Sister has POA family is what is described financial fraud against our mother?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

Father died 8 years ago. Father handled all finances. Mom doesn't speak the english language, knows nothing about finances doesn't drive. Upon dads death sister was given POA. Sister lives a lavish lifestyle and only has 2 sources of income her disability and her husbands social security .Family suspects financial fraud and family asks sister to see all paperwork sister denies them. Mom then directs sister to show the paperwork and sister still denies. After family threatens to go to authorities sister finally gives "selected information" but the information she provides points to large amount of money unaccounted for approx. $400,000.00 There is also $83,000.00 worth of credit card charges in moms name. Mom never had credit cards nor a need for them.We have proof sister changed bank accounts 3 times. Mom owned 2 houses free a value of $680,000.00 free and clear sister sold one, moms primary home had 3 loans taken and then the home was sold . Mom is now in nursing home and is a "ward of the state", at least that is what sister tells us. All information was just discovered 2 months ago. We also found out another family member "borrowed" $ 115,000. This family member has been honest and helpful into piecing the financial picture together and has promised to pay the money back. But sister is trying to cast blame on the one that is being helpful. This was all done in 8 short years! We need help in what we can do next? There is no money left for mom and we feel if money had been handled with care as it was suppose to be, mom could be living in her own home today with full time caretakers. Please help, we are devistated .

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.

Several of the concerns you've raised bring to mind additional concerns.

First of all, for a power of attorney to be valid, it must be signed and authorized by the person it is meant to help. No one can simply "give" a power of attorney enabling a person to act as agent.

Generally, a person must be able to understand what the document is and does -- and must also be able to understand that he or she is making one. At a minimum, your mother should have had an interpreter to verify that she understood what the document was"”and that might not have happened in her case. If not, the document is not likely legally valid.

Beyond that, agents named in financial power of attorney are empowered only to use a person's money for that person's best interests. It sounds as is you suspect"”with good reason"”that your sister has been using your mother's money for her own pleasure and gain. That may well be considered elder abuse.

While it may be up to you to collect the best evidence, challenging a power of attorney in the local superior or probate court may realistically require the help of an attorney. You might try contacting the local bar association and asking whether there is help from experienced elder care attorneys. Since elder fraud has unfortunately become such a big problem, groups in many states now offer low-cost legal assistance in this matter.