Elder Care Law Is Not Designed for Working Mothers in the Sandwich Generation

Court-appointed guardianship locked me in a soundproof closet with other adult daughters navigating a world not designed for women.

(Maskot / Getty Images)

Britney Spears’ autobiography revealed details of her father’s abuse of power through a court-ordered conservatorship that lasted from 2008 to 2021. Her father had reproductive control over her body and even what she ate. 

My experience with a court-ordered legal guardianship didn’t last 13 years, but I am an adult daughter who experienced abuse by a father. The difference is Britney’s dad was the conservator of her, and I was the guardian of my dad. 

Before retiring, my dad owned a small concrete business in our rural Kentucky hometown. He rode a Harley Davidson and went to church on Sundays, except when the weather was nice. He planned meticulously for his end of life like a fantasy. He initiated durable power of attorney (POA) and healthcare surrogate documentation for me to protect his interests in the future. For 20 years, he trained me relentlessly so I would know exactly how to execute his final wishes. 

What he didn’t plan for was dementia. 

My dad was born during the Silent Generation. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves. He wanted a son but got a daughter. Fathers should be grateful to have a daughter, since research proves we provide twice as much caregiving for senior parents than sons do.

My dad also didn’t plan for his health to decline when I was part of the 71 percent of working mothers in America. 

Working mothers and adult daughters who make up the majority of the sandwich generation need the ability to also care for their own mental and physical well-being to avoid burnout. 

Why did I pursue court-appointed legal guardianship for my father? Because POA failed me when he needed it most. My dad was on a path to wreck himself financially. Before his second traumatic hospital stay, where he received the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he opened three new checking accounts, closed two other bank accounts, opened credit cards at different retail stores he did not frequent, bought a dog, and canceled his Medicare Advantage insurance. A blizzard of yellow post-it notes with his Social Security number and other account log-in information were scattered around his house. Leeches and predators tried to gain access to his life and also harassed and threatened me. 

Alzheimer’s made my dad physically aggressive. He lived with my family for six weeks. As a mother, I could not have this behavior in my home around my children. 

While my POA indicated I was my dad’s chosen healthcare surrogate and could make decisions when he was incapacitated, every time I called to “fix” something he had broken, I was asked to put him on the phone for his approval—even after I explained he was incapacitated with Alzheimer’s. To complicate matters, his Alzheimer’s diagnosis came during the worldwide pandemic in 2020. He lived 800 miles away from me. 

Trying to undo damage my dad did to his Medicare health insurance while denied rights as POA was a nightmare. Alzheimer’s care isn’t cheap. His long-term memory care cost up to $9,000 per month, and it was not easy to secure during the pandemic with a healthcare professional shortage.

Achieving court-appointed guardianship was a different nightmare. Eleven months and thousands of dollars later, I was appointed and bonded as his legal guardian (of the person and of the estate) in Texas. But, court-appointed guardianship locked me in a soundproof closet with other adult daughters navigating a world not designed for women. 

Why wasn’t the court order enough? Because a woman with legal power isn’t enough. 

Banks, health Insurance companies, and other businesses serving seniors do not understand Alzheimer’s disease. Most businesses have standard legalize for POA situations; however, guardianship overrides pre-existing POA.

This does no good when businesses are unaware of the differences between POA and guardianship.

  • POA is meant to help someone temporarily incapacitated due to health or advanced age.
  • Guardianship is when someone is not of sound mind, cannot make safe or logical decisions, and their situation is not expected to resolve itself for the long term.

Why do businesses expect a senior citizen diagnosed with an irreversible disease of the mind to make financial or health decisions? Why wasn’t the court order enough? Because a woman with legal power isn’t enough. 

Being a working mom of children doing virtual school during the pandemic, also in the middle of a graduate degree, and suddenly caring for a delusional and aggressive senior parent while being forced to educate every single business on what guardianship legally appointed me to do was overwhelming.

Guardianship paperwork is thick. Do you know how many businesses asked if I had a fax machine? What end consumer in the age of AI and self-driving cars has a fax machine at home or can get to one easily during a pandemic? Why pay a dollar per page to fax information in the age of Alexa, Google and smartphones when I should be able to email or upload a file? 

The most dehumanizing part of legal guardianship was being a woman. 

I was constantly put in my societal place. Businesses repeatedly denied my rights. One financial institution denied my right to close an account. They demanded a court order. Their ignorance was that my court-appointed legal guardianship is a court order. The experience of trying to advocate for my incapacitated father and my rights as his guardian involved ghosting, gaslighting and blurred interpretations of legal rights.  

My dad died three months later. 

Now it’s eight months later, and I’m still waiting—only now, I’m stuck in this legal guardianship and can’t get out. It is a ridiculously desensitized process void of human compassion that prevents adult daughters from properly grieving and processing trauma.

I’m an only child of divorce. There was no village of support.

Alzheimer’s disease was not the worst part of my dad’s end of life. It was the stress, isolation and trauma from the elder law experience. 

It would’ve been different if I had been a son.   

Facts. Caregiving falls to women. Alzheimer’s disease is on track to collapse the U.S. healthcare system with people living longer. Working mothers and adult daughters who make up the majority of the sandwich generation need the ability to also care for their own mental and physical well-being to avoid burnout

The Road to Elder Law Reform

Elder law reform can be improved with four action items.

First, POA must define incapacitation and quantify “temporary,” federally, for all states, in clear and detailed terms. Dumb it down. It is currently too broad, too big, and open to interpretation.

Second, when adult daughters live in another state away from her senior parent, POA documentation should be state-mobile so she can continue working and caring for her children and senior parent.

Third, the federal government should require specialized training for banks, insurance companies, and other business legal departments so they communicate with POAs accurately and legally.

Fourth, when adult children provide legitimate documentation from licensed medical physicians who have diagnosed a senior citizen with Alzheimer’s (translation: incapacitated), elder law attorneys need to make the legal language clear that POA exists for a time such as this. Otherwise, the United States risks working mothers leaving their jobs when there aren’t enough workers and ruining her own health—which will ironically further strain our healthcare system. 

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Christie Gibson has cared for senior parents for 10 years, is pursuing a Ph.D. in advocacy rhetoric from Texas Woman’s University, and is the first woman to manage her family’s 100-year-old farm.