The hard conversation I wish I’d had with my parents
There are some tough conversations that you just have to have. Gina’s family found this out the hard way.
Mumand Dad thought they had everything under control.
They’ve been married for 55 years, and they wrote their wills a long, long time ago. It was a no-brainer — ‘If I die, you get the money; if you die, I get the money’. They didn’t know it needed to be any more complicated than that.
Because they had their wills in place — which, let’s be honest, is more than a lot of people can say — they thought they were all sorted. They didn’t think about designating a power of attorney back then, and it’s certainly not something that the four of us kids ever brought up with them. They had always handled their business themselves, and we didn’t feel the need to get involved in their decision-making process.
We didn’t feel the need to get involved in their decision-making process.
Then Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Soon after the diagnosis, somebody mentioned to them that they should sort out their power of attorney, so they went to a solicitor, an old family friend, to take care of it. He told them that it was too late for Dad to give power of attorney to Mum, because of the disease — he wouldn’t have been capable of knowing what he was signing.
Mum and Dad thought this was ridiculous, because at that stage, Dad still seemed perfectly capable. But the solicitor said there was nothing he could do, and suggested to Mum that she would have to go to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).
After she submitted the application to QCAT, another solicitor told her that was a bad idea — it would just end up with her having to do a whole lot of paperwork that she wouldn’t want to do. She withdrew the application, but it was too late. The process had already started.
Mum had to get reports from doctors, and she had to get affidavits signed by my brother in Dubai, my sister in Townsville, and my brother and I here in Brisbane to say that we were happy for her to be designated power of attorney for Dad, and to vouch that they’d been happily married for 55 years. Unfortunately, the medical reports said that Dad wasn’t capable of signing anything, and the adjudicator ruled that while Mum could be awarded guardianship and administration rights, she couldn’t be given power of attorney. It was a devastating blow for her.
Mum has been managing Dad’s money for a long time, well before he was diagnosed. She was always the bookkeeper of their business. Essentially, what this ruling means is that Mum can’t spend any money out of the ordinary or make any significant financial decisions without applying through QCAT.
This has really hurt her, because she’s lost her autonomy and her sense of independence. They’ve been taken away from her. She can make very basic decisions with the money — she can pay regular bills, for instance — but that’s it. At the end of the year, every year for the next four years that this decision is in place, she has to submit records to QCAT of all the money she spends and how she spends it.
She’s lost her autonomy and her sense of independence.
Dad has gone downhill pretty quickly over the past year. Mum’s absolutely adamant that she’s going to keep him at home for as long as she can, but he’s certainly not well. He doesn’t seem like my Dad most of the time.
Mum and Dad have property and investments that she might decide they need to sell at some stage to prepare for the next chapter. But it’s no longer just a matter of making that decision, or having a chat with the kids and asking what we think. Now she has to go through absurd amounts of paperwork and scrutiny to do anything like that, and a stranger has the final say on the decisions that Mum makes for herself and her husband. It’s just so unfair.
I understand why the adjudicator made the decision they did. I know there are horror stories out there about older people with Alzheimer’s who have been taken advantage of, and I appreciate the need to protect people in those circumstances from people who would do them harm. But I find it extraordinary that 55 years of marriage, and a signed affidavit from all four kids, wasn’t enough to convince QCAT that Mum could be trusted.
My family has learned the hard way that you can never take anything for granted. You can’t afford to be blasé. If Mum and Dad had gone to the solicitor earlier, if they had gotten that power of attorney signed before Dad was deemed by the medical profession to be incapable of signing it, there would have been no problem.
My family has learned the hard way that you can never take anything for granted.
I wish, in retrospect, that we had talked about this with them. It’s always difficult to ask your parents about their private affairs, and nobody wants to think about getting sick and getting older, but these are conversations you have to have. You have to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
Don’t wait until it’s too late, because the right to make decisions about your own life can be taken away from you.