Can I stop Dad's irresponsible spending?

Preoccupied asked...

My father is 69 years-old, has lots of credit card debt and has some real estate that was purchased with my mother. My dad is my mother's "survivor" so he cashes her retirement check every month. My mother would have preferred that (small) retirement money to come to my sister and I but was hopeful my dad would share that with us if she ever died before he did.

Recently, my dad has become very close to a certain woman who has made herself very present in his life. Before her, my dad never would take anybody to his two country clubs, now he is bringing her there and has even taken on more debt in order to pay for dinner invitations for this woman. He is behind his basic services (water, telephone, etc.) and alleges he does not have the one-off jobs he used to have. That is why he is so behind in payments (yet he has been going out for dinner).

My sister and I are worried about his finances as this is a never-ending cycle with his increasing credit card debt. I tried paying a lot of things off myself to make sure that he could be up-to-date with his basic services but he just keeps falling behind. He will not admit to us that the money is going somewhere "else". Is there anything we can do to stop him from getting credit cards? In the past he pawned our mother's jewelry without telling us and I had to "rescue it" from the pawn shop. We are worried about his finances going forward. Is there anything we can do? Talking to him does not help much, he thinks he knows it all and his acquaintance with this woman does not help out at all.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

If your dad is legally incompetent or his ladyfriend could be guilty of financial abuse, there might be legal steps you could take to protect his assets. But it doesn't sound as if wither of these are true.

As you know best, your father was likely the independent type, not used to taking advice from his kids or maybe anyone else, even before your mother died.

It sounds as if you've already tried to have a heart-to-heart with him about his spending and what it might mean for him and for you and your sister. You might also try having him meet with a financial advisor on the offchance he would be willing to do so. Oftentimes, people outside the family have an easier time breaking through to those who won't listen to insiders. And this can be especially true if the outside adviser is an expert of some sort, who can give wise advice without appear to "take sides."

That urged, the reality is that there may be nothing you can do to change you dad's unpredictable spending right now. You should also know that many people who lose their spouses go through a reckless period for a while, in an attempt to find and assert their new independence.

Tough love advocates would tell you not to keep intervening and saving your dad's credit, as tough as that may be. In the longer run, it may only act to sanction his irresponsible behavior as there would seem to be no negative repercussions from it.