How can I straighten things out one year after the death of my mother?

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 05, 2016
Awitta asked...

How can I straighten things out one year after the death of my mother? Why does family conflict often intensify after a death?

I was the previous Guardian and Conservator for my mother, now my sister has created an unfounded lawsuit and my parents' hard earned and saved money is being frittered away by attorneys and an accountant!

I moved from out of state to take care of my parents in 1999; it was very difficult for them to ask for help. After my mother started showing signs of dementia in 2003, she had fear and distrust over medical care and I had to seek court assistance to become her Guardian. The court also awarded Conservatorship, as this was necessary in order to pay for medical expenses. (Sister and father legally agreed to the arrangement.) I continued to work full time but assisted my mother with doctor's appointments, meals, and medication after 2003; I also visited my father at a nursing home (I was his Power of Attorney) and assisted him with medical appointments. In August of 2004, my mother developed a life-threatening UTI and became septic. My father also had a gall-bladder infection that caused him to become septic; he was put on a ventilator against his will at a local VA hospital. I watched his death -- after the ventilator was removed and he began breathing on his own, the intern doctor determined, "He's gonna be a vegetable if he survives this" and ordered an overdose of morphine against my wishes. After the death, my mother came out of the hospital and was assigned to a rehab. (Despite begging my sister to come from a neighboring state during this time period, just to say good-bye to her father, she refused. Our mother had been in ICU, she also refused to visit her. I offered to pay for all transportation, etc., but she declined. On the night prior to the removal of the ventilator, she called to say that she was driving in. I informed her she would be arriving after my father was removed from the respirator and he would likely be deceased, she stated, "I don't care." At the funeral (I paid all expenses) she inquired as to whether our father left her any money. He had not. (My father had stated he didn't understand why she refused to visit him in the nursing home). After my mother was released from the hospital (on the day of my father's funeral) I oversaw caretaking of her in the rehab (the suddenly increased dementia from the hospitalization caused her not to cooperate; Medicare couldn't be justified for the last two weeks and I paid high nursing home fees, then withdrew her and lived with her in a handicapped accessible hotel room for two weeks until we located an assisted living she accepted. After this, I worked only part time; I spent a minimum of one hour on a daily basis (sometimes returning for a second visit if she couldn't recall that I had been there). I fed her extra food (she eventually became unable to adequately feed herself) and oversaw eye medication application (the assisted living facility sometimes skipped or applied without gloves) that she depended upon. I continued this process throughout the years, and paid 2700 to 3,300 monthly, despite overseeing daily care. Unfortunately, my mother's COPD impeded her ability to get to the dining room and to wait until her table was served. The dementia also affected her fine motor skills, and she had difficulty feeding herself. I also took care of personal hygiene, washing her underwear, cleaning her glasses, and doing all the extras on a daily basis that were overlooked at the assisted living level.

In November of 2009, my mother had a fall that cracked her hip and broke her arm. The assisted living facility had left her in wet diapers; further, she was unable to roll over to obtain water! I brought her home to live with me; we had hospice assistance and I attempted to nurse her back to health. I also hired personal caretakers that my mother was familiar with. I slept next to her (as I often had in the assisted living facility), turned her body every few hours, changed her, etc. Despite my efforts, she passed away in my home in Feb. 2010. I buried her overseas near her brothers and sisters as she had wished during my growing years.

During the whole 10 year time period, my sister called perhaps once or twice annually, if that. I begged her to be involved, to contribute in any way; she refused. The only visits were during my father's funeral and once in 2007 when she visited my mother and strongly berated my care because my mother's hair was tangled (my mother refused to allow me to comb it) and her toenails were too thick (Although I had attempted to cut them, I couldn't. I had allowed this aspect to go unchecked, and am sorry it occurred. At the same time, my mother didn't display signs of foot pain. She had not been harmed, but I made certain to provide foot care and took her to a podiatrist for the toenail fungus afterward. I also began to include regular foot care as part of my visits.) At the time of my mother's fall, I called my sister from the parking lot of the hospital. She became angry as another call was coming in and discontinued our call. I then texted her pictures of my mother's fall and bruised appearance with hopes that a visual picture could motivate her to visit. She informed me on my next phone call (95% were initiated by me) that I should not send pics; they were 10 cents each and besides, her husband had her phone! After our mother died and the Rabbi called her, she refused to come because, "She's just a dead body." These factors are mentioned to show a long-standing pattern of callous lack of involvement and seeming lack of care for either one of our parents. However, because my sister was not there, she cannot know about the multiple ER visits, the clear vision of seeing my mother's blood on several occasions when she ripped out IV's despite wrapping, the trauma of watching my father struggling with a ventilator and eventual death. She did not know the frequent advocacy and meetings with sometimes difficult administrators and nurses on behalf of my parents. She didn't make dinners and urge her parents to eat as she helplessly watched time and disease take their toll. She simply cannot know, as she did not provide hands-on daily love and care. The job of care taking was psychologically tough, but in the end, rewarding. Looking back, I am very glad I was there for my parents.

After I returned from the burial in Israel, my sister and her husband suddenly found the time to come, as her husband's sister-in-law's father had died, and they had to attend his funeral! (I would have preferred the truth.) Apparently, during the drive they formed ideas that I had redistributed her inheritance into my name! Although I felt overwhelmed at times and and was amazed at the extent of her non-involvement, I had certainly not rearranged POD designations. (The only re allocation occurred early in the Conservatorship; I had actually taken a few large CDs that were in my name and had split it 50/50 so that my sister would obtain more. I had hoped she would be happy with me, but I obviously was wrong! Over the years, I renewed my sister's inheritance CD's at the highest rates available. Because my mother had placed the lions share of monies in my POD designations, I avoided utilizing my sister's inheritance to pay for my mother's care.

I completed annual Conservator reports until 2007. In 2008, circumstances occurred where she was kicked out her assisted living facility and I had to locate another. I again spent two weeks with her in a handicapped accessible hotel room. (In 20-20 hindsight, I wish I had rented a handicapped accessible home and taken care of her for the remainder of her years. This is my one and only strong regret; I didn't have the confidence that I could do it or that my mother would cooperate with me, esp. with taking necessary medications.) The only facility accepting her was a 1/2 hour drive out of town. For my daily drives and time, I called the office overseeing my Conservatorship, requesting that I be allowed gas money. They told me "No". Again, in hindsight, I wish I had sought legal advice. Instead, I cut back on work hours (the new facility was calling me to come calm my mother down on several occasions -- she was initially scared and bewildered at her new place. The move had not been my choice; the old facility had released her.) I drove in at least once daily, and sometimes visited my mother more often. I also slept beside her at times to comfort her. IT BECAME CLEAR THAT OUTSIDE OF TAKING A GRAVEYARD POSITION AND GETTING LITTLE SLEEP, I COULD NOT WORK. I BREACHED MY CONSERVATOR CONTRACT BY UTILIZING FUNDS THAT HAD BEEN DESIGNATED POD IN MY NAME, PAYING FOR MY LIVING EXPENSES IN ADDITION TO MY MOTHER'S CARE. I accept and take full responsibility for this error (my old attorney "joked" that because I was Jewish, I had not sought his advice in order to save money. The truth was, I had not even thought that I had options to have approval by the court, because the Conservatorship office had verbally informed me otherwise.)

In the end, I was a much better caretaker of my mother than a Conservator who saved and organized all bank statements. (Several banks, multiple CD's and investment accounts). However, I never touched my sister's POD designated money, except to renew CDs. Payment of my mother's care did not come from my sister's POD designated CD's. The only exception to this were investment accounts that were dissolved into a checking account. The investment accounts did not have POD designations in either my sister's or my name.

Upon arrival and making false accusations, my sister also stated that I should have killed my mother a long time ago. (Because my sister is in no way a murderer, I can only understand this statement coming from a point of view that believes in euthanasia over dementia.) She shed no tears over her own mother, but did discuss a ferret that had became cancerous and that had to be "put down". At this , she showed emotion. She also stated, "That woman was not my mother. She quit being my mother as soon as she started losing her mind!" Additionally, my sister accused me of taking out a page of the will (I had not, but it was thrown out because it was missing a clause taken from Idaho statutes).

Despite the callousness, my sister is due her inheritance, as I am due mine. Unfortunately, the accountant (not a forensic accountant) has come up with a statement that I took large amounts of money -- she does not have full documentation; I was moving money while maintaining POD designations in order to obtain best interest rates. I did live, though not extravagantly, for 2 and 1/2 years on funds allocated in my POD designation. I did not feel I had a choice with my mother's declining health and her increasing need beyond the level of care provided; my only regrets are that I did not seek legal approval of the courts and that I didn't provide copies of Conservator reports (this understandably increased suspicion)to my 100% non-involved sister.

I am concerned at this time, as the courts have made the accountant a current Conservator == she has already charged around 20,000 dollars for an inaccurate report. (I don't fault her, she doesn't have all the statements. It is hard to obtain all statements and follow where they went from 2003.) She is in control of a house and all bank accounts. After coming to the USA, my mother saved and went without just so myself and my sister could have this inheritance. Further, we would not have this inheritance had it not been for my father's hard work and my mother's intelligent investment choices. (My mother was calling my sister's name in the weeks before she died. I called my sister, begged her to come, e-mailed her about the fistula bleeding, etc., to no avail. However, she found it in herself to come after the burial, only to start an unfounded lawsuit based on suspicions, not facts.)

I feel as though I not only lost a mother, but lost a sister, at the same time. I attempted to contact my sister last fall to seek mediation; after calling and giving me hope (I told her that I still loved her regardless) she forwarded my e-mail requesting mediation to her attorney and asked if it would be beneficial to her. During that same phone call, she also accused me of attempting to attack her with my dog! (My dog is a Husky Wolf hybrid, perhaps she was scared, but I would never try to harm her. The dog only barked ferociously at the door, but then backed off, as she does with anyone else. I had told my sister to pet her and to look at my dog's eyes; she twisted this to come up with an untrue story that I wanted my dog to attack her!)

What can I do now? I need to rectify the false report by the new conservator. (She also didn't account for the overseas funeral expenses. When I asked her how she figured out expenses as she can't read Hebrew, she stated that she just looked at bank account withdrawals. How is she to know the exact amount spent? How does she determine which funds spent from my inheritance after the death were due to the funeral? She did not read receipts. The accountant also didn't fully account for my expenditures and improvements on my mother's house.) Most of all, my sister and I should be able to go about our lives. I want to inherit all that my mother had designated for me and no more. I also want my sister to inherit all that had been designated for her. Also, shouldn't my sister also be responsible for part of my mother's care and expenses, regardless if she claimed that "the woman not my mother"? (Conversely, if my mother wasn't her mother, as she states, how is she due any inheritance at all?)

I don't understand my sister's anger with me, although I do understand her concerns and questions based on not receiving conservator reports. I had asked her to go to the banks and verify that I had not touched her POD designations, I don't believe she did this. She did see that I set up new CD's in her name, but despite the evidence, she continued with her unnecessary lawsuit. (Mediation and a forensic accountant, willingness to work together, listen to each other, could have straightened out any false claims. Perhaps I could come to understand and have compassion for whatever reasons were behind her refusals to help or visit.) I bore sole responsibility and care for my mother (and father) over more than 10 years. God bless my mother's spirit; she was a fighter, very stubborn, and sometimes very uncooperative! (Her strength and spunk are an inspiration.) The financial situation and use of funds is directly related to the level of care and time I invested in caring for my parents. Doctors, rabbis, and caretakers at assisted living facilities could verify my care.

What can I do at this point? I need to properly mourn my mother, rather than be tied up in this unfounded lawsuit. I also wish that my mother's wishes about inheritance be respected, regardless. (Had my mother given my sister the majority of funds, I would have stated this was a very unfair situation, but would have still honored it. I want to honor her, no matter what. As she saw it, her purpose in life was to have children and love them. She certainly accomplished this, and I believe her love lives on.) Further, I eventually want to come to an understanding and compassion for my sister. Right now, it looks like she was a callous, greedy vulture, but I believe prior family dysfunction or something (???) is making her act viciously, with no care for the negative health tolls the lawsuit has taken on me. She has to have some love, somewhere, in her heart, she came from the same mother! Also, there has never been any past history of theft or senior exploitation on my part; I take responsibility for my use of funds and the breach of contract that occurred, only because my mother needed increased care and I did not know there were alternatives. I wish to rectify my name and to prove exactly how much was used and for what, rather than rely on an incorrect accountant report (that my sister received).

PLEASE, PLEASE, ADVISE ME! I know this entry has been lengthy, perhaps somewhat rambling, but I need to straighten out this situation. I wake up early every morning, suffer from ulcers, acid going into my lungs, and I frequently feel a lump in my throat, as though the grief has been "stuck". I need to move forward, to do good in this world, as a way to respect the memory of both my parents. PLEASE, PLEASE, advise me! THANK YOU!

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I am a motherless daughter too. My mother passed away some time ago from dementia. I loved my mother and I miss her. I also lost my close relationship with my sister and am grieving for the loss of both my mother and my sister. My sister refused to come to my mother who was in the process of dying and she also refused to help to provide Hospice Services. Now she is filled with hate towards me and cannot be consoled.

We knew that my mother was in the final stage or hours of life. I sat for days and nights with her and told her things that I had never felt that I could tell her - things from being a child through my adult life with her and how much I loved her and respected her and how much she taught me and how much I will miss her.

I am so sad and horrified that my sister has turned into such a hate filled, vengeful, angry person whom I no longer know or trust. I have tried to mend our relationship but all that she is interested in is the money and blaming others for the consequences of her inactions. I feel like asking her "Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?" There is a bible saying "As you sow, so shall you reap" which is very true. She will have to reap much in the course of her lifetime. I often wonder if when her anger besets her, does she stop and consider what her rash and angry words will bring to her?

The best advice that I can give to you is to be totally honest with a good, honest attorney who will represent you with wise guidance as to how to proceed in settling the estate. I'm sure that you can reonstruct an audit trail of the expenditures and the hours of care that you provided to your mother. Use the format that the accountant put together adding the missing facts and figures and clarification that is missing. I hope that you are able to do so prior to the close of probate of the estate, but if not, do it anyway. Do the things that you know your mother expected you to carry out in her memory. Part of that is protecting yourself from the libelous slander of your sister's false accusations. I don't understand how a daughter can fail to assist in caring for her mother during the end of life hours, days and months or years and then turn so vicious with you or with I. Our sisters must be very self centered,selfish, and narcisstic or truely sick individuals.

I have decided that my sister is mentally off balance or sick. I cannot and will not tolerate her viciousness nor her toxicity again. Run---run from her anytime that she approaches you. Obtain the representation of a good, honest attorney and stand up for yourself. Your mother would expect you to be honest about the estate and the expenditures and the time that you gave on her behalf. She would also expect you to stand up to the false accusations of your sister. My mother advised me a year or more before her death that my sister had always been a mean, jealous person and that I should ignore her accusations and let the attorney represent the estate. She knew who my sister really was before I did. I have decided that no matter how my sister chooses to proceed---that I am done with her, so done. I am done with her vicious anger and her false accusations ---all in the name of her greed. I believe that your sister is also striking out against you, not only to hurt you, but out of greed. Understand that the guilt that she will have to carry due to her failure to be a good daughter and her failure to care enough for your mother and you to come to your mother's death bed to say goodbye will destroy her mind and her life. She will never be the same again. She must blame you or others for her own bad decisions and the consequences of her poor decisions; because she cannot acknowledge that her uncaring attitude towards you and your mother is what is wrong. She could not live with herself if she looked and truely saw the spirit of hate, the contention, strife,and fault finding that makes her who she is. She must be terribly ashamed of herself. She is attempting to make it seem that you are the "bad" daughter rather than the loving, good daughter who gave up much of your life to take care of your mother. Perhaps you should look at her other significant relationships. Does she maintain a good relationship with her children or does she fight with them and falsely accuse them with lies and accusations? Does she take drugs (such as Ecstacy, etc) or drink excessively? There are core problems here that will resonate once you take a good look at who she really is.

You will be fine. You need to stop caring what she thinks of you and remove her from your life, unless, she is willing to assume her responsibilities to have been there helping you and your mother through the death process or just willing to apologize for her negligence and unacceptable behavior.

The death of one's mother is an extremely difficult time; it may bring back vivid memories of the death of your father magnifying the loss of your core family, including the loss of your sister. The time spent with my mother proved to be a very loving time between me and my mother. My sister and your sister will never have that level of true loving in their lives. If she was wise, she would not judge; she wuld not condemn; she would not find fault. How very sad that she chooses to do so rather than facing her spritual truth. Remember that every harsh word, every unkind thing, no matter what others have done, every thing that an individual says about another individual must be met by self. For only self can defame self. She has defamed herself rather than you. You will be ok.

Run to a good attorney; gather your documentation; write your story and know that she will not be able to live with herself for what she failed to do for your mother and for what she is attempting to do to you. You need to resume your life and live the rest of your life with the pride of knowing that you did the very best that you could for your mother; and that now you have been given the freedom to be you. You should thank God that you were the "good daughter" as you will never be haunted with her offenses. Offences will come to all of us but woe to her that bringeth the same to pass. I could not live with myself if I had committed the brutal acts that our sisters have brought. I do not have to walk in my sister's shoes. She alone will remain an angry, vengeful old woman who will eventually realize the depth of the evil that she has participated in. Her time of reckoning will come. Every energy that our sisters spend trying to hurt me or you will come back and slap them in the face. Fate awaits them. You and I have done all that we can and now it is time to move on with our lives.

We will learn to speak kindley to our sisters who falter and know not their own reputations, nor the littleness of their understanding. I will pray for my sister, but I will not be like her nor will I accept further mean spirited actions. In wisdom, I will learn to continue loving hereven though she has despitefully used me and my mother. I encourage you to do the same and to live your life with grace.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I read your request and the advice offered by another person. The only additional advice that I can offer is to check with the bank to determine if the accounts (at the time of your mother's passing) were joint accounts or if you were the signer on all accounts. If so, these accounts may not be subject to the probate process and will pass directly to you - including those in your sister's name if she was not a signer on the account. Get a good attorney to follow up on this issue as I believe that you will find that the money left is yours to do with as you please. My prayers will be with you. Be proud of the fact that you were, indeed, the good daughter to your mother. Understand that your sister will have to live with her failure to help. She is not grateful for all that you did, instead, I agree that she is only concerned about the money and is full of greed.