Dear Family Advisor

I think my dad's new girlfriend is after his money. What do I do?

Last updated: Jan 18, 2011

Dad has terminal leukemia. His girlfriend of nine months is pressing him to get married. My sister thinks it's because they're in love and it's a way for them to stay connected no matter what happens. I think she's after more. She's mentioned little things about his house (which I guess she thinks she'll inherit) and his money (there isn't much). I feel that if there's anything left, my sister and I should be compensated for years of care.

So yes, I guess I resent her waltzing in and taking off with what little there is. Should I say something about my concerns to Dad, tell her to back off, or just let this play out?

Will Dad's new girlfriend marry him and/or inherit whatever he leaves? She might. You may not be able to stop either event. Do what you can to protect your dad and his assets, but if he's of sound mind and chooses this route, love him and be there for him regardless.

Does your dad's girlfriend want to get married because she loves him, or does she just want his money? It might not be one or the other but both. You can really care about someone and also see a monetary gain. Be a smart daughter and check out Dad's will and other paperwork. If he has a lawyer, see if you can be notified of any changes. If you're concerned your dad isn't of sound mind, then figure out if you or your sister can have durable power of attorney.

Meanwhile, remember that your dad's girlfriend gives him something you can't: companionship. She makes him feel special. She is his peer, his equal. As much as we love our moms and dads, we can never be these things for them. This is a gift to your dad. He may not be truly loved by her (though I hope he is), but is he happy? Does he feel good about their relationship? If so, the benefits may outweigh what he has to lose. Accept her role and the gifts she gives to your dad.

This doesn't mean you and your sister aren't loved. You'll never receive enough monetary compensation or even gratitude for the endless hours, the worry, and the patience and tenderness you've shown your dad. But that was also a gift to yourself. Be proud of what you've given to him, to each other, and to yourself. As much as your dad may care for his girlfriend, you and your sister are family.

For now, stay strong and let go of what's fair or even the thought that one dime will be left. There may be nothing of concrete value. Instead, start making a list of what caring for your dad and being his daughter all these years has taught you. I promise you, the more you see the good, the longer the list will grow. In caring for my mom I learned how strong I was, I learned to tackle the insurance industry and medical community. I learned to be patient at 4 a.m. when I had already been up with her twice since midnight. I learned not to let the emotional roller coaster that comes with caregiving prevent me from making sound judgments and doing what was right.

And, most important, I learned to stop being mad at my mom, at disease, at death. My mother taught me how to live, and how to die. I got a ringside seat, and I cherish every moment.

If you truly think your dad's girlfriend is going to hurt or betray your father and that he'll know and be heartbroken, then try your best to prevent that. But our parents are a lot like our kids: We can't shield them from horrors or heartbreaks of the world or from their own choices. All we can do is love.