Should my dad divorce his wife to avoid being financially responsible for the housing choices her daughter is making for her?

1 answer | Last updated: Nov 17, 2016
Ajb asked...

My 78 year old father's second wife's daughter just pulled her mother out of his home and placed her in a private nursing home which he cannot afford. It's become a hostile situation and he notified the nursing home that he couldn't pay the bill in writing and in person and his wife's daughter, who signed him in, should be sent the bill. Is he financially responsible for the bill? We are pushing for him to divorce her - would that change things? Would expenses accrued by the daughter (in her mother's name) be placed in my father's growing line of debt? It's difficult because at this rate he will fall not be able to pay his mortgage and the nursing home bills so he would most likely fall into foreclosure. It's doubtful his house would sell with winter approaching and the terrible economic forecast. Any advice would be great.


Expert Answers

Nan Hayes is founder of MoveSeniors.com, the national resource network of Certified Relocation and Transition Specialists for seniors, and President of RightSized Living, a senior home transition service in Illinois.

First and foremost, you should seek legal advice and assistance from an attorney. The answers to your questions may depend on the specific laws of the state in which your father and stepmother live, including community property laws and laws pertaining to legal capacity and power of attorney.

That said, here are some on thoughts on what sounds like a very  difficult situation for you and your father, with a number of legal and medical issues at play. For your mother-in-law to be placed in nursing care, there must have been medical grounds. If her daughter was able to sign, then she must have some form of Power of Attorney, health care proxy or guardianship papers. Otherwise, these decisions could not be made without your father’s agreement and signature. Divorce may not relieve him of financial responsibility and he may in fact not want to divorce his wife over this matter.  It may be advisable for you, your father and step sister to meet with the nursing home administrator and/or his attorney to have a calm discussion about the events, how they came about and what can be done to rectify them. If your father has the right to make health decisions for his wife, he may be able to have her transferred to another facility that is more affordable or hire a care provider at home. 

It is unfortunate that in their panic to get help for parent, adult children often act rashly without consulting other family members or obtaining advice from professionals. Often times these decision can be costly in terms of finances and family relationships.