The Moneyist: My wife has a degenerative neurological disease. My father-in-law wants to put her in a facility — and take over our finances

United States

Dear Moneyist,

I have been married for 24 years. My wife and I have two 18-year-old children. We have had our marital ups and downs as many do, but manage to get along. My wife was diagnosed with a terminal degenerative neurological condition.

She grows increasingly frail, both physically and cognitively. Although at times it is not easy, myself and our two children, who are home from school due to the pandemic, care for her the best we can. She lives very comfortably in the home we have owned for 20 years.

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My wife’s family is largely dysfunctional, and her father abandoned her as a young child, never returning in any meaningful way or providing support aside from cards and perfunctory holiday pleasantries. I do not get along with my father-in-law and have largely avoided him.

Upon learning of my wife’s condition, my father-in-law now seems obsessed with moving my wife out of our home to some sort of group home/facility. The mere thought of this seems abhorrent and barbaric. My thinking is that he intends to obtain guardianship and access marital assets, mainly our home, which has substantial value and equity.

My greatest wish is to avoid a bitter legal fight in my wife’s last years, and provide her with the best care, medical and otherwise.

Devoted Husband

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Dear Devoted,

Tell your father-in-law that you have heard his opinion, but now you and your children need to take care of your wife at home together as a family, in your own way, and ask him to respect your wishes. If he continues, tell him that you understand that this is an uncertain and concerning time for all of you, but you would like him to trust you and your family to take care of your wife and his daughter. If that doesn’t work, you can say, “I now need time and space now to take care of things here. I hope you can give me that.” You don’t have to answer every call and email.

I also advise you to talk to your wife about officially becoming her health-care proxy, so you will be in control of making any life or death decisions concerning her condition. Alternatively, talk to a lawyer about this. “It’s smart to have a health-care proxy, no matter how old you are or whether or not you’re married,” according to “And a health-care proxy also allows you to designate an alternate, so if you and your spouse are in an accident together you still have control over who’s making health-care decisions on your behalf.”

Similarly, Leanna Hamill, a family attorney in Hingham, Mass., says, “If your parents and spouse disagree about your care, this can cause real problems. The best thing to do is execute a health-care proxy appointing the person you choose as your health care agent and then talking to that person and your other family members about your wishes.” (Lawyers want to avoid the kind of legal trauma surrounding the life and death of Terry Schiavo.) Regardless, doctors will turn to your wife’s next of kin for any vital decisions that need to be made regarding her care. That’s you.

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But there is no reason to assume the same will happen here. You will feel less anxious about your father-in-law’s interference when you speak up. You don’t have to be held hostage to other people’s wishes. Let’s assume he wants what he believes is best for his daughter. You simply have a different opinion and approach. He can’t force you to sell your home or refinance your home to do something you don’t want to do. You are probably under more stress than you realize, and his interference may be a proxy for that stress. It is, perhaps, an obvious — if not exactly a useful — place to put it.

In the meantime, I recommend seeking out counseling and/or support to help you through this difficult time. The Well Spouse Association is a nonprofit organization that has support groups in communities all over the country. Your wife’s condition and comfort is, of course, your No. 1 priority. Don’t allow other family members, friends or neighbors to distract you from that. You can only do so much. By creating a support network and healthy boundaries with others — however well-meaning they may be — I have no doubt that your commitment to your wife’s care will be enough.

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