Don and Linda sat at the kitchen table. It was noon, but they were not sitting down to eat. Both had exasperated expressions on their faces. Several minutes went by, but still they did not speak.

The weather was perfect with the sun shining and a gentle wind blowing from the west.

A combine sat in the yard with the grain tank half-full. A tractor and grain cart were parked nearby. The neighbors were all working in their fields and there was a constant flow of equipment and corn moving past their house.

And yet Don and his wife sat at the table, unable to get anything done.

Earlier in the morning the bank had called. Don’s father had written a $40,000 check to a televangelist program. When the check reached the bank, the banker called and caught Linda at home. He was suspicious of the large charitable donation.

The banker’s call was not unexpected. Don’s father had become increasingly susceptible to requests for money. Don’s only brother, who was estranged from the family, talked their father into giving him $300,000 to build a new house. Their father had called the investment company and instructed them to liquidate a quarter of his retirement funds and send it to the son.

Fortunately, just two months earlier Don was able to convince his father to give him power of attorney over his financial matters. Don and Linda had not been aware there was a problem until Don’s father asked them to help him understand his bank statements. Reviewing the statements revealed a new and unique pattern of giving money to strangers and organizations. Don’s father had no remembrance of making any of the donations or writing checks.

Don and Linda had long suspected Don’s father was dealing with early stages of dementia. They talked about Don watching over his father’s investment and checking accounts. Working with an attorney, Don’s father signed the necessary paperwork.

This legal authority did not allow Don to take his father’s money. Nor did it prevent his father from writing checks and spending money on things he wanted and needed. It was designed to keep other people from taking advantage of his father’s dementia.

In the two months since the arrangement had been in place, Don’s father questioned why his son had some control over his finances. He had no clear memory of signing any paperwork or asking Don to watch over things.

On another day, at 11 o’clock in the morning, Linda’s phone rang. The sheriff’s office was calling. Don’s father was in a town 25 miles away. He had been at the local farm store to purchase seed and planting equipment. The store employees thought it strange for him to be buying spring items during harvest time.

After everything was loaded, Don’s father stood by the truck and seemed uncertain as to where he was or how to get home. One of the employees called the sheriff for assistance. Linda then drove over and picked up her father-in-law to take him back to his house.

Don had concerns that his father’s driving skills were deteriorating. He was afraid his father might cause an accident. It would be tragic if his driving caused some other family to be injured or killed.

It was not the first time he had wandered away. From the checks he wrote, they could see he had been to towns up to 40 miles away.

Knowing what to expect and how to react was made even more difficult for Don on days when his father seemed himself. During those times he knew exactly what he was doing. There were other days when he was confused and lost. It was painful to watch. After his mother died, Don’s father lived by himself on an acreage. He was determined to spend the rest of his life there.

Don had one brother and one sister. His sister was also very concerned about her father and did what she could to help. Don’s brother lived 250 miles away and had not been part his father’s life for the last 25 years. He seemed more interested in the money he might inherit than his father’s daily behavior. He did not want to be part of the difficult decisions that lay ahead.

In the past, Don and his sister talked to their father about going into an assisted living center. He would hear none of it and became belligerent each time the subject was brought up. Now it appeared he would need to live in some type of restricted environment. He would not be able to come and go as he pleased.

As Don and Linda sat at the table and talked, they knew any action to place Don’s father into a nursing home would be met with anger, but they also know they could not allow him to continue driving or living alone. Something had to be done. What was the right thing to do?

As with many times in life, we find ourselves at a point where important decisions need to be made. Divorce, dealing with cancer, going bankrupt or needing to commit a parent into a nursing home are points of important decisions.

Sometimes it is hard to identify and take the necessary steps as we go through these experiences. We begin to question what we are doing and why we are doing it. We become concerned about how other people view us. We know our decisions have long-term consequences.

These questions and problems are not unique to individuals or families. Other people have dealt with them, and there is a defined path to follow when help is needed.

Sometimes it takes the support of a professional to guide us through these experiences. If a person has cancer, they do not seek a tax accountant’s advice but rather find good medical authority.

In Don’s case, a lawyer and a social worker can help them through their difficult decisions. Evaluating each possible step will increase their confidence in the decision, even if it is painful. Not everyone will agree.

If we live long enough, we will notice an interesting pattern. Just as our opportunities and abilities increased when we were young, our opportunities and abilities decline as we grow older. Choosing where to go and what to do are decisions we have controlled our entire lives. We do not willingly give up this ability to choose.

Responsible children who truly care for their parents may need to step up and become responsible decision makers. When it’s clear what needs to be done and what path needs to be followed, a child has a responsibility and a right to make those decisions. They may not receive gratitude for doing the hard thing, but a good deed is its own reward.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.