Dear Moneyist, I am a 30-year-old female who has taken care of an 85-year-old man for the past two years. He was in his right mind when I first began caring for him. I would go over two times a day, and give him his medication, tidy up, and leave. He could drive, bathe, dress and feed himself so that was not my responsibility. Well, fast forward to now. He is currently in a hospital for attempting suicide and I am devastated beyond belief. He is hurting so badly because everything from driving to properly caring for his animals has slipped right out of reach due to his declining state. He is the kindest, most God-loving man I have ever met.
Over the past two years, he met and became rather close with my children, referring to them as “my grandloves.” They adore him, as well. Recently, my husband has begun to remodel his downstairs into a small “home” for us to stay in while we care for him. Then the suicide attempt occurred — and that is where we are now. My concern is this: About a week ago, I was visiting him alone and he repeatedly told me he wanted me to have his home and his car. I visited the next night with his best friend of many years and his sister and he told them the same things. He still owes on his home (probably around $60,000) and his car is paid for. Don’t miss: I have driven 2 hours to visit my elderly parents twice a week for 10 years — shouldn’t I receive compensation? If I accept his offer for the house and continue living there without him (in the event that he passes) what is the process? Do we take over payments and do we have to have a good credit score? What is the process behind that?
Secondly, am I in the wrong for accepting these gifts? I have been a home nurse for most of my career and this has never happened to me before. I love this man dearly as I have never had a father or grandfather in my life, but he has late-stage dementia. Does it look as though I am taking advantage of him? He doesn’t have a wife or children, and no family that lives within six hours of him. I have been the only constant in his life these past two years with family coming to visit once every five months or so. Please help me. I am really torn over this. Yes, it would help us greatly as we are currently living in a home with overpriced rent. His family told me that they want me to have anything that he wants to give me, but when the time comes and he does pass, what then? Are they going to change their minds? I just do not know what to do. Any advice would be so appreciated. Thank you so much. Caregiver and friend in Georgia Dear Friend, In all my years writing this column, I have learned many things. Among them: When you endeavor to help others and lift them up, you yourself will be lifted up. I have seen that through other people’s letters and, on the occasion that I receive a response from a letter writer, I have experienced it myself. It feels good to help people in whatever way you can. An old parable describes such acts as bread on the water. You pass it on in a basket to a village downstream. One day, when you are hungry, a stranger upstream will do the same. Of course, the opposite is also true. The more people scheme, the less happy and unsatisfied they become, and the more they want.
I have also come to see this underbelly of human nature answering letters for this column. It’s not always pretty. Relatives can be remote and willing to take a hands-off approach when an elderly relative is alive, but when they die, the realization that they stand to inherit even a small sum can change all of that. I have also read many letters alleging elder abuse, where a mother or father or grandparent is isolated by a new friend or neighbor or, indeed, family member. I don’t regard this letter as falling into either of those camps. I do, however, see you on the precipice of allowing your emotions and, possibly, your financial dire straits lead to a questionable life choice. Also see: I’m a full-time caregiver for my father — don’t I deserve more money than my siblings? To answer your questions: If you did inherit his home, you would not require good credit. If he has life insurance, the remainder of his mortgage should be repaid upon his death. It’s too late to get that insurance now, so if it has lapsed you would be responsible for paying off the rest of the mortgage as his heir. Until then, the bank still holds the deeds. If his sister and legal heir is happy for you to inherit his home, he needs to make a will. Otherwise, it will go to his sister under state law. His sister may or may not be aware of that. I’m guessing she is, so I wouldn’t necessarily take her current view at face value.
If a person is unwell, it’s not always too late to make a will, but (and this is a big but) only if that person “testamentary capacity” to make a will. He must understand what it means and the effect it will have — in this case, for the rest of his family/legal heirs. He must also understand the full nature of his assets and their value. He may also have to provide a reason for giving you his home rather than his sister. Assuming this can be done in this case, his sister may wish to be a witness. However, it’s hard to believe that (a) he would have testamentary capacity if he is in the latter stages of dementia and (b) he is of sound mind given that he just attempted suicide. For those reasons, and the fact that you were hired as his home nurse, I don’t believe that it would be ethical for you to move into his home, make renovations and/or accept his home as a gift after he dies. Of course, I don’t know the nature of your relationship and I don’t doubt that you care about him, but taking care of him for two years at the end of his life seems more like good timing and, for you at least, good fortune. Even if you are an independent care giver, I don’t see a way to justify such a move. However, his current mental condition will likely relieve you of this moral dilemma. Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used). Would you like to sign up to an email alert when a new Moneyist column has been published? If so, click on this link. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.