Every so often, I get a call from the adult child of a potential client. For the purpose of this blog, let's call the adult child "Johnny." So, Johnny will call my office and say something like, "Mom needs to change her trust. Can we come and see you?" First question that pops into my head is "Does Mom REALLY need to change her trust or is there something Johnny wants to change?" I also wonder, "Why can't Mom call my office and talk to me herself? Is she not well enough to make a change to her living trust?" I make it clear to the person calling that my client is NOT them, but instead the senior parent for whom they are calling.
Truth is, invariably one child ends up doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the legal affairs and personal affairs of an elderly client. Sometimes, even when there are 4 or 5 children, only one of them rises to the occasion and takes mom to the store, takes mom to doctor appointments, and sometimes...takes mom to the lawyer.
As the attorney, I have to be very careful to make sure that this child is not simply pushing their own agenda on their parents. Therefore, ultimately, the child shows up with their parent to the meeting at my office. If it's OK with the parent, I will allow the child to remain in the room for most of the meeting. If I suspect the parent is changing everything to favor that particular child, I grow suspicious. It is true that sometimes parents do favor the children who help them the most during their elderly years.
Nevertheless, it is my practice to always excuse the child from the room (at some point, usually near the end of the meeting) and speak candidly with the senior. I want to make sure that the plan (or change to the plan) truly reflects their wishes, and not simply the wishes of the child who brought them to the meeting. It is a dangerous line to walk sometimes.
Therefore, I always double-check with the client to make sure it's really what they want, and not simply what their child wants. Sometimes the seniors will tell me privately that their wishes are not the same as what they articulated when the child was in the room. In that case, we need to proceed privately in subsequent sessions without the adult child present in the room. If the adult child insists on being involved, I will likely need to withdraw from the case.
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