The venerable are all-too-often the most vulnerable. They can be easily confused, easily persuaded and easy to simply take from. At the same time, there are things the elderly should be doing legally, but they often have no one trustworthy to inform them.
Serving as the caregiver for an elderly loved one is no guarantee that you have all the important legal angles covered. Here are a few real life examples of legal problems the elderly and their family members commonly run into.
The Pros and Cons
Professionals and Confidence Men in this case. In a scenario that seems more like a bad episode of Law and Order, a gentleman in Massachusetts had a 90-year-old grandfather whom he was caring for when he discovered a Power of Attorney document on the table.
He learned that a stranger had been approaching his grandfather, had already received $100,000 on a handshake deal, and was preparing to silently take control of the entire estate. Needless to say, that would not have ended well for the family, and the document was immediately brought before a family law attorney to be challenged.
In Miami, Florida, an aging mother was dealing with two sons, one responsible and one…less so. The responsible brother was going over his mother’s affairs when he noticed that his sibling had convinced Mom that they should both be signers on her Visa card. It was not long after that the $4,500, $5,500, and even $8,099 charges started cropping up, draining money that had been set aside for possible health care emergencies.
The charges were used for parties that the irresponsible brother was throwing for his new fiancé, among other frivolous expenditures. The responsible brother promptly had the credit card canceled and took steps to reverse the charges and hold his wayward brother accountable.
A well-intentioned mother in Albuquerque, New Mexico had her daughter properly assigned Power of Attorney and all seemed well. After a while, the mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and her daughter got married and abruptly moved out of state.
This left her son living with her as full-time caretaker, but without Power of Attorney to take care of any legal issues, without a mother legally able to assign POA to him, and with his sister simply unavailable. Without any way to handle the legal issues that cropped up, the son was forced to wait until his sister figured out that something needed to be done.
The Love of Money
This is a tale told frighteningly often. A Seattle man, one of five siblings, gave up his job and uprooted his family to move to Phoenix to care for his ailing father. None of the other kids made any sort of move to do the same, and after six years of caregiving, the man had (with his father’s permission) spent $51,000 of his father’s money for the caregiving.
His other four siblings got together and sued him for the money, saying he was deliberately using their inheritance. Of course, the caregiving sibling had kept every receipt as well as the signed paper giving him permission to use the money for his father’s day-to-day living. The other siblings lost their suit and went back home never to talk to their brother again.
The Important Steps to Protect Yourself
If you are the caretaker of an elderly loved one and are unsure if all the legal issues are covered, do not wait another hour. Sit down right now and have a difficult conversation with your elder; the conversation where you ask them to prepare for the worst. Ask them to choose which of their loved ones they would most want in charge of their estate if they should become physically or mentally incapacitated, and urge them to put together a Durable Power of Attorney for just such a situation.
If it is relevant, make sure that all trusts they are overseeing have documents in place that make clear who the beneficiaries are. Ensure the Last Will and Testament is in order, and in addition, ask your senior loved one to write a letter explaining all decisions made so the other children fully understand.
Finally, keep every receipt and every record of everything that happens to their estate during the time you are caregiving for them. You never know where trouble will come from, or even if it will come at all. But the only way to be ready if it does crop up is by being totally prepared.