Help with crazy family problem.
January 29, 2010 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I am stuck in the middle of a mess with a family trust.

Sorry that this is so long.

I have an aunt who recently had a stroke. She is close to 90 years old, and retired from teaching at a large, private university in Chicago. She has been well fixed financially, but she never made solid plans for this possibility. She is divorced with no children. No one else in my family is helping out.

She had set up a trust with four trustees, of which I am one. At this point I have her financial power of attorney. I live about 300 miles from her in another state. I know this is one of my difficulties.

The other three trustees are an attorney, a woman roommate who has been a long term friend, and an accountant. The roommate is not financially in good shape, and has relied on my aunt for a lot of help.

After the stroke, my aunt went from a hospital into a nursing home. This week both her Medicare and her insurance coverage have run out. I know this is costing a fortune, so my goal is to move her out of that nursing home to save money.

My husband and I are willing to have her come and live with us, or she can go home. Her insurance will pay for home care.

But at the same time, the woman who is living in my aunt's home--who also has medical power of attorney, has said that if my aunt is moved home, even temproarily, this woman will move out. This seems outrageous to me, that this woman would make this statement. This woman also has access to my aunt's credit cards, and all her assets. I have told her to send me the bills for my aunt and I will pay them. I have set up a checking account to just do this. This week I found out that this woman has made a cash withdrawal for $900 using one of the credit cards. I don't know how to stop this, and I am freaking out.

I have hired an attorney to help me sort this out, but I am really struggling. My mother is also very sick and undergoing chemo and radiation, and I am really depressed. My husband's ex-wife is terminal and in hospice, so we are helping her children try to deal with that. And my husband is having a knee replacement next month.

This morning I received a badgering phone call at work from the attorney who is a trustee. He had suggested a week ago that we meet today, and I said that was a good idea, but then heard nothing from him. I called and left a message with him earlier this week, about how to do this, actually arrange it, He called and left a message on my home phone and virtually threw it back on me to arrange this meeting. He clearly expected me to make the arrangements.

When he calls me, he argues with me and accuses me of crap, and I can't understand what is going on. He is very, very elderly, and treats me with hostility. Right now I feel like going somewhere and crying, but I am at work and it would be hard.

This attorney has said that my aunt told him she doesn't want to come to live with us. She can't talk because of the stroke so I don't know how he would know that, or why he would even say that. I have told him about the problems with the roommate and the money, and he blows that off. He seems to think the only way to work this out is for me to go to the city where they are, and talk about it. I think we could do this with a conference call, since it is hard right now for me to get down there. It is 13 degrees out and travel is a little hazardous.

I meet again with my attorney on Monday, but I don't know if I am doing the right things here. Some days I don't feel like getting out of bed.

I do get up, and I go work out three mornings a week. That helps. My husband is really wonderful and supportive, and that is also wonderful.

I need to know if I am doing the right things, because it feels like I am royally screwing up.
posted by chocolatetiara to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You really need to talk to your attorney. This is way to complicated for us to answer. There is too little information to work from, without knowing the specific terms of the trust, there isn't much we can say that is useful.
posted by HuronBob at 9:03 AM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: I'm very glad to see that you've got your own attorney. Having worked in an estate firm before, particularly one with a semi-wifty partner and even wiftier executor attorneys on the other side, I have so much compassion for you.

As I read through this, it does sound like you're doing the right things -- getting a trusted adviser, taking care of yourself even though it's hard, finding support in your partner. If you have to cry, go ahead and do so (bathrooms are great!). This is a regrettably common situation, and if it begins to get in the way of your work, please talk to a trusted colleague if you can. Many organizations have employee assistance offices that can help with this kind of thing; dealing with the stress of caring for a family member is absolutely within their scope.

If you're not seeing a counselor, please consider doing so. Caregiving, even if you're not doing so physically, is such a draining task even (and perhaps especially) when done with the most love.

Be well; you can and will get through this. You have all my best wishes.
posted by Madamina at 9:03 AM on January 29, 2010

(And yes, have your attorney deal with this. That's what they're there for.)
posted by Madamina at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2010

Was this woman roommate romantically involved with your aunt?
posted by aabbbiee at 9:39 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have hired an attorney to help me sort this out,

You are a represented party. Let the jerk attorney know that. If he already does know that he is violating the code of professional responsiblity to contact you directly.

The reason people hire attorneys is as much about getting the psychological breathing space that allows you to get through this and make good decisions as it is about the legal aspects of it.

Let the other trustees know you are a represented party and that all correspondence is to go through your attorney.

There is no reason for you to need to be handling any of this yourself if you have an attorney.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:42 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's a loooooot of shadiness gonig on in this story.

1. get your own estate attorney to help you sort throught his.
2. if the other woman moves out, tough shit. Let her move out.
3. $900 gone? Yea, she's pilfering the trust for her own use
4. the trutee lawyer not letting you talk with your aunt? Yea, tell him that withholding someone against their will and taking advantage of someone who is incapacitated is illegal. Being a lawyer, he should know that.
5. get your lawyer and probably the cops involved. I wouldn't trust that lawyer telling you that she can't come to the phone. I smell abuse.

Good luck.

And note, if you work, FMLA is there to help you sort through this. Maybe not for an aunt but talk with your HR people and tell them how you are a trustee and this is going on. You may be able to take off, secure your job without pay and take some mental days for this.
posted by stormpooper at 9:45 AM on January 29, 2010

Talk to your attorney, and send the other woman a nastygram demanding an accounting of all assets relating to the trust that she has done ANYTHING with. Putting her on notice may not get the $900 back, but it may prevent future problems. And if not that, at least you're starting a paper trail.

I would suggest you a) take a Saturday or Sunday for you. Go spend the day at the spa, or in a nature reserve, or camp out overnight, or just go watch terrible cable movies at the Super-8 while eating pizza and refusing to come out until the next morning. You need a day to recharge and regain your equilibrium and your level of cope.

and then b) drive (or fly) out to see your aunt in person (ideally after talking to your attorney, but I think sooner is probably better). I know you've got a LOT going on with all the people around you, but you can probably take two or three days, and being able to tackle one problem at a time may help. Take stock of the situation (and see if the roommate is stealing stuff as well as money); secure any heirlooms or high-value items in her home; see if your aunt is lucid enough to help you make any decisions about her living situation.

It seems to me like there may be too many trustees, and while it's hard to tell what's going on with the roommate, I'm not sure her involvement is appropriate at all. Your attorney may be able to assist you in shutting up the other attorney who's being rude and inappropriate, and potentially in removing this lady as a trustee. (And if she's stolen from the trust, I think she absolutely NEEDS to be removed.) Most states have some kind of state trustee who steps in in situations where there's either no medical trustee or a problem with the medical trustee. These problems ARE solvable, and you've already taken the most important first step by getting an attorney of your own who can help you navigate the situation.

Many states also have specific state or county offices to deal with elder abuse or elder fraud -- and it sounds, again, like they may be very, very interested in the roommate's actions. She should NOT be taking advantage of your aunt that way.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:55 AM on January 29, 2010

I'm not a lawyer, but my family has been dealing with something similar.

Since you have power of attorney, I would recommend making sure her bank and credit card companies know you have this power. Some places may only require a fax of the power of attorney, while others might require you to actually go in to show you have the papers.

Once they have this information, I would ask that they change her credit card numbers and send the new cards to your address.

I would also recommend having your name placed on your aunt's bank accounts and having all statements sent to you.

I would call all the companies - such as the power company - and ask them to mail the bills to you, so you can pay them from your aunt's account.

You have power of attorney so you can protect your aunt from vultures like your aunt's "friend."

If she does need to stay in a nursing home, she might qualify for Medicaid. Unfortunately, she will basically have to give up all her assets before Medicaid will kick in. I believe they will even put a lien on properties she might own so they can collect the money after the properties are eventually sold.

I'm so sorry this is happening to you. It's great that you are trying to do the best thing for your aunt.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:06 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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