You Can Trust You Children, Right?

Estate Planning for Families

Jane was one of five children. Her mother, Ellen, was 87 and had been ailing for some time.

Jane’s oldest brother, Bob, had been given a power of attorney by his mother to act for her. Under the power of attorney, Bob had broad powers. He also had access to all of Ellen’s accounts. The rest of the family had no idea that Bob was using his access to steal his mother’s money.

Jane and her siblings started to become worried because Ellen kept complaining that she didn’t have any money. The children knew that when their dad died several years ago, he left more than $500,000 in assets and a house that was debt  free.

When they began to look into it, they discovered Bob had been using his mom’s money for himself over the past several years and that the money was almost gone.

Jane decided that she needed to consult with a lawyer to see what could be done.

The lawyer explained that the power of attorney allowed her brother to take action to benefit his mother, but it did not allow him to use the property for his own needs.

Jane hired  the lawyer to look into the matter and found that most of her mother’s money had been spent. In addition, Jane’s mom had signed social security and pension checks over to Bob. Bob claimed they were gifts. But when Jane asked her mother about these gifts, Ellen said that Bob told her she had to sign the checks over to him. That she had no choice. Ellen said she did not want to cause trouble in the family so she went along.

Jane talked with the lawyer about what options might be available to get the money back. Her lawyer explained to her that the only recourse was to demand that Bob return the money and to sue him if he failed to pay back the cash. Jane knew that suing Bob would be a lengthy, time-consuming and expensive legal proceeding, and that there was no guarantee of success.

The lawyer explained that, many times, elderly parents trust their children and rely on their judgment and do as the children suggest. Sometimes, as in Ellen’s case, the power of attorney is used wrongfully. Even worse, it is often the case that the assets have been spent and there is no way to recover them.

The lawyer explained to Jane it would have been better to have employed more than one child to oversee Mom’s affairs. This approach would have provided some checks and balances.

Jane went back and discussed the matter with her mother and her siblings. In the end, Ellen just was not willing to sue her son.

Bob became scarce once the game was up and the other children had to step in to help. The worst part was Ellen’s sadness and disappointment with her son during her last years.

 

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