Dear Carolyn: I am fortunate that my 90-year-old mother is both financially well off and still physically able. Her mental capacities are starting to fade, though. For several months now, she has told me and my two siblings that she'd like to give each of us $10,000, as she'd like to see us enjoy part of our inheritance now. As she puts it, "I have it, it's just sitting around, why not give it to you?"

All three of us are anxiously awaiting this money, as we can use it for bills or projects that we've been putting off.

Then she'll drop hints that she wants a better Christmas present or more phone calls, that she's lonely, that all her friends have died. Then she'll admit her memory is fading. And then nothing happens for a month, and she starts the process all over again.

You've been clear in the past that it's her money, she can do anything she wants with it. But we all get the distinct feeling she's dangling this "gift" in front of us in hopes of getting attention. And then she doesn't follow through. Any suggestions on what to say to her?

— Strings Attached

Strings Attached: Sigh. Yes, it’s her money, she can do anything she wants with it. She’s also 90, and according to you she’s slipping mentally. You might as well give her the benefit of any and all doubt and decide she’s forgetting, not manipulating.

Then, give her all the time and attention you can reasonably manage to give her — whether or not she’s dangling a gift just for the attention — because she’s 90 and slipping and lonely.

I suppose you also can say, without being an utter ghoul, when she mentions the gift again: “That’s so generous of you, Mom. Do you need us to do anything toward that?” I’m only 54 (and slipping, alas) and sometimes the paperwork phase is enough of a nuisance to keep me from doing something I’d otherwise have done right away.

I should specify: It’s not utterly ghoulish to offer this kind of assistance once; it’s not even 100 percent self-serving. Assuming her intent is genuine and reasons are honest, you’d be helping her accomplish something she would feel good about.

If she doesn’t bite on your offer, though, then please, please stop “anxiously awaiting this money.” That’s an emotional rock in your shoe. Instead, write off the whole idea of ever seeing it, thank her sincerely for the thought every time she mentions it, and give/keep giving her all the time and attention you reasonably can just for the sake of it.

In fact, go all out and assume her longevity means her fortune will eventually be consumed by her care. You will like her, and yourselves, and the outcome, a whole lot better if you put in the time, effort and love while expecting $0 from her, during her life and upon her death. Let anything you receive above that figure be a lovely and welcome surprise.

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