How can we protect my father-in-law from financial scams?

2 answers | Last updated: Dec 07, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father-in-law routinely falls for online and phone scams. He always thinks that the person on the other end is telling the truth. We finally convinced him to stop giving out his bank account number but he gives out his debit card and credit card information to any one who calls or pops up on his computer. He has fallen for sweepstakes, lotto, vacation, mortgage, magazine, travel club and any other scam you can think of. we need to do something before he ends up in jail because he's bounced checks or he gets in over his head. We already have access to monitor his bank accounts. when unusual charges appear, they are questioned. He always says he has no clue how the questioned charge got there or gets upset that we're spying on him.

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.

What you may need to do to ensure your father-in-law’s well-being is to get a conservatorship, sometimes called an adult guardianship.

This arrangement gives a person the legal right to make necessary decisions on behalf of another adult who cannot live independently. It would allow the person to oversee or personally be responsible for your father-in-law’s care, custody, and control.

But laws in every locale provide specific criteria for evaluating whether a person qualifies for a guardianship--and this legal arrangement requires some paperwork and a court hearing. The person seeking to be appointed conservator will have to explain why he or she is the best person for the job. And surviving family members will be notified about the procedure and may contest it. It will be up to the court to decide whether it is the best route to pursue.

Whether you or yours will need to hire an attorney for help with this process depends on the set-up of your local probate court; they vary wildly. Courts in some places have established some very good self-help centers that provide necessary forms and instructions for how to complete and file them. Find out by doing a search of your city or county and the words "conservatorship" or "guardianship."

If your court does not provide good help, or the idea of going it alone just seems too overwhelming, you should be able to get referrals for experienced legal help through the local or state bar association.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I am a social work student, and I posed this question to one of my professors. His answer: There is a great difference between conservatorship and guardianship, and the regulations for obtaining either vary greatly by state and local jurisdiction. In either case, lack of competency to make informed decisions (legally defined) is necessary, and a court hearing is required (almost always uncomfortable for all parties and expensive). Better first approach is to try to get a durable power of attorney, then have 1-2 physicians confirm lack of competence to allow for activation the DPOA. Step-family relationship should be no problem unless full family conflict exists. Good luck.