Ask Denise: How Do I Protect My Mom’s Money from My Sister?

Hi Denise,

I am so thankful I found your site. My mom is 87, lives nearby my husband and I. We have been managing her checkbook along with doctor visits, grocery, etc. etc. etc. The doctors tell us she may have early Alzheimer’s but she is unable to remember days of the week or checkbook but some other things she does well.

All that being said: I have a sister five years older who’s married. They went through bankruptcy years ago and just don’t seem to ever get back on their feet. My sister lived 200 miles away and about eight months ago called my mom crying that they needed money. So Mom gave them a thousand dollars. Both my sister and husband have been fired from jobs. My sister has a new job but just moved here in our town. They haven’t been here even a week and they now want to borrow a thousand dollars from my mom. They have not asked her yet–they just told me last night.

My mom worries she will not have enough money if she needs it and she may have enough for about six months in an extend care facility if needed, if even that.

What is my part in all of this? I told my sister they should find another means of getting the money and not go to Mom. Do I tell my mom up front they are going to ask her or just let them ask her? My mom still speaks her mind but when my sister  tears up, Mom will melt. Unfortunately mom has both my sister and I as POA (power of attorney) of finances. I have been active POA since living nearby. My sister is executor of her estate.

I’m putting calls into Mom’s lawyer to gather information but I wanted to hear what you think and any wisdom or advice. It’s been a hard 24 hours praying about what the next step for me should be. I am so thankful for all your work. Help…

Hello,

Oh, what an upsetting situation!

Good for you for telling your sister that she should not ask your mom. It’s hard to say “no” so kudos to you for speaking up about what’s best your mom. Your mom’s money is hers for her care. In addition, any transfers of money your mom makes could impact her eligibility for Medicaid, if and when the time comes when she must apply for Medicaid. If your mom applies for Medicaid, Medicaid will look back 60 months to determine if she transferred assets (the loans to your sister could be considered transfers of assets). Medicaid penalizes transfers that took place within 60 months of applying for Medicaid benefits. You can learn more about how this works here: www.elderlawanswers.com/elder_info/medicaid-planning.asp

You are also wise to contact your mom’s attorney, who also can help explain the Medicaid look-back period. I also would ask the attorney if you can take any steps to remove your sister as POA of finances–her difficult financial situation seems to be clouding her ability to make good decisions. The lawyer also can offer suggestions on how you can protect your mom’s assets from your sister.

So, here’s the hard part: If your sister continues to ask to borrow money from your mother, this could be considered a form of elder abuse. Financial elder abuse is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets. Examples include, but are not limited to, cashing an elderly person’s checks without authorization or permission; forging an older person’s signature; misusing or stealing an older person’s money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document (e.g., contracts or will); and the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney. If you worry that the situation has reached this level, you can report the abuse and get help. The National Center on Elder Abuse has information and phone numbers: www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/index.aspx

It’s awful to worry that your sister will not follow your request to not ask your mom. I would ask your mom to tell you about any conversations she has with your sister. I would also suggest that you speak with her about any requests she receives from relatives to borrow money. Let her know that the money is for her care. In addition, tell you that you’d like to discuss any request for loans before she makes the loans. You don’t have to mention your sister but you can make sure that your mom understands it’s important that she discusses any requests with you. You can let her know that you are happy to be the bad guy (your mom probably feels awful saying no to your sister) and can deliver the “No” if any requests for loans come.

If you’d like to be more specific with your mom about your sister, you can tell your mom, “Because Sis moved back to town, I think it’s a good idea that we talk about any requests she may make for loans. Please talk to me first before giving her any money. I’m happy to tell her ‘No’ if that will be easier for you. It’s important we use your money for your care. So, let’s talk about any loans she may ask you for.”

Of course, the concern is your mom’s ability to remember conversations with your sister and to keep you in the loop. My other suggestion would be to be vigilant about her accounts, checking regularly to ensure all funds remain.

Do you have other siblings? Perhaps a family meeting with everyone would help. During the meeting, you can be clear about loans (“Mom doesn’t have the money for loans and it’s important she uses her money for her care”). And, if you do have other siblings, perhaps they could help you by keeping an eye out for any phone conversations or meetings with your sister and your mom.

If you haven’t yet, you also can contact your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The chapter will have a social worker on staff who can step in and help you. The social worker can mediate family meetings and offer suggestions if your concerns about your sister continue.

I’m so sorry that this has happened. It’s awful when you feel you must worry about the intentions of a sibling.

I hope this helps. Let me know what happens.


Stumped by an on-going struggle? Searching for meaning in your journey? You’re not alone! Family caregivers ask Denise M. Brown, Editor and Publisher, Caregiving.com, for her insights and suggestions to their caregiving conundrums. Have a question for Denise? Just e-mail her. Denise will do her best to answer questions within 24 hours.

If you or your caree are in a crisis, we urge you to call a health care professional immediately for assistance. Denise only provides general insights about general situations. You should always consult your own lawyer, financial planner, health care professional and other professional advisors for advice specific to your situation.

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About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched CareGiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

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