spending and not saving, in addition to cashing out her retirement savings, have put her in a very precarious financial situation. I only found out about all of her financial problems after she could no longer work. It has caused me great stress, knowing that her financial problems could have been avoided, had she even seriously considered retirement. I am also extremely angry at her, having put herself into this situation, and having ignored my advice - not to spend her money so foolishly in this manner.

Has anyone been through something like this with your parents? How did you cope? How did you deal with the anger? The gravity of my mother's situation - her growing debt, and inability to pay her mortgage - for probably the rest of her life - is just so daunting. My sisters and I will probably need to financially support her the rest of her life.

I am also six months pregnant and I am worried my stress over this situation is harming the baby. Words of wisdom welcome ...

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your support. My mother has stroke-like symptoms - but her MRIs have been clear - the doctors have been frustrating because they cannot give us any clear answers (and we have seen many of them) - meanwhile, my mom can no longer drive or work. I hope it is not permanent but as the weeks and months go by with no improvement, our hope is fading.

My mom is retirement age and is already receiving Social Security - so that is of some comfort. But it is not enough to pay her huge and mounting bills. Thanks for the suggestions of counseling and other support resources - I'll definitely look into them.

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answers from Richmond on

honestly, the best thing you can do is NOTHING ! because, there is nothing that a creditor loves more then a head in the clouds adult who refuses to look at their money situation seriously.if you try to help her by giving her money to pay the bills, more then likely, the money will go everywhere BUT toward paying bills.if you talk to her creditors, they will start sending all the bills to you, AND continue to loan her money so that she will owe them even more . see, because, according to the law, if you become her legal guardian and she can no longer be held accountable for paying the bills, she can still run up the bills, and she or her creditors are under no obligation to tell you until after the fact. my first mil
was exactly like you mother, i refused to take on her bills and i never regretted it, my bil, however, let her run up the bills, and did nothing, then when she died, her creditors took him to the cleaners for several million,he went from owning a 4000 square foot house and huge estate, to living in an unheated, no electricity trailer.
K. h.

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answers from Portland on

Unless your mother is mentally ill or has dementia, I suggest that the problem is hers. If she is not able, in legal terms, to manage her money then file a petition with the court to have one of you named her guardian. I think that's the term.

You cannot do anything about this unless you have a court order or your mother agrees to your help. Find a way to let go of the need to take control.

I suggest counseling. This is a very emotionally laden problem that has no easy answers. Yes, you may end up having to take care of her. But you're not at that point now and I don't see anyway that you can change the situation. One advantage to you having to take care of her is that she'll have to accept whatever you can afford. And if you can't afford to help her she'll have to rely on the state. Once all of her assets are gone she can receive state financial aid and food stamps as well as health care.

Remind yourself that this is your mother's problem and NOT yours except in the way if affects you emotionally. You cannot protect her.

I also suggest you talk with an attorney. There may be a way that you can intervene, based on info we don't have here. An attorney can advise you.

I sympathize with you. I've felt like I've picked up the pieces from others' mistakes and don't like the feeling. After years of therapy I finally realize for the most part that I can only do what I can do and don't sweat the rest.

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answers from Dallas on

You are not responsible for your mom not being responsible.

She made her bed.... full of poor choices.... now she lies in it.

You have a family you are responsible for right now and you owe it to your family to be responsible for them and take special care during your preganacy.

It is sad that some people make the choices they do that ends up putting them in financial ruin but nobody held her down and forced her to make those poor decisions... she did that all by herself.

If you choose to help, don't get yourself emotionally strained anymore than you already have and don'e become an enabler. Just point her in the direction of services that may be able to help her.

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answers from Dallas on

Maybe you can look into disability for your mother. It may not pay everything, but it could help.

My mother-in-law went through something similar. She wasn't ill, she just decided not to work and then was completely shocked when she lost her house after not making payments for 6 months. My husband was very angry, but still did what he could to help her. He absolutely DID NOT offer to support her though. She had to figure that part out on her own. Again, she wasn't ill. I hope it works out for you guys.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I agree with Lovemygirl. If your mother is unable to work due to her physical condition, she should be applying for social security disability status.

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answers from San Francisco on

I went through off-the-charts stress when I was expecting my third child. She was a healthy baby, and at 11 y.o. she's still fine. I hope that's reassuring! I'm not a doctor, so I can only give you my input; but it's true that mothers bear and raise kids under all kinds of duress. Don't add to your stress by stressing about the effects of stress. ; )

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answers from Detroit on

I am so sorry to hear that this is happening to you. If you or your husband work, I would suggest that you utilize his Employee Assistance Program if the employer has this benefit. It can provide free counseling, fnancial advice and legal advise (depending on the employer benefit plan). These all seem like resources that you can utilize at this time to help you and your mother plan for the future.

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answers from Hartford on

Are your mother's neurological issues permanent? Will she be disabled for life and unable to ever work again? If not then you won't have to financially support her. It will be up to her to support herself. I would imagine that she'd have to unload her current properties, all of them, and downsize where she's living and move into an apartment (or assisted living if she's actually disabled).

You can help her get a lawyer and financial planner to figure out what she needs to do to unload the properties with as little damage as possible. They can also advise her on how to handle the rest of her debt and set up a plan for the debt that she's incurring for daily living. This sounds like it's just too big for you and your sisters to figure out on your own, that's why you need professional help in this.

If your mother is disabled for life then a lawyer and financial planner can help figure out the next steps in getting her on disability with Social Security and the Department of Social Services.

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answers from Chicago on

I know everyone has their own perspective, but I found these answers very hard to read. It's impossible to understand this situation until you live it.

I'm replying because I'm living with something similar with my own mother. When my son was six months old, we found out that my 59 year old non working mother had 15,000 left despite having over $1mm in savings 10 years before and inheriting $500k three years before. We had been warning my mother for 10 years that she was spending too quickly, and we hadn't even realized how quickly it was. Her spending was donating to charity and giving over the top gifts to others.

I was so angry. Still am, but two years later, I'm mostly sad.

Here are a few things I learned:
--see a counselor. I didnt until recently, but I wished I had. More than anything, she provided a validating perspective of how my moms actions were affecting me.
--unlike many others on this chain, I'm not going to let my mother "live" with the consequences. Come on, it's my mom.
--see a financial advisor who specializes in the elderly. They will help educate you about all of the resources available to you.
--definitely make an appt with social security. You might be happily surprised about what she's eligible for. Same with Medicare. If she has no other options, she definitely should take both as soon as she is ablee. Ots too complicated to type from my phone, but you ultimately get more in the long run by taking it earlier.
--try to do things with your mom and baby when it comes that remnd you of the good things about your mom. This anger can really make you forget the good stuff.
--when the baby comes, put this stuff aside for a few months. Although it seems like everything needs to be done immediately, there is really very little that can't be put off for a few months.

I'm sure I'd have more for my soapbox, but I had a long day of flights, and
I'm exhausted.

Good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

I agree with Marda P. My own experience— I felt a lot of anger at my own situation and at my husband when, after a huge rehab project of our home, we ended up in dire financial straits. We are surviving and are currently in our 3rd year of digging out of debt. I felt hubby should have handled things better and was stressed and angry. I needed to move beyond that anger in order to determine what needed to be done and live my life again. Anger should give you the impetus to act, but you need to get through it and not make decisions out of anger. We are all human and all make mistakes. Sometimes it is painful to watch! Our financial situations are not the entirety of our identities any more than any other facet of our lives. Your mother is lucky to have your love and your willingness to help her—and help her, you will but you cannot take on her burden for her. Just as a parent must let their children make their own mistakes so that they may learn, you can try to guide your mother, but ultimately she is responsible. I agree also with the suggestions here to pursue counseling for legal issues and for your state of mind if you find that you cannot escape the stress this is causing you! Good luck to you!

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answers from St. Louis on

Don't know what to tell you about the financial thing. I know if my dad's new relationship blows up in his face my brother and I will be there to pick up the pieces.

So far as the stress goes my last pregnancy was a stress fest! She is perfectly fine and healthy. So unless you have a boneheaded reaction to stress like drinking yourself silly your child will be fine. Not ideal but not harmful either.

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