"Children anticipate an estate of some kind will be passed down to them and their children," says Harte, who is chairwoman of the department of sociology, social work and gerontology at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. "They look at it as their legacy. It's very difficult for them to watch that legacy dissipate through silly expenditures."
And it happens frequently, she says. "Older people want to be loved; they want to be special to someone, and a predator can easily take advantage of that vulnerability."
What can a concerned child do?
"You can plead with them; you can explain to them that it will have a long-term impact on their children and grandchildren, but unless you can prove incompetency -- which is hard to do -- there really isn't anything you can do," she says.
And there's a danger that making your case too strongly will damage your relationship with your parent, she adds. "You risk creating a rift and may be waving goodbye to any inheritance."
Psychologist Lynn's solution to the problem? "Grown-ups should be grown-ups and have a prenup" -- a prenuptial agreement or contract that protects assets.
And she doesn't think children should be embarrassed about stressing the importance of such an agreement. She advises patients to have a frank discussion and let parents know their concerns.
"Everybody's afraid to talk to their parents about money, and it's such an important issue. Tell them you want them to be happy. But also tell them that they need a prenup."
McClure's column on caring for and staying connected with aging parents appears monthly. For past installments, click to the "It's All Relative" archive.