I've written before about my elderly mom's dementia. This is less about her memory problems (and mine dealing with them) and more about a sticky financial situation she's in, thanks to my stepsister. You are not my lawyer, but legal advice would be welcome. Prepare for flurries, inside.
posted by caryatid to Grab Bag (6 answers total)
My mom has been married to Barry for over 40 years, since they were both 54. For most of their married life, Mom has been in charge of paying their bills from a joint account into which Barry deposited his Social Security checks. This is not his only money or income (he is quite wealthy), it's just the part of it Mom always had control of for their household expenses. She could spend it any way she liked, and she managed it very well.
They have been in assisted living now for about a year and a half. Barry's daughter, my stepsister (we'll call her Jane), has his power of attorney. I have my mother's power of attorney. My stepsister pays their rent at the facility, his medical bills, and who knows what all, from Barry's "other" money, according to an arrangement made before they moved. She also sold Harry's house and has all of the proceeds. There was no change made to the joint account when they moved - it was still supposed to be for Mom's use, to pay for incidentals. I arranged, with Mom's and the bank's help, to get online access to that account so that I could take over paying the bills that Mom used to pay, because she is forgetful. Meanwhile, Barry's dementia has gotten much worse. He is basically out of the picture as far as any of this is concerned.
Last July, my stepsister asked me if it would be OK with Mom to move Barry's Social Security deposit to an account that Jane controls. After asking Mom, I told her absolutely, emphatically, it would NOT be okay. She did it anyway. Mom is very upset about this and says that Barry would never have agreed to such a thing - he has always maintained that his SS money was meant to be for her use.
Since I have not been able to convince my stepsister to undo this, I have recently started sending her the bills that I was paying from that account. It seems to me that if she gets the income, she should pay the bills. Jane said if Mom needs money, she can ask Jane for an allowance. My mom finds the idea of asking Jane for an allowance humiliating, so I asked Jane to either send me a monthly check for $500 that I will deposit for Mom, or deposit it to the joint account every month. I also asked her to reimburse my mother for the roughly $6,500 paid from that account since Jane stopped the SS deposit. This arrangement would still leave Jane getting the lion's share of the SS check, but it would be better than nothing.
My stepsister has refused. It is not a question of need on her part, since the house money alone is enough to cover all living expenses for the two of them for years to come - surely for longer than they will live (they're 95).
The situation is fraught, needless to say. Since my stepsister controls the money, she makes all decisions about our parents' living situation unilaterally. Lately she moved them out of their large three-room apartment and into separate studio apartments in the facility, very much against their wishes. I now understand why it needed to happen, after talking to the facility director, but neither I nor my mother was consulted about this move until after it was decided, when my stepsister demanded that I drop everything to come back there and move my mother out of her home, away from her husband, into a single room, and sell her furniture. I could not comply because this is my employer's busiest quarter and I cannot take any time off until January. My stepsister has never worked outside the home, so I guess that never occurred to her. So because I could not come, and Mom couldn't understand, and Jane did not bother to explain to her, Mom spent several days being extremely upset and disoriented, and she could not call me because Jane neglected to set up a long-distance carrier for Mom's new phone. Mom is furious and not speaking to Jane. I am furious on Mom's behalf. Something needs to be done, but what?
My question is whether I have any legal recourse. Can I force my stepsister to take on the bills that were paid from this account (mostly medical stuff) and to reimburse Mom for the bills paid after the deposits were stopped? Is there any way that I can get Barry's SS deposit put back in Mom and Barry's joint account? I am in Denver and they are all in or near Peoria. Is this something that I can take to small claims court in Illinois to settle?