If my sisters have power of attorney for our mother, can they insist we give up our keys to her house?

A fellow caregiver asked...

We have four sisters in our family.  Ou mother is still living at her home at the age of 93. The two younger sisters have POA and all documents are in their possession. The two eldest daughters, myself included, have never seen nor been given copies of ANY legal documents. We have all four shared the responsibility of caregiving for Mother for a month at a time. We, the two eldest, live l,000 miles away from Mother. This week, because of many circumstances, the least of which is our ages (75 & 73) we let the two younger sisters know we can no longer provide care in Mother's home and suggested finding a facility, possibly closer to our homes where we would see her daily and see that she receives good care. The only response we received from the two younger sisters was for us "to send them all our keys to Mother’s house". 1) Do you think this is right that they demand our keys? 2) Do we have any right to Mother's legal documents? Thank you for any help you can provide. This is all very upsetting to both myself and older sister. P.S. The two younger sisters are 10 years younger than we are so age alone makes a big difference.

Expert Answer

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.

There are no easy or legal answers to the problems you describe. They seem to be more about hurt feelings and anger than about specific rights and wrongs. And so it is likely that you all will need at least a brief cooling off period before you all can agree on, or even discuss, the best course of action to take for your mother’s care.

To answer your specific questions: While it may not feel “right” for your siblings to demand the keys back, it simply sounds like their first response to your news that you could no longer be caregivers—along the lines of: “If-you-can’t-do-what-you used-to-do-then-don’t-do-anything-at-all.” You certainly needn’t comply with the request by mailing back the keys you’ve likely had for decades, and distancing yourself from your mother in the bargain. It’s likely that with a bit of perspective, your younger sister will realize that she didn’t truly mean what she urged, anyway.

Second, while it would feel like the more inclusive thing if you and your older sister were given copies of your mother’s power of attorney documents, there is no legal obligation requiring it.

Your best hope for resolving this situation may sound like the most difficult: an honest and open meeting with all four sisters. If it seems as if that is likely to get too heated, you may want to call in an impartial family friend or a family mediator to help lead the discussion. It may help a little to realize that you all want the same thing—the best care for your mother—but you need to work within the constraints of reality. Be prepared to discuss the specific care your mother needs now, its cost, and what each daughter can do to help provide it.

Coming to a compromise would be the best gift you could possibly provide to your mother, who is likely also very upset about the recent disagreements.