A divorced, unemployed auto mechanic in his mid-fifties, Daniel told me a whopping combination of inheritance and elder abuse stories. He uncovered the disturbing details when he moved back home to Baltimore after losing his job in Atlanta.
Who’s got the power of attorney?
Daniel’s 93 year old mother suffers from a combination of dementia and mental illness. She lives alone, but her two children visit almost every day. Daniel’s sister Amy is their mother’s primary caretaker and she claims their mother gave her a durable power of attorney. Daniel hasn’t seen it. If valid, Amy can control their mother’s finances and make healthcare-related decisions for her. Now.
Amy told him she instituted a “do not resuscitate” order. If their mother has a heart attack or a stroke, the paramedics and doctors will make no heroic medical efforts to save her. He was horrified and angry that Amy didn’t consult him when she made this life-or-death decision. Did Amy even discuss it with their mother?
Please read You’re in a Coma: What are the Financial Consequences? Don’t wait until it’s too late to let people know what you’d want if there comes a time when you can’t tell them.
Stealing from your parents
Dad died a few years ago, and Daniel believes Amy helped herself to whatever funds were left in the joint checking account. Their mother’s Social Security benefits are electronically deposited like clockwork on the 2nd of each month into their mother’s account. Amy writes checks payable to herself and forges Mom’s signature. Daniel said he knows his happens because his mother is clearly incapable of filling out and signing checks.
It’s correct that if you have power of attorney to handle someone’s personal affairs, “you’re not supposed to give yourself a salary – you’re supposed to do it out of the goodness of your heart,” he told me.
Neglecting the elderly
In addition to stealing money, Amy neglects to take basic care of their mother’s house.
If Amy needs light bulbs, she removes them from her mother’s home. It makes no sense. Amy isn’t struggling financially. She inherited $250,000 when her husband died. She cleaned out their dead father’s accounts. Amy receives Social Security disability benefits and freely spends her mother’s limited funds.
Yet she’s so stingy she won’t buy light bulbs for herself or her mother.
Daniel has limited income, but he’s the one who buys batteries for his mother’s smoke detectors.
He’s disgusted with his sister and described her as “a sponge who’s cheap and would rather fill up her daughter’s gas tank before taking care of the needs of her own mother.”
Mom is supposed to take medication to control her high blood pressure. Daniel checks the bottle of pills when he visits but it never looks like the quantity changed. Amy says she has a new prescription; the medication is inexpensive, but he thinks she doesn’t want to spend the money to fill it.
Daniel calmly told me his family stories but it was clear that he was deeply concerned and frustrated.
Power of attorney as a license to steal
I asked if he had confronted his sister. He hasn’t because he’s worried that Amy may retaliate by interfering with his ability to land a new job. He can’t afford to stay unemployed, but at the same time Daniel can’t bear how Amy mistreats their mother and uses her alleged power of attorney “as a license to steal.”
Daniel told me that worried about his mother’s welfare. He wants “to put everything the way it should be … you’re supposed to make sure all their needs are met and not put them at risk.”
He doesn’t want her house to get any darker.
Do you know any seniors who are vulnerable? How can you protect them?
EDITED: As one commenter below points out, if you suspect someone is the victim of elder financial (or physical) abuse, contact Adult Protective Services in your state.
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