Can my step-siblings use father's money to spend on themselves?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 23, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father had two families due to divorce. My sister and I are from the first family and my adopted step brother and half sister are from his second marriage. My Father became delusional after his car keys were taken away from him and then left by himself, alone in the country. He has since been put into a facility that charges $7,000.00/per month and he requires no care other than meds and a bed. He baths himself, cuts his toenails outside and has no accidents. If you saw him out in the general population you would not know anything is wrong with him other than he needs his hearing aides.

My sister and I come from our Father's first marriage. He remarried and adopted my step-brother and had my half sister. Apparently Dad made the youngest child his POA and MPOA and my step-brother second. They run his company he built around 45+ years ago.

Before, we all got along but we were raised very different. My step-mother couldn't stand me or my sister so there was always the tension when we would visit our Dad. My step-mother passed away and my father has been alone for about 5 years before he became ill.

My half-sister would tell me they were going to get all of Dad's records and empty his safe-deposit box (without my Dad knowing) and they did (this is when we were still talking). She is the POA and MPOA and has not disclosed any information to us, me and my sister. Of course the families are torn apart and we have been cut off of any information regarding our father, his expenses and how they justify spending $7k per month for someone who needs no care. I don't know what they are thinking.

Can they use my father's money to spend on themselves, their children and even in the company that he is, supposedly, no longer affiliated with? There is a caveat to that question regarding the company because he told me, its construction, that the bids bond people wanted his name for those jobs and I don't know if he might still be signing a document like that. If the company is falling on hard times can they use his personal money to prop the company up and their lifestyles?

Would it be worth hiring legal representation for those of us that have been excluded from a man we love so much, our very loved and respected father?

Thank you, does it matter

Expert Answers

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

The situation you are facing is, unfortunately, all two common with "blended" families such as yours. Your father had two sets of children, one from each of his marriages, but he has given legal authority to the children from his second marriage, through the powers of attorney that you describe.

From a legal perspective, the key questions are: (1) are your step-siblings acting within their legal authority granted to them by the powers of attorney; and (2) are they violating their broader responsibilities with regard to the personal care or financial management of your father. The first question can be answered by reviewing the powers of attorney "“ and unfortunately, if they refuse to share those with you, you may need to file a lawsuit against them to challenge their actions and thus have the opportunity to review the powers of attorney. The second question involves the option of seeking a conservatorship over your father "“ where one of you (or a professional fiduciary) would be appointed to manage your father's affairs.

Generally speaking, your step-children have the legal "right" to do what they are doing "“ but that right is subject to a review by a court. Each state has its own procedures for this review, and its own standards for evaluating the conduct of an attorney-in-fact. We suggest that you have this situation reviewed by an attorney who has handled similar sorts of issues, and who can compare what they are doing to the local standards that a court will apply in reviewing the claim. That same attorney can also advise you as to the cost of pursuing legal action, and the likelihood of success.

But apart from the legal pathway, we think you should definitely explore less formal paths to resolution. We think you should start with the premise that your step-siblings care about your father, and explore why they have such a different approach to his care than you think is appropriate. If you approach the communication with this attitude, they will hopefully be able to explain their reasoning to you. Then, if some modicum of open communication can be developed, hopefully you can work cooperatively on the expenses and living situation for your dad. The financial and practical care problems are only going to get more complicated as he ages, and so it would be wonderful if you could make some progress in setting a new tone for the interaction now.

Community Answers

Kzar answered...

Yah, a Very common problem. All of a sudden the olds become sick of dementia, Alzheimer's, and given a lot of pills to make him better, but the true motive is to eliminate them ASAP. Do something, at least it's better you will be proven wrong than sitting around leaving your father helpless!