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Taking Care of Mom and Dad: Charity, Giving...and Other Good Things Introduction

We had to put my mother-in-law in a nursing home last year. And, when we did, we found out that her finances were a mess. My wife's parents owned a lot of real estate and invested in the stock market for decades; because they were never in trouble, we never asked about their situation. After my wife's dad died, her mother started giving a lot of money away to charities and political groups. Her house was full of direct-mail solicitations from hundreds of causes. Literally, hundreds. She was writing checks to all of them. As a result, she's just about broke. And, even with the deductions, she owes tens of thousands to the IRS. Now the rest of the family is angry at my wife -- the oldest child -- for not doing something sooner.

One place that any parents, even wealthy ones, may need help is estate planning. There's an entire industry dedicated to selling them this kind of information -- but much of that industry is promoting certain kinds of investments, insurance policies or tax strategies. And these suggestions are usually for products that generate commissions for the suggesters.

There's another phenomenon that happens more often than you might think. Some older people have confused notions about financial priorities: They may feel more obligation to the charities and nonprofit groups that actively solicit them than children or family members who try to stay low key about money. These people believe that they have to give money to the World Wildlife Fund, People for the American Way or the Republican Congressional Election Committee...and that their kids can inherit what's left after that.

Many charities and non-profits understand this -- and design their fund-raising campaigns to make contributions seem like existing commitments. That's their business. As a concerned child of older parents, your business is to make sure your parents don't get taken in by manipulative fund-raising tactics. And that, if they want to give their money away, they do it in the most effective manner.

This chapter will consider the ways to do so.

Giving your parents advice about charitable donations can be a thorny issue. They may not want your advice. Your goal shouldn't be to tell them how much they should give away...or to whom. It's to make sure they do it in the best, most money-wise way. If they want to give money to some group whose politics you can't stand, that's their prerogative. You should focus on making sure they don't hurt themselves in doing it.

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