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Make War Not Love

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I know what you’re thinking – you’ve got that wrong Brian!  Well, if you are thinking that, you’ve got it wrong.

Family relationships especially between an elderly parent and their adult children can take on some ironic dynamics as the older parent’s life starts to diminish and the children, by desire, necessity, or even self-interest, become more involved in their parent’s life.

In the 1960’s, especially in the latter part of that colourful decade, and in my late teens, I empathised with, and dabbled in, the flower power fever.  Decked out in the obligatory braids, beard, bare feet, beads, shoulder bag and imbibing on bunkum, I joined in the youthful movement of peaceful revolution encapsulated in the exhortation – Make Love not War!

It was a time of a challenge to, if not derision of, the adult world order as we saw it.  It was also a call to arms to free us from our stifling sexual mores and to love one another (and often), not kill one another.  It was an era of libidinous liberation.  Needless to say, our parents could not understand and were aghast at our aspiration and assertion of sexual freedom.

Life can come a full circle, however, when it comes to ageing and morality.

I was recently consulted by two clients (sisters) who were from my generation and may very well have been ‘flower power girls’ of the 60’s.  They recounted their upbringing in a conventional family where their father applied strict moral creeds and eschewed any form of so called liberation for his children.  They rebelled to some extent and described themselves as teenage renegades who often defied him and scoffed at his medieval morals.

But they had not come to see me to help them write their family’s story.  Their concerns were more pressing and, in their eyes, required immediate legal attention.

Their father, aged 84 and widowed some 12 months earlier from his wife of 60 years, had, as they put it, ‘fallen into the arms of a 45 year old gold digger’.  They were about to go on a 4 week holiday together and, despite their father’s feeble protestations that they were just friends, the daughters could not help but see a more insidious agenda. This was apparent to any observer especially as he had now decked himself out in a whole new wardrobe that included loud shirts and jeans, albeit with an elasticised waistband.

They expressed their perception of the situation in terms of fear – ‘she was using him to get to his money’, ‘next thing they will be moving in together’, ‘she just wants him as a bank to pay her debts’, ‘she will turn him against us’, ‘mum would turn in her grave’ etc etc.

On the surface, there was an apparent moral irony.  Life was indeed coming a full circle.  Here were the previously liberated children of the 1960’s concerned about their father’s apparent latter day liberation including, they suspected, a licentious one.

We often confront these family tensions in older people’s lives especially where the older person has lost their spouse and looks to create another life for themselves that does not involve just wallowing in a slow slide to singlehood and loneliness.

There is no doubt that there are some people out there who dig for gold in the mine of an older person’s life. The law can sometimes help redress this, especially where issues of undue influence or incapacity are in play.

However, if an older person has all their faculties, the best antidote to loneliness and isolation in later years can be the search for, and discovery of, a loving relationship.  It can even add years to your life.

We call the conundrum a case of the love or the loot.  To the father, it may simply be love but, to the adult children, it can be just a patently transparent thirst for ill-gotten gains.

A subterranean feature of some childrens’ concerns can be, understandably, that their well laid inheritance plans and expectations may come unstuck or, at best, more complex.

It is hard to convince many children in this situation that the law is quite clear.  If you have the capacity to make your own decisions at any time in your life, even to the point of your last breath, you are entitled to do so even if the rest of your family, and even the world, think you’re sad and silly and ‘should act your age’.

The daughters have determined it is a case of usury and undue influence.  They will probably do all that they can to prevent their father falling further into the clutches of this ‘Jezabel’.  This may mean that their old mantra of Make Love not War will become Make War not Love.

As for me, if I am ever in the situation of that father, I hope my children will allow me to be a happy hippy, just one more time.

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