We feel dad's CPA took advantage of him by adding himself as a trustee. What can we do to protect him?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 05, 2011
A fellow caregiver asked...

What can we do to protect our father, who has Parkinson's disease? This year while he was preparing his tax return with his financial person, he was told that he should adjust his trust due to the death of his wife. Although my father-in-law doesn't have any children of his own, he has been my husband's step-father for 50 years and we had been taking care of him along with being his trustee and power of attorney. My husband also pays all of his bills, as my father-in-law doesn't remember to pay them. As we don't want him to feel that we have taken over his life, his financial person also changed his trust to name himself as a trustee...which my father-in-law thinks is at no charge.

While we don't want to upset him, we feel the CPA took advantage of my father-in-law. Who can we seek help from, to protect him from these issues?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com 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.

Your father-in-law is the only one who can change the terms of his trust, so you’d need to concentrate first on him. You might want to ask outright why he made the change and listen to the answer he gives. He may feel he is already overburdening you with all the bill-paying and caretaking you’re already doing on his behalf.

If the CPA is charging a fee, be sure that he puts the fee arrangement clearly in writing—and that your father-in-law knows and understands what’s involved. If he wants to pay the price, that’s his option; but seeing the matter in writing will at least help make it an informed decision.

If the CPA does not name a specific amount of money, he or she would probably be entitled to “reasonable compensation” for acting as trustee. That varies, depending on the specific work required. But you might want to press the CPA to make at least a solid estimate, based on similar situations he or she has handled.

Beyond the matter of money, the trustee of a trust has very specific legal duties, which include: getting valuable property appraised if necessary, paying debts and expenses related to the trust, and transferring the trust property—or in some cases, the proceeds of its sale—to beneficiaries named in the trust. This is mostly ministerial work in reality, which doesn’t involve much glamour, and in most cases shouldn’t involve much money. On closer look, you all may decide it is worth it to have someone from the outside act as trustee.

However, if the closer look only convinces you that the CPA acted wrongfully, confront him or her directly. It often gets people to change their evil ways if they know there is someone looking after an elderly person who may be vulnerable.

If you don’t get satisfactory results, consider discussing the matter with representatives from the local Adult Protective Services office. Most will do a confidential assessment of whether they believe elder abuse, which includes financial scamming, is occurring in this case.