How can my family bar my bipolar father from access to credit?
May 28, 2013 2:46 PM   Subscribe

My bipolar father will go on crazy consumer debt fueled sprees of spending / gambling. What can we do on a severely limited budget to ensure he doesn't end up homeless or otherwise in major trouble?

Him: 60 year old (divorced) father, brother to 3. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at least 15 years ago. While I'm not sure how effective they are, he does have a therapist, and prescriptions etc. His condition is severe enough that he's successfully petitioned for Disability. To the extent possible on a SSDI / Medicaid budget, I believe he is being treated for his condition. His Lithium treatment clearly does not currently preclude manic phases, and I'm not confident it ever did. He's been living with (and caring for, uncompensated) his mother (alive) and father (deceased last year) for the past several years, but has slowly been piecing together a plan to leave the house (but remain in town). Jurisdiction: Kansas, USA.

Me: A single guy working in IT for a university three states away. One of his two sons, the only one with a job and any money to his name. Also possibly the only unalienated family member he has left. Financially stable, but still building up my own wealth, and not at a point where I can afford to pay off his mortgage and contribute to a property tax escrow.

With that preamble out of the way, when in a severe depressive / suicidal state, we have a large set of remedies available to ensure his personal safety, and he presents little financial risk to himself. But I don't believe hospitalization is an option for someone in a manic phase (I may be mistaken). Unfortunately, the manic phases do much more damage to his social capital in the form of bad credit, bounced checks, and burnt out relatives.

The latest episode has his brothers suggesting that I become his conservator. Googling finds me plenty of information for parents to care for their bipolar adult children, there's none for the inverse. Assuming his latest episode doesn't somehow irrevocably overpromise his SSDI for life, land him in jail, or worse, I believe I can put together a financial plan that will keep him insured and his mortgage current, and possibly keep him happy with the situation. What I don't know about, is how to prevent him from getting access to credit cards without my knowledge and then defaulting, thus triggering default rates. Or taking out a second mortgage.

I realize that things like fraud, identity theft and check kiting may be impossible to prevent, but I'd like to have a plan ready for when he's granted a moment of clarity long enough to allow us to help him, so that when some fraction of his sirens come calling next, he's already lashed to the masts.

So what can we do here? Put a note in his credit agency files?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to a lawyer about this. This is above the pay grade of random Internet denizens.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:03 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with Ruthless Bunny... difficulty level requires real legal advice from a bona fide lawyer.

It's also going to require some in-person time to deal with details.

I work with someone whose dad in another state is in a similar situation and to keep things under control, it took legal conservatorship and wrangling with banks etc... to get limits put on withdrawals and cards notification lists etc to help protect him.
posted by bobdow at 3:09 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if its possible for a third party to do this, but there is such a thing as a 'fraud alert' that can be put on your credit report with the 3 agencies. This intended to prevent identity thieves from opening new lines of credit. In practice it might make it more difficult for your father as well.
posted by bq at 3:15 PM on May 28, 2013

But I don't believe hospitalization is an option for someone in a manic phase (I may be mistaken).

You are. But I think that's a different issue than the conservatorship, which certainly can work for parents and children, in both directions. You need to speak with a Kansas elder attorney, and probably with your father's therapist if possible. Your father's therapist can't give you any information about him, but you can say "Look, this is what happened last time, this is what I want to talk to dad about doing for the future, do you have any thoughts on how we can protect him from himself here?"
posted by DarlingBri at 3:21 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you haven't already you might want to connect with NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. They are very tuned into supporting family members of people with mental illness in all kinds of ways, including practical issues. If they don't have some resource materials that speak to your question, there is a very large network of folks who are connected to NAMI, and it's likely that someone in this network has dealt with the same issues.
posted by jasper411 at 3:30 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing talking to a lawyer. But one strategy you might ask about is getting your father to do a credit freeze. Availability depends on your state but it prevents anyone from running a credit check on him so no new credit cards, loans, etc. It can be unfrozen when you do need access to a credit check, i.e. a refi, etc. My partner and I have had them in place for at least 5 years and its been pretty painless and helps give some piece of mind. Takes about an hour to set up, you go to the 3 credit reporting agencies and fill out their paperwork.
Credit Freeze on Wikipedia
posted by snowymorninblues at 3:37 PM on May 28, 2013

To elaborate on DarlingBri's response, if you believe his judgment in the manic episode is so impaired that he is a physical (not financial) danger to himself or others, hospitalization is definitely an option. Particularly if he gets psychotic and hallucinates when he is manic. I defer to others on the financial and legal issues.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:23 PM on May 28, 2013

First: This is fundamentally a "Get a lawyer" question, as others have indicated.

Second: When we got a lawyer, the answer we got was fundamentally that you cannot bar an adult from accessing, eg, credit, leases, mortgages, etc, except by having them declared legally incompetent and put into conservatorship. The corollary to that was that it is very hard to do this against said adult's will.

(I am assuming that by your listing 'second mortgage' as a worry that we're not talking about momentary, passing, impulses to be thwarted but rather planned, conscious (though ir/arational), goal-oriented behaviors.)

I'm sorry you're in this situation.
posted by PMdixon at 4:36 PM on May 28, 2013

I had a similar situation with my mother, and here is how I easily handled it:
1. Got my mother to agree to give me Power of Attorney, and had a lawyer draw up the papers. This gives me signing rights to her accounts, her credit cards, her credit reports, her debts, etc. With this I could pull her credit report, verify her bank balances and takeover making payments for her. However this step alone does not stop her from spending money/going into debt.

2. Put a credit freeze on her credit file with all 3 credit reporting agencies. This effectively stopped my mother cold from getting any credit or opening new bank accounts as she did not have the knowledge of how to unfreeze her credit (requires a notarized letter be sent to all three agencies requesting the freeze be removed) and even if she figured it out she doesn't have the wherewithall to do it really. So while she could technically unfreeze her credit and go on a spree, given that the process takes a free weeks to accomplish, and i monitor her credit frequently i'd notice it. Also by the time it was unfrozen she's likely to be out of her spending mood anyway and the danger time would be done.

You may want to consider this.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:50 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my personal experience, the anon poster is correct - it is next to impossible to get a manic person into a psychiatric setting against their will unless they specifically stand there next to the police and/or admitting people and say, "I am going to kill myself," or "I am going to kill someone else." There may be other legal vagaries involved, but in practice that's precisely what it takes. (My loved one is able to hold their shit together at this moment and we have never been able to get them on a 5150 in a manic phase.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:09 PM on May 28, 2013

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