Q: My father has been declining in the last few years and recently was the victim of a scam where he mailed thousands of dollars of gift cards to an unknown person. What can I do to protect him?
A: This is a complicated issue with which many people struggle. The answer depends largely on whether or not your father agrees that he needs help. Many seniors do not realize or refuse to accept that they need help, which can make the protecting them very difficult.
Make sure your father's documents are in order. If/when he becomes incompetent, he will not be able to sign legal documents. At a minimum he (and everyone else) should have a will, a financial power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney.
The first line of defense is information. Your father can arrange with his bank, brokerage firm, etc. to give you access to information about his accounts. He can also give you permission to access his accounts online. That way you can hopefully be aware of problems before they become too large.
If your father is at the point where he shouldn't be handling significant amount of money, he can transfer his assets to a trust that you (or whomever he chooses) controls by serving as Trustee. None of the trust assets could be transferred except by the Trustee. Your father could keep a checking account that he controls that the Trustee could fund as needed. That way he would have access to money but of a limited amount.
Even if your father transferred his assets to a trust, he could still become a victim of some scams. If someone showed up to his house and he signed an expensive contract for a new roof (even if he didn't need one), he (and the trust) could still be liable on the contract.
The only way to completely protect your father would be to have the court appoint you as his guardian. In order to file for guardianship, you would need an affidavit from his doctor stating that he is not capable of handling his own affairs. If your father contests the guardianship, the contest can be a very ling, expensive, legal process.
If you believe someone is preying on your father, you should contact authorities. Because of the pervasiveness of this problem, Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright recently announced the formation of the Sangamon County Senior Support Alliance, a multidisciplinary elder abuse prevention and enforcement initiative with local law enforcement, Senior Services of Central Illinois/Adult Protective Services, Area Agency on Aging for Lincolnland, and community volunteers to coordinate resources to prevent and prosecute crimes against the elderly. The Sangamon County Senior Support Alliance will also help seniors protect themselves from victimization through community outreach and education.
Q: My brother has power of attorney for my mother. I believe he is spending her money on himself. What can I do?
A: This is another very difficult situation, especially if your mother supports your brother and will not believe your allegations. If your mother is competent, she can consent to whatever your brother is doing, and there is little that can be done.
You should ask your brother to provide an accounting of your mother's funds. If he refuses or the accounting shows he is spending the money on himself, you can call Adult Protective Services. They can investigate and allow you to stay separate from the investigation. Alternatively, you can file a lawsuit to be appointed guardian of your mother. Most people do not want to fight with their family. Therefore, they do not take any action or delay taking action as long as possible. This is usually a mistake. If a senior is being exploited, the situation only gets worse over time, and the longer the delay, the less chance there is of recovering stolen property.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.