My brother is not paying his bills which is affecting my mother's care- what can we do?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My 58 year old brother lives with my mother and signed up for a cable package that includes telephone service. He is having financial problems but refuses to cancel the cable and gets behind in payments to where my mother's telephone service is disconnected. I have tried to get the cable service stopped but Comcast says only he can stop it and he won't. One of my sisters ends up paying the past due bill so my mother has phone service but sometimes the past due amount is more than a few hundred dollars. Our mother doesn't even watch cable shows but my brother glues himself to the television when he's not at work, rather than helping with household chores like cleaning. Our mother is 90 years old and it is crucial that she have reliable phone service. We have tried getting her cell phones but she would always keep them turned off or lose them. Is there anyway I can get the cable service out of my brother's hands?

Expert Answer

Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N. and Attorney is the author of author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. She has over 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. As a nurse, she has extensive experience with geriatrics, chronic illness, pain management, dementias, disability, family dynamics, and death and dying. As a trial attorney, she advocated for for the rights of injured individuals and neglected elders. She is also co-founder of AgingParents.com.

The problem isn't only that your brother is not paying the bills for something he benefits from and your mother doesn't. The problem is that he is taking advantage of your mother, and your family. It meets the definition of financial abuse. The real question is what you can do about it, and legally, you do have a choice.

If your mother, at age 90, does not have a durable power of attorney (for finances), she needs one. If she is mentally competent to make this decision, I urge you and your siblings, except for your brother, to meet with your mother and explain the need for this document. It must be notarized. The "do it yourself" variety is better than nothing, but it is prudent to seek the advice of an elder law attorney to be sure the document you use complies with the law and permits your mother's "agent" on the power of attorney document to act on her behalf concerning all financial matters.

If your mother already has a durable power of attorney document, properly signed and notarized, the agent (I hope it's not your brother!)can shut off the cable. This will have to be done in writing, with a clear letter explaining the problem, that your mother did not make this decision, that your brother is taking financial advantage of her, and that her legal agent, her power of attorney, wants it stopped. You will need to provide a copy of the durable power of attorney document to the cable company, with the letter.

If that, for any reason, does not work, I recommend that you seek the advice of an attorney, who can be an advocate for your mother with the cable company. This must stop and your family must stop allowing your brother to take advantage of your mother and you, who have paid the bills. The law is there to help you, and to protect your mother from financial abuse. Please use it.

Other than that, it sounds as if you have an issue with your brother about his not helping out with chores for your mother. A family meeting is in order. Not talking about it will only lead to more of same, plus resentment. Please seek some outside help if you are unable to have that family meeting and work this out among yourselves. A written agreement as to how it's going to be is ideal. Some elder law attorneys are able to conduct such family meetings. Otherwise, a social worker from a social service agency serving elders, a geriatric care manager, or a professional mediator are good choices for the kind of help you may need.