How can I stop family from taking advantage of my mom?

5 answers | Last updated: Nov 07, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is 96. She is giving away her possessions to family members that tell her my grandmother (my mom's mom) wanted them to have them. These are my mother's possessions but she believes the family members and gives things away. She is in a Medicaid assisted living facility and has little money. I have Power of Attorney. Do family members need to consult with me or is there any other way to stop them from taking advantage of my mom?

Expert Answers

Maria Basso Lipani writes a popular website on geriatric care topics, where she puts her expertise as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to good use answering care planning questions. Maria is a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work and is licensed in California and New York.

I’m assuming here that your mother’s judgment is impaired due to a dementia or other cognitive impairment and that you have enacted your Power of Attorney as a result.  If so, be sure to check the Power of Attorney document itself to confirm that your mother gave you authority over matters related to personal property.  If she did, I think you’re going to have to do something bold here to stop what amounts to some very unsavory behavior on the part of your family members.  

As soon as you can, I’d suggest taking stock of exactly what your mother has and separating what’s valuable from what isn’t.  Then consider storing the valuable items in a place where family members wouldn’t have access.  It might seem extreme, but I don’t see another way.  If these family members would look to exploit your mother’s compromised mental state, they’re not likely to respect your authority nor anything you have to say about what they've done.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

My elderly mother has Alzheimer's disease and had to be removed from her home. She now lives with me and my husband in another county. My mother was a 'pack rat' and a hoarder but most of her possessions were nice and in great condition but being a child of the depression, she just couldn't let anything go. When I moved her out of her house and began the enormous task of going through her belongings, it was overwhelming because there was so much of it. I knew however what was important, what to keep and what not to keep. Because of sibling rivalry and coming from a dysfunctional family, I have been a target for ridicule from my siblings. No one bothered to help me with my mother's belongings which were in every nook and cranny in the house, in utility rooms and in a large metal shed in her backyard so I was alone with this. After it was all done, my siblings began a hate campaign against me because I "got rid of mom's possessions" and kept the "good stuff". The 'campaign' is so bad that one of my siblings posts outrageous and hate-filled blogs about me on the Internet. My advise is to first obtain a Durable Power of Attorney, not a regular POA. This gives you the right to do whatever you need to do with your loved one's possessions. As I stated, I kept precious items like letters, poems and songs my mother wrote, hand made quilts made by my grandmother and great grandmother, photos, embroidered things my mother made long ago, pieces of jewelry and anything that has sentimental value. I did not keep clutter. I even offered at one time to share some of my mother's items with my siblings but they wanted all of it. I have a problem now with what to do with my mother's estate. Her home is paid for but it sits empty and according to the Department of Children and Families, I cannot sell or rent the home because it is considered to be elder exploitation. I cannot afford to become my mother's legal guardian nor hire one because it is extremely expensive and everyone needs to know this. My siblings don't want to help in my mother's care but they all want to sue me for their 'share' of the sale of the house if it is ever sold. They are not in my mother's Will. Dealing with siblings is a very distressing and frustrating matter so make sure you do your research and get legal advise where you can find it.

Sadder answered...

I agree with Ms Lipani - I have avoided the worst of the problems mentioned by trying to run every little thing past my brother and sister. I invited them to come to my town to participate in garage sales - via email so that I have "proof" of everything. When I had to sell furniture to help with his nursing home expenses, I invited ALL family members to make a first offer. I guess what I am trying to say is that, although there were uncomfortable moments, I think by being very open and assertive (and getting in people's faces) about the estate, I was able to avoid any raids on Daddy's stuff!

Of greater concern - and possibly not appropriate for this discussion - are the charitable groups and persons who have been getting money out of my mom! One group has received over $5000 from her meager savings and she is on Social Security! She gave the money willingly so I cannot go after the group. Our solution - I have eased her finances over to myself and my sister so she doesn't have her checkbook anymore, thank God...

The practical expert answered...

I've been through this 3x. Twice, did it Sue's way. Ran everything by my sister. I did almost all the caregiving for mom and dad but I kept it fair. It was heartbreaking when she see family items as junk and was just interested in what money could be made from the sale of things or in the really good stuff. We split it all 50/50. I can live with myself - I wonder how she lives with herself.

Last time with my mother in-law, sibling issues were rampent. Things disappeared but I got the house emptied out and stored (costs and labor all on us) until her death as break-ins in empty houses of the elderly is high and it did happen once before we emptied the house.

I real questions regarding the inability to see a senior's home if in a facility and being paid by the State. There should be a way to sell it and not keep the expenses going and maintence needs. I'd check that one with an Elder Law Attorney.

If a senior's mental capacity is in question for life's decisons or just financially, Conservatorship or Guardianship is what you need. It is too late for several proactive steps that could have been done in both cases presented, though. For others, think in terms of creating a Will that includes a list of who gets what, even put post-its on the back of furniture/pictures/etc on who it goes too.

Because of what I went through, very similar to the above cases, I ended up creating an e-book for others to use to organize all assets and lists and even burial preferences, it is at I'm not interested in selling but rather for people to plan ahead if they have elderly parents or relatives so that so many heart rednering and stressful situations can be avoided. Also the hardfeelings that linger long after.

Iseeyourgreed answered...

I am the trustee and DPOA for my mom. I did a lot of what the others mentioned: cleared stuff out into storage, took away checkbook, limit the cash she has, etc. Still the swooping vultures can be very clever. Recently we had one visit her in her assisted living apartment, and left with an antique piece of walnut furniture. At the same time they stayed in a courtesy suite at her building for three nights then, SURPRISE at the end of the month an extra $325 was added to the bill. Just when I think I have stopped the madness, some one figures out a way to take advantage. I want to comment on the real estate. Your parents don't need to be rich to have a Trust. Wills are probated and you are at the mercy of the State. Trusts are private and the trustee can administer them privately. Before my mom had diminished capacity she set up a trust and moved the title of the real estate into it. Later, when she recognized her decline but when she was still competent, she resigned the trust to me. Now I can act unilaterally on her behalf. I inform and collaborate with my siblings but I am not required to. I do it to make sure everybody agrees and won't complain later. But I can't be there all the time. Now I guess I will have to chain her furniture down. Shame.