Family Dysfunction Part II: Fall of the High Achiever

By Doug Chalgian on December 20, 2012

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In the middle of a particularly difficult guardianship matter, a seasoned probate judge once said to me “that will be me and you Doug, when we get there.”

The subject of the proceeding was a retired college professor/author, had remarried and fired every doctor who told him he was impaired.

The Judge’s point was that a disproportionate number of really difficult probate matters involve people who had positions of authority during their work lives, but who became demented.  I have seen this to be true far too many times.  Give me a retired Judge, doctor, lawyer, college professor, or businessperson with dementia, and you have the key ingredients for a very difficult case.  Add a new love interest that facilitates the denial, and things get really dicey.

This is because these people: (1) have been “in control” all their lives and rage against the idea that they are losing control, and that someone else will have control over them, (2) they have big ego’s and think they know more than anyone else, and (3) that piece of them that made them high achievers/go-getters included a type A personality which meant they were overly critical of the people around them (their family members) and therefore created dysfunctional relationships with the people now involved in trying to assist them with their impairments.

A corollary to this is the “whoever tries to help me is my enemy” syndrome.  This is where the “good child” who decides that they have to do something to help mom or dad (typically dad) with their impairments is seen as the enemy by the impaired adult.  The impaired adult looks at anyone aligned with this good child as part of the conspiracy, and conversely, anyone who stands with them against the good child, as a friend.  This commonly results in the impaired adult creating new estate planning documents elevating the positions and interests of those who help them deny their impairment, to the detriment of the child or children who are trying to do the right thing.  An invitation to exploitation for sure.

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mm By: Doug Chalgian
Doug Chalgian

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