Is my sister-in-law taking financial advantage of her grandmother?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 01, 2016
Denisej asked...

My sister in law is the power of attorney for her grandmother who lives out of state and 3.5 hours away. Her grandmother lives in an adult assisant living community with 12 other women. She is well cared for, 95, with no health problems. My sister in law goes to visit because she wants to not because there is a medical need to travel there every month. My sister in law has purchased her self, a year/ monthly fruit delivery gift from harry and david and when the great Aunt passed away 2 years ago she flew out to California for the reading of the will and charge her Grandmothers account. She stated that she deserves soon compensation for her efforts. The lastest issue was even though Grandmother doesn't know it, if she wants to see me see can pay for the hotel bill. How should this be approached? Is this stealing ? I believe this is wrong but were is the legal line. What can be done about this ?

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.

The power of attorney document that empowers one person to act as an agent for another usually specifies that the agent must act"”that is, spend money and manage resources"”in that person's "best interests." This is a rather fuzzy standard, but it would seem to bar your sister-in-law from spending her grandmother's money on Harry & David baskets for herself or on unrelated travel.

Using the money to pay for occasional, or even regular visits may not be out of line, however. Even without a specific "medical need" for such visits, most assisted living residents do appreciate regular visits from outsiders"”and it is also important to see the actual site periodically to make sure the care there is still adequate and meeting changing needs.

Are there other family members who are concerned about your sister-in-law's actions? Is her grandmother unhappy with the arrangement? From your description, it sounds as if she may simply rub you the wrong way, so you'll want to sort out your own feelings from the realities of right and wrong. It may also be easier for immediate family member's to broach the subject or her possible wrongful behavior"”and it may be worthwhile for them to raise the issue with her in a concerned but noncombative way before taking any additional action. There should also be fairly strong evidence that your sister-in-law is spending your grandmother's money on these various purchases rather than her own.

If you, and possibly others, remain convinced that your sister-in-law may be defrauding her grandmother, however, there is one big step you can take. In many locales, agents must file periodic accountings of the money they manage and spend in carrying out their duties. And even where this is not an automatic requirement, most judges will be willing to require an occasional accounting where family members and potential beneficiaries have good reason to be concerned.

To find out the specifics in your case, contact the local probate or superior court that is charged with enforcing powers of attorney.