Minding Our Elders: Selling dad’s house difficult topicDEAR CAROL: My dad is 86. He has moderate dementia progressing to the later stages and lives in a memory unit of a good assisted living facility near me. Although Dad’s been here nearly a year, he still owns his home 250 miles away. The home sits empty, even though we have people mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.
By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM
DEAR CAROL: My dad is 86. He has moderate dementia progressing to the later stages and lives in a memory unit of a good assisted living facility near me. Although Dad’s been here nearly a year, he still owns his home 250 miles away. The home sits empty, even though we have people mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. Dad is healthy except for his dementia and could live for quite some time. I’d like to sell the home and furnishings, and he often agrees, but then says he can’t because it’s all too much to deal with. I can understand this and of course would handle the sale alone. I don’t think he’s emotionally able to even visit the home anymore. I’m considering ethics here more than anything. Would it be easier on him if I just sold it and didn’t tell him, or should I let him know what I’m doing? Either way, I feel guilty. – Catherine
DEAR CATHERINE: My opinion is that your Dad needs to be told one time about the potential sale, just as you’d tell someone about a death. Try to find a day when he’s rested and comparatively clear. Explain that it’s not good to have an empty house sit for a long time, but reassure him that you will handle the whole thing very carefully. You aren’t likely to get a different response than you have in the past, but you’ll know that you told him the truth. Be sure to ask him if there are some special items that he’d like to save and try to honor his requests if you can.
You could talk with your dad’s doctor, and also his caregivers at the facility, about whether they think one last visit would be good for him or if it would just set him back. I’m inclined to say that a visit could make matters worse, but only those close to him can decide.
When you talk about the house, ask him to relate his favorite memories and try to save some of the things he loved even if you have to store them in a paid facility. If he was crazy about fishing, you could keep his fishing rod and maybe even bring it to his room as a memento. I’d suggest that you take photos of many items in the house in case he asks about something in the future. Go through the house and save personal keepsakes, as well as photos and family remembrances. Any important items he may have received from his parents or siblings should be kept if possible.
This is not going to be easy for you or your dad, but it makes sense to move forward. Your dad isn’t going back to his home to live, so selling a house that is sitting empty makes sense. Be gentle and compassionate with your dad and you’ll eventually be able to put this behind you.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.