How can I help Mom, who has Alzheimer's and is a victim of financial elder abuse?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Mom is 75, lives alone and has dementia which is getting markedly worse. Her son (my younger brother) died in Feb 2009. He left Mom a life insurance policy. Mom and I were made co-representatives of my brothers estate. She would not perform the duties. She would not allow me to perform the duties. So the estate lawyer had us removed and he was appointed (happened Oct 09).

Mom received the insurance policy proceeds in June. She gave me a portion. A portion was set aside also. She had an amount in her checking account.

In July, her half brother called again asking for help (money--which he has done for years and she sends usually a $200-$400 check). This time she sent him a check for $10,000. Within 14 days of the check being mailed, the step-brother arrived from his home state. Mind you, my brother died in February and he is showing up near the end of July. He received more checks written by mom, which emptied her account of the life insurance money.

He left every so often to go back to his home state between July and November. As of Nov 16, 2009 mom and I agree that the step-brother is no longer here in our state. Some things haven't added up since he left so with mom's permission (knowing she has dementia and does not remember things or remembers distorted things) I tried to look into what has happened between her and the step-brother. He, by the way, told me to stay away from mom or he would kill me.

I found out that he has taken all the money we put away, that he has taken mom numerous times to a local lawyer and that he has had mom sign and purchase a $40,000 2010 car which she does not have possession of. I took mom to the lawyer and she asked for copies of papers that she signed in his office. He denied she signed anything and said the step brother and her only came in for consultations. Tho mom clearly has written him a check for $350 out of her checkbook. From what I see mom is on the hook for $713 a mo pmt on this car for 6 years. She gets $1500 a mo soc sec and retirement. and is also out $50k we put aside.

What do I do now? Everyone tells me I can do nothing. I only wanted to protect mom. And now, her credit will be ruined when she does not pay the car payments--which clearly she cannot afford anyway. Her small cushion of security is taken. She has no recollection of it anyway. What do I do?

Expert Answer

Steve Weisman hosts the nationally syndicated radio show A Touch of Grey, heard on more than 50 stations, including WABC in New York City and KRLA in Los Angeles. He is a practicing lawyer specializing in estate planning and is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He's a public speaker and commentator who has appeared on many radio and television shows throughout the country, and he's the legal editor of Talkers magazine, the preeminent trade publication of talk radio. His latest book is The Truth About Avoiding Scams.

For future protection,it would be imperative for you or someone else to be appointed as a guardian of your mother. If this had been done earlier, it would have been easier to prevent her from depleting assets when she did not have the requisite state of mind to make the gifts that she made.

In regard to the step-brother threatening to kill you, you should consider bringing a criminal complaint.

In addition, various states have specific laws that pertain to the kind of financial abuse of the elderly that you describe in your question. You should contact the local District Attorney and ask for their assistance in this matter. They may be in a position to recover funds if it can be shown that they were taken through financial exploitation of your mother.

In regard to her co-signing for a loan, if she has dementia, she does not have sufficient state of mind to make such a contract.

I strongly urge you to retain the services of an Elder Law attorney to assist you in this matter.