How Can I Prevent a Stepparent From Mismanaging the Finances of a Parent With Alzheimer's When I Have Power of Attorney?

4 answers | Last updated: Oct 16, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I prevent a stepparent from mismanaging the finances of a parent with Alzheimer's when I have power of attorney?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

First, get clear on whether the power of attorney naming you as your parent's agent has actually taken effect. You need to look at the specific wording of the document to find that out.

Some powers of attorney for finances, appointing others to make decisions, take effect as soon as they're signed. Others don't become operative until the person who made the document no longer has legal mental capacity -- that is, the ability to reason and make informed decisions. Maybe this seems evident from seeing or attempting to communicate with your parent, but many people who have Alzheimer's retain such mental capacity, at least during the early and often into the middle stages of the disease.

Many powers of attorney also require specific documentation from one or more medical doctors verifying that a person lacks mental capacity, so you'll also need to investigate whether such documentation exists.

If you determine that you actually are the agent, take proactive action by informing the banks and other financial institutions that you're the proper legal agent for your parent's financial matters and that no one else is authorized to act. You'll have to provide a copy of the power of attorney document and may need to fill out additional paperwork, depending on the institution, to accomplish this preventative fix.

But practically speaking, you're in a ticklish position as long as your parent and stepparent are living together, since the stepparent likely has unfettered access to your parent's money and property. And if it's a newer marriage, the honeymoon may not yet be over. So try to talk with your parent -- alone -- and get an honest take on what he or she wants to happen, if that's possible.

There may be a bigger problem if you suspect that your stepparent is acting improperly. If he or she is acting against your parent's wishes or actually acting fraudulently, that may add up to elder abuse -- although you'll need some good evidence to prove this, such as copies of unpaid bills and stacks of sales receipts for frivolous items. With less than full access to their financial matters, it may be hard to drum up the evidence you need.

It may be helpful to contact the local Area Agency on Aging to discuss your concerns confidentially. A staff person there should be able to help you decide what local resources might be most helpful: a state investigator, the police, or some other person or agency.

You might also consider contacting an experienced family mediator to help figure out how all of you can work it out so that you're able to maintain a relationship with your parent during these fragile years. In some locales, community boards offer free or low-cost family mediation. Or try an Internet search on family mediation or elder mediation and the area in which you live. Most mediators will have their own websites that describe their philosophies, experience, and fees. Be sure to choose someone with experience in mediating family disputes and not just disputes between divorcing couples.

Community Answers

Hawk5228 answered...

In a step situation, I've been told by an attorney that I cannot get a power of attorney since the wife is mentally capable. I'm not that concerned about finances; moreso with his care.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Hawk5228, in this case the POA was signed during the marriage, while both were compentant, to protect the Family Trust. There was an antinuptual agreement keeping Trusts separate and delineating shared expenses as one partner's home was sold (that partner paid a greater portion of the daily expenses while homeowner's trust paid the mortgage and upkeep of the house. But thanks for your thoughts, anyway. It's getting tougher but we (the family of the parent going downhill fast) are trying to approach this with love without discounting the time spent with the second wife, who is odd at best.

Rk smith answered...

A step-parent has the same rights as the parent. You must have power of attorney in case of the event that both parent and step parent become unable to use their funds wisely. If you feel that the step parent is not capable of handling the funds then you have to have an attorney go to court and give an order for you to watch over the funds and disperse them as so needed.