Is Mom incompetent to handle her finances?

8 answers | Last updated: Nov 02, 2016
Service4u414 asked...

Help - my mother is 67 and lives on a fixed income of $700 per month. She lets my brother live with her and he also receives $700 per month. They also receive food stamps totaling about $350 between the two of them. The only bills they have are utilities and phone. They cannot seem to pay just them.

I believe she is on too much medication and spends all her money on drugs, prescribed by doctors. She goes to numerous doctors and they all prescribe the same medications. (not revealing she gets this medication from other doctors)

Her insurance pays for the first prescript but she has to pay for the others(2-3). I see this as something against the law. She is constantly begging for money from the family making us feel bad saying they don't have food. We all wonder what she does with their money! She has Medicare for most of her medicine. She does have oxygen (which Medicare pays for) and the utility company has already turned off her gas for non-payment. They will eventually shut off the water and electricity. She has not paid any on the bill in about 6 months and owes over $1400 now.

I feel she has a drug addiction and there is not much we can do. My sisters seem to think she is incompetent and we need to do something. But what? None of us have money for attorney's but we can't keep taking care of them while they blow their money on drugs. Is there anything we can do to control her medical care and her finances? She will not give it voluntarily. All of their money is from Social Security and we live in TN.

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.

You're describing a number of specific concerns that point to one larger one: that your mother may not be able to live in her current situation safely.

And because it is unlikely that your mother will consent to help, such as naming an agent in a power of attorney for healthcare and finances, your better course for help may be an outside source.

One solution may be to secure a conservatorship, in which another person"”either a family member or court-appointed individual"”would become legally responsible for managing your mother's personal care and finances. It is a somewhat drastic step, and would require that you present evidence of your mother's inability to care for herself, but in some cases, it is a life-saving last resort.

You can get free guidance on this arrangement through the Conservatorship Association of Tennessee at You can also get free advice on conservatorships and other caretaking arrangements from the First TN Area Agency on Aging & Disability at

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

Being addicted to anything can ruin one's life. It did mine. My sister took over my finances for about a year, and now I'm back on track. Do something now before it's too late. Take Ms. Repa's advice and contact the people she suggested to you. Good luck!

Jewellfee answered...

Stories like this just make me so angry! I am 69 years old and draw $633 a month from ss retirement. I only have utility bills, and I manage to put money away to use for property updates....I recently added a blacktop driveway. I don't take any meds, and threw away prescription pain pills after suffering 3 broken ribs. THIS IS JUST AWFUL.

Deanajirak answered...

Is this conservatorship option available in other states? (I'm particularly curious about PA.) How does it differ from declaring my father incompetent? Thanks!

Lisa lisa answered...

I would also like to know if the conservator ship is available in other states, like Arkansas? Reading the first entry was like reading what we are going through with my mom. My sisters and I are so lost on what to do for her. Please help.

Prf isler answered...

A parent with a drug addiction in addition to 'normal' aging issues is frustrating, heartbreaking and difficult--I hope it helps to know that you are not alone. My sister and I are dealing with a Mom who is an addict and just in the last few years has developed ailments related to age (hearing, memory, balance, very bad knees, arthritis, a fall w/broken arm & surgery, COPD, HBP etc.). Every since my father passed, allowing her to manage her own finances has been like walking a fine line. (She had never balanced a checkbook in her life until then!) I am not a professional, but I am a daughter, and I have a few suggestions. First, you didn't mention why your brother doesn't assist Mom with her finances, I am assuming he is unable to do this. Because you have several issues that overlap each other, you might want to find a central source who at the very least can help you coordinate the resources your Mom needs. I found the following information from the Tennessee Dept. of Human Services, I will try to insert it as a link but I am not very computer savvy, so you may have to copy and paste it (apologies ahead of time).

This page has phone numbers for the different areas in TN, depending on where your Mom lives. It is the page specifically for Adult Services. You should be able to get a social worker (not sure what they call them in TN) who deals with the elderly. This is a good starting point, whatever the social worker is not able to do themselves they will be able to direct you to someone who can help and then keep everything coordinated. The site does mention that they can help with cases of "self-neglect", which is kind of what is going on with your Mom (because no one is doing it to her). Not to state the obvious, but if you can get a handle on your Mom's medication issues, she may be able to manage her finances again (and as you pointed out, part of the shortage issue has to do with what she spends on meds). You can address that to a certain extent. While her doctors cannot give you medical info about her without her consent, that doesn't mean that you can't call them and TELL THEM what you think they need to know about your Mom (you just can't ask them any ?s). If you go through your Mom's meds, the Doctor's name and (usually) the clinic/hospital's phone # are on there. If there is no phone # for the Doctor, call the pharmacy it came from and they can at least help you get either the number or the clinic where the Doc practices. Then when you call the Doctors, be very direct with them, tell them that your Mom abuses XYZ type of medication and has X number of prescriptions for it and she only really needs one. You will also need to talk to your Mom and have her decide on a single geriatric Doctor, then notify the others who her Doctor is and have them forward any records to that Doctor. Your Mom should also be eligible through Medicare for a visiting nurse. This is someone who can help you (going forward) keep an eye on her meds and how she seems (drowsy etc.) and can check her meds to make sure she isn't "doctor shopping" again. These are just some ideas, once you get a hold of a social worker, they can give you more advice on how to proceed with your Mom's needs and supervision. While I realize that for some of the suggestions you actually need to be there (like going through her meds for the first time) much of it can be done in one trip. A lot can also be done on the phone.

Finally, keep reminding yourself that YOU ARE a GOOD DAUGHTER! Your Mother may be resistant at first and angry and may chew you out (it's happened to both my sister and myself). Keep in mind that she isn't thinking clearly and that you are absolutely doing the right thing for her, whether she realizes it nor not. God Bless you for caring about your Mom so much, I pray He makes this journey as easy for you as possible.

God Bless and Take care, "Been There"

Donoharm answered...

I'm in gratitude that there is help available from The most practical and useful advice from the counselors and posters. Thank you all for this site.

Klcanddaughter answered...

I had come from Florida to take over the care of my 83 yr old mother and my 50 yr old down syndrome sister 1yr and 3 months ago. I have learned a lot by just listen to Moms primary dr.She had 6 drs taking care of her. The same drs are my sisters drs. I had to call in meds for them and they have the same name, so I had to make sure the right scripts were put in under the right persons name. It has been wild. My mother has since passed away because she was not not under her drs care.I had 13 months with her.I am the person who cleans, cooks, does laundry,etc. This is a life changing experience. I had to leave my job in florida,so I had no money coming into the house. When I was turning 62, I had applied for soc. sec.and received disablity. That is what I am surviving on,paying bills and food out of that.