Many aging parents with means have real estate investments of various kinds, and when capable, they manage these investments. Some with commercial properties have established real estate managers. Others have single family residential properties and manage them on their own. Until they decline cognitively, that is. At AgingParents.com, we see a recurring problem with elders and real estate. That is, there is no plan in place for what happens when Dad or Mom starts to “lose it”.
Looking at residential real estate as an example, here is what we see happening over and over again. The patriarch has bought some single family homes and rents them out. He is in charge and able to keep track of leases, taxes, maintenance, repairs, insurance and collecting rents for years. But when he begins to show memory loss problems, no one steps in. Tenants realize that nothing happens if they fail to pay, or otherwise keep their end of the rental bargain and it goes unnoticed. Properties fall into disrepair. Tenants complain but no action is taken. Finally, after much time passes, family members realize that Dad is no longer “with it” and they begin to look into what is going on with Dad’s properties. They see a nightmarish mess: taxes in default, property dangerously ill maintained, bad tenants with drug problems, rents unpaid or properties vacant when they should be rented, etc. If this could happen to you, the adult child, the message is pay attention! Investigate at the first sign of your aging parents’ memory loss. Respectfully ask for access to all records, inspect things yourself, and take over or hire a property manager to clean up anything that is amiss. It is far better to face the responsibility while your aging parent is alive than to first find out about it after the person is gone.
Commercial real estate is another problem area we see. In most cases there is a long standing property manager who had a trusting relationship with your aging parent. However, opportunists exist in every sector of our society. Property managers are no exception. When they realize that your loved one is in obvious cognitive decline, the unscrupulous manager can manipulate the books, embezzle funds, fail to maintain properties and otherwise take advantage of your aging parent. Because of the prior trusting relationship, your aging parent has no reason to suspect wrongdoing by the manager. But it is this very trust that the dishonest manager uses to take advantage of the impaired elder. No one is watching. If we did not see this as a recurring matter in our work with elders and their families we would not be sounding the alarm, but we do see it. The takeaway message is the same as for your aging parent with any real estate: pay attention at the earliest signs of memory loss you see. Memory loss is often an early warning signal of developing dementia and it should be taken seriously. When memory loss interferes with your elder’s daily life, like appropriately managing real estate, it is time for family to step in. Substantial financial losses can result if you do not act.
What if your aging parent refuses to allow you access to records or to investigate? This is also common. Some people with dementia have no idea that they are impaired. “I’m just fine”, they’ll say though it’s obvious that they are not fine. If you meet that resistance, it is time to get legal advice and look at the family trust. You need to find out whether your aging parent can be persuaded to resign from the seat of authority or possibly needs to be removed because of incapacity. When a large part of your aging parent’s estate is tied up in their real estate investments, it is to the benefit of their adult children to protect those assets, which become in most cases, the inheritance. We urge you to address this even if your aging parent owns but one rental house in his neighborhood. It is not safe to assume that everything is fine just because an elder with memory loss says it is. You may have to take on this heavy responsibility but it will be worth it.