Can I get my brother off Mom's bank account?

6 answers | Last updated: Dec 05, 2014
A fellow caregiver asked...

My dad passed away 3 weeks ago and my mom is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, although a mini mental was performed and she is able to care for herself. She lives in her own apartment and does her own cleaning etc...

The day after my dads death my brother told my mom that my Dad "wanted his wife to handle moms finances", took her to the bank and had her put his name on her checkbook, which was unnecessary because both she and I were already on her account. My mom wants control of her own finances and has asked for her checkbook back but he refuses. She has indicated that she wants me to "help her" with her finances but my brother refuses to relinquish her checkbook. What should I do?

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.

If your mom is mentally capable of making decisions and directing her own financial affairs"”and it sounds as if she is"”then she should act at once to regain control of them. That may mean making a trip to the bank and closing down her old account and opening a new one; she shouldn't be held hostage by the fact that your brother now physically holds the checkbook.

But I'm suspecting that even switching accounts won't end the potential problems that may be blooming on the family horizon. Your brother probably was well meaning when he took over your mom's checkbook. And without attempting to psychoanalyze in cyberspace, I might guess that he is the only son or the oldest sibling; it's a common pattern for them to become "helpers" even at the risk of having their help stick in the craws of other family members. It's likely that your mom felt especially muddled and vulnerable the day after your dad's death, so was unable to assert herself or make a cogent plan for her future.

But now, while your mom is able, is the time to hold a family meeting so that she can make her wishes clear. Part of the agenda should be finalizing other estate planning documents for her, such as an advance directive setting out her wishes for medical care and a durable power of attorney for finances clearly directing how her finances should be handled"”and by whom. Both documents can be slated to take effect if and when your mom no longer has the capacity to handle medical and financial matters on her own and is in need of special help. She may name anyone she wishes to act for her"”but may choose to parse out the duties among various family members.

While it's not always easy or fun to discuss these matters and get these documents in place, it can go a long way toward preventing misunderstandings and hurt feelings and to preserving family harmony.

Community Answers

Johnna answered...

My brother is the eldest son. My parents moved here from Fla. a little over a year ago because we didn't like the care they were receiving from my eldest sister. He made the arrangements for them to come up here so we could better care for them but in the course of the year I have been the one doing most of the caring. It is me who takes Mom to the grocery store each week, I took Dad and Mom to all their doctor visits, Dad to all his VA appointments...and in this time I have gained mom's trust as I am the one who she has always been able to count on. My brother only showed up when my Dad wanted to go spend some money, which as you might imagine is a real concern now that he has possession of her checkbook.

Dad did everything for my mom, never allowed Mom to do anything...she had no idea what she had coming in or going she is going to have to have her work cut out for her but she knows that I am the one who will take the time to go over and over it with her until she understands. She KNOWS she isn't capable of handling her finances alone, but she feels she should be the one who has the say in who is going to help her. Even more she KNOWS she DOESN'T want him helping her but he bullies her and it confuses and frustrates her. I am infuriated with all of this.

I have tried very hard to get my brother to understand that it doesn't even matter that we don't believe for one minute that my father had this wish for him to "take over Mom's finances", I have been trying to get him to understand it is irrelevant. My MOM is of sound mind and body and he has no right to take her checkbook. My brother also tries to bully her (and me for that matter)by stating that he has power of attorney. Last year, when my dad was ill, we had a power of attorney drawn up for HIM giving all 3 of us children the POA....since his name was first on the POA he thinks he has somehow gained control of Dad's "estate". I am trying to get him to understand that he NEVER had POA. My mother has always been of sound mind and therefore the POA never took effect but he is disillusioned to believing he is in control because his name was first on my Dad's POA....a very frustrating situation which I'm not sure we will be able to take to a harmonious ending. Both of my brothers for some reason think it was ok to take my Mom's checkbook...and I am wondering how I ever ended up with ALL the common sense in the family. I have tried talking to both of my no avail. I don't think that a family meeting would be very productive and I really don't want to upset my Mom anymore...I'm wondering if I should just try to get her legal council???

A fellow caregiver answered...

You might want to get a lawyer to help you out on this sticky situation before you do anything. You should of had one anyway for a power of attorney for the estate.

Jorie13 answered...

A agree that a family conference in this situation might not help. Having changes made with/thru an impartial person (representing your mother only) but with your help might work best. She definitely needs to put HER wishes in writing. The bank account should be changed at once. She might want to take a mini class in financial management offered by some banks/schools/elder centers or have you/a friend go over financial functions. I am mentally disabled but prefer to have a non-family member assist me so that emotions don't get into the budget situation. Will pray for you. I know you are all in the grief process also so this makes all these issues hurt more. God Bless, Jorie

An hour 4 me answered...

I agree with whats being said. Please for your mothers financial safety close that account or at least move her money immediately. Most banks now have to designate a "primary" account holder who make all the decisions and pays taxes (if any) on account earnings. IF your brother changed the account to have himself designated as primary then your mother will have to change where her deposits go. She should do this anyway. She simply starts a new account then informs Social Security/pensions etc to change her account information.Is she still getting a bank statement? When her money arrives she can take her statement and ID to the bank and have a cashiers check written for the amount in the account less any automatic withdrawls she authorized. This should be done THE DAY her money arrives preferably as early as possible. (her excuse for the cashiers check, her checks haven't arrived yet) Effectively draining the account before your brother can do any damage. Also automatic deposits and withdrawls can be stopped if needed. Mom can tell soc sec/ pensions etc that her account has "unauthorized" charges as the reason for her new account. It would be best NOT to mention poa and the like to them.(they'll demand an attorney's intervention) Most regular depositors will act quickly to help her protect her money. They'll actually assume she's being scammed. Once her money has been protected see an attorney with a speciality in family or elder law. often thier initial consultation is free.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Take your mom to the bank and talk it over with a financial person. They may do it right there.