Can I help my step-father steer clear of scams if he isn't willing to admit there's a problem?

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 24, 2016
L.owings asked...

I really need some advice here. Last week I took legal guardianship of my 86-year-old mother, who has dementia. My problem is not with her but with her husband, my step-father, who also has dementia but has not been officially diagnosed. He has fallen into the grips of con artists who have fleeced him of about $55,000 of my parents' money over the past seven months. He refuses to acknowledge this despite visits from the police and repeated talks about the problem. He also refuses to allow any of us five step-siblings any role in paying bills or taxes for him or monitoring credit cards. He keeps his financial records locked in a safe and is convinced we are out to steal his money (although he is giving it freely to criminals!) I have asked his daughters, my step-sisters, to take action but they live far away and haven't even managed to get him to sign a POA yet. I am afraid that if I just go into my parents' bank accounts and move all their money, clean out their safety deposit box, etc., my step-dad will do something violent or crazy. What should I do? I have talked to my parents about this until I am blue in the face, to no avail. My mother is too far gone to have any influence on my step-dad and he won't listen to me or his daughters. Can anyone tell me, should I just move their money and assets anyway? It feels like a hostile takeover of their lives and interference in their marriage, but I don't want them to end up broke. Both are 86 and in decent health, other than the dementia, so managing their finances is a long-term issue. Any help or guidance here would be greatly appreciated.

Expert Answers

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.

As your mother's guardian, you not only have the authority to act to preserve and protect her assets, you also have the duty to do so. If there is an intermingling of their assets, this would complicate the situation. If you believe that your stepfather has dementia, you should work with his children to have him evaluated. You may also want to talk with his children as to the advisability of having one of them act as a conservator or guardian for him to manage his finances.

Community Answers

L.owings answered...

I appreciate Mr. Weisman's answer. I have talked to my step-siblings and e-mail them weekly with updates, but they are like Congress: likely to take action only after something really bad happens. This slow erosion of our parents' finances is hard for them to realize, I think. They live far away (in one cased, in a different country) and are too busy with their own lives, businesses, and families to take on this kind of day-to-day management. There is also what you might call a lack of relationship with my mother, their step-mother, who can be a really nasty witch to them sometimes. Ideally they would work out a way to appoint me to manage, since I live near my parents, but until then I will follow your advice to protect my mother's share of the assets as best I can. I will continue to push for my step-sibs to get a POA, at the least, and hope for the best. Thanks again for your response!