Retirement Should Not Be This Hard
February 4, 2011 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Please help me help my mother's retirement crisis from across the country.

I asked (previously) about social help for my mother during her retirement in Tennessee, but now the situation has deteriorated and I am at a loss what to do from so far away.

As her only child I feel like I need to help. I don’t know if it is my place to help, but at the least I would like to provide her with a starting point to help herself.

They moved from their home in Vegas and left their house up for sale. They are now paying a mortgage and high insurance on an empty home and it’s not selling. Even with the price lowered, I seriously doubt it will sell soon as there are multiple houses on their street up for sale with better features. They barely did any renovating when they lived there and now my stepdad has insisted they turn the water off, meaning the curb appeal landscape is drying out & dying.

My mom is a breast cancer survivor, had multiple back surgeries, and has multiple “pre-existing conditions.” The sticker shock of staying on her good insurance frightened her into making bad decisions, and now she has jumped companies a few times and thus cannot afford to pay their premiums and her prescription costs are now so high she can hardly afford to eat. She is 2 years shy of medicare. My stepfather has MS, and does not contribute income past disability. She was able to get a part time job, but it was a 3 month assignment that pays less than she used to make on one paycheck.

So to sum it up, she has enormous health costs, is paying on a house she doesn’t live in, and they are living with my uncle. He wants them gone, not because he is a cruel person, but because 1 month has turned into 5 and he wants my stepfather out of the house.

My mom is kind of living in this denial fog where she is very hesitant to do anything to fix the situation. She is very depressed, and my stepfather is a very negative, verbally abusive man who has her convinced that if they don’t own their own home (meaning sit and wait to sell the old house and go buy one, even though they are both too disabled to really enjoy home ownership) that there is no point to anything. My mom has a history of staying with abusive men, and I don’t know how help her with this. She sees a therapist, but I do not know how candid she is with them.

It is like she has put herself out to pasture. She was once a very vibrant, successful woman who was a great teacher and it is hard to see her so unhappy and hopeless.

I’m not made of money, and I can’t afford to swoop in and buy her house in a state I don’t live in and fix the situation. What I need is practical advice on how to help her get out of this financial hole she is in, enjoy her retirement, and maybe empower herself a little. I try to send articles, links, call her, tell her I love her, but I know the situation is getting worse and I feel very helpless. Are there organizations I can put her in touch with?
posted by haplesschild to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is what it's really about: "it is hard to see her so unhappy and hopeless"

First step is to realize that no matter how much you want to help your parents, you can't take responsibility for them and their issues. That doesn't mean you can't help them, but enjoying her retirement, getting out of the financial hole and empowering herself are going to have to originate from her decisions, her actions. The very notion of being empowered precludes you being able to 'make' her empowered.

I'm speaking as an only-child who has gone through decades of dealing with this same sort of thing where the roles are reversed and you feel like you have to parent your own parents. Feel free to msg if you want to talk more about it.
posted by jardinier at 10:01 AM on February 4, 2011

It sounds like bankruptcy or foreclosure could be options that would let her get a fresh start, but for that she'd need to speak to someone more knowledgeable than you. Maybe you can convince her to try and talk to a bankruptcy lawyer.
posted by bananafish at 2:20 PM on February 4, 2011

What exactly do you want an organization to do?

It sounds like you need to have a serious conversation with your mother and see if she's willing to make a plan. Your mother's poor decision making has gotten her into this boat and you can't save her from herself. Why don't she and her husband go back to LV and live in the house they own and are still paying for?

You might see if you can talk with her therapist, just to share your concerns about her depression, and precarious financial and living situation. But you can't fix someone else's life for them. If you can get her to come up with a plan and do things in baby steps maybe she'll make some progress.
posted by shoesietart at 2:31 PM on February 4, 2011

What exactly do you want an organization to do?

I didn't know if there were any groups or whatever that helped people who had recently retired through the process. Or someone outside of her family she could reach to help point her in the direction of health care for her situation, free financial counseling for retirees, etc.
posted by haplesschild at 2:52 PM on February 4, 2011

Is it correct that she has a poverty problem instead of a retirement problem? If she cannot afford healthcare, cannot find work, is not eligible for Social Security either because she did not pay in enough quarters before she started teaching or because of her age, draws a low amount from her teacher retirement, doesn't have enough money for food, and has a disabled husband, then maybe it's time for her to look at social services? A social worker would be able to help her find out if she is eligible for a variety of services, such as TennCare (Medicaid in Tennessee).
posted by Houstonian at 3:21 PM on February 4, 2011

You might want to look into the real estate angle a bit more thoroughly --- did they move to find work? Was the house itself too expensive to keep up with or is it the expense of living one place and maintaining another that's so burdensome? A great deal depends on what kind of house they have, what neighborhood its in and how long they lived in it, but Vegas literally has the worst housing market in the country right now. Prices are down 40% and still falling. If your mom and stepdad bought the house any time in the last decade, it is quite likely they will take a loss in order to sell. It doesn't sound like they have a lot of spare cash lying around to cover things like closing costs, and if the house is considerably older than that and they do have some equity, it may still take a very long time to sell because of the glut of vacant homes out there less than five years old. Without knowing a great deal more about their unique circumstances it's tough to say what kind if shape they're in, but for most people their home is their primary asset, and being in Vegas it is quite likely that the value of that asset has declined to the point where it may not be wise to rely on selling it in order to maintain their lifestyle.

They were there, of course, and probably know all this far better than I, but from your description it sounds like they're waiting for the house sale to come through to set them back on their feet and I'm frankly not sure why they would....
posted by Diablevert at 6:05 AM on February 5, 2011

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