What to do about a freeloading brother and an enabling mother?
August 27, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

What to do about a mentally unstable brother who's taking advantage of my elderly mother?

My brother, who is in his 50s, has pretty much never had a job in his life. He has been living with my parents his whole life except for one brief period in the 1980s when he had a roommate. My brother has a history of lying, stealing, and drug use that goes back to his childhood. My parents have been in denial about this/have defended him against any criticism his entire life. They have taken his side in any situation (stealing from me, etc) despite knowing that he is a proven liar and a thief.

My father passed away recently and my brother and mom moved into a very nice apartment in Southern California (LA County), which my sister and I found for them. My mother is blind and not in great health but pretty much refuses our help. She is financially okay because of social security/pension/insurance, etc, but my brother is draining her savings. She has been told many times that he is taking large quantities of cash out of the ATM but refuses to see that it is a problem; it's always "Well, we have to buy groceries" or something similar. But we're talking hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars each week.

The apartment, which was pristine when they moved in, is now filthy. I won't go into details, but the filth includes cat feces and garbage that's never taken out unless he knows we're coming over. If I try to clean when I go over, my mother gets irate and accuses me of bossiness. My brother takes hundreds of dollars in cash out of my mother's account each week. His pockets are always stuffed full of cash. His bedroom is kept closed and he smells of pot. He has a conviction for drunk driving and probation violation (which we found out by accident, my parents and brother hid this from us.) He has become very politically right-wing, and goes into rages if you say anything that might contradict his Fox News worldview. He has a Facebook account in which he tells his contacts that he is living in Paris and traveling the world, and is otherwise just pretty much rants about liberals and calls for Obama to be tried as a war criminal. I truly believe that he is mentally ill but my mother is in complete denial about his mental state. He went into a rage the other day because we were late to meet him and couldn't contact him as he had changed his cell number without telling us. His rages involve a lot of slamming around the apartment, muttering under his breath and sometimes firing off an email to whichever one of us he's mad at, even while we're standing there. I have blocked his emails after getting two of the most hateful missives I've ever gotten in my life, from anyone.

They also live about 45 minutes away; we wanted them to move closer, but my brother persuaded her to live in an area where they used to live. I believe it's because he has drug connections there and because it's close to a racetrack (he is also addicted to gambling on horses.)

The apartment is disgusting, my mother is in ill health, and she won't hear a word about any of it. Do I have any legal recourse?

I am crying just writing this. I have no idea what to do. Or if I should just realize that this is the way things are and there's nothing I can do. Any advice is gratefully appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry. I am no expert on the legal end but I would suggest calling their local social services to report a case of suspected elder abuse. I don't think there is much you can do to help your brother but social work may be able to help you get your mother out of this situation. If your mother is of sound mind and she does not want to appoint you as a power of attorney, that makes it more difficult - having power of attorney would allow you to work on protecting her finances from your brother.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:18 PM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

It sounds like at a minimum your mom is the victim of financial abuse, with the potential for neglect and emotional abuse charges as well. You can make a report of elder abuse, just like you would for a child in similar circumstances. It looks like the number for LA county is 1(877) 4-R-SENIORS. Here is a link to the LA District Attorney's website outlining some more information.

I know it's awful to report a family member, but it really sounds like it's the right thing to do in the circumstances. Hopefully they will link both your mom and your brother to the resources they need to get help. Good luck to you and to your family.
posted by goggie at 3:18 PM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

This sounds terrible and heartbreaking. If it were me, I'd contact the LA County DA LADA Elder Abuse Unit and ask for their advice. Is he officially on your Mom's bank accounts? Can you contact the bank about possible elder abuse connected with the accounts? Ideally, you and your sister could get power of attorney for her accounts and medical decisions and also set up weekly cleaning and home healthcare wellbeing visits to make sure she's ok.

On preview- what goggie said.
posted by quince at 3:22 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was just about to post the same link as goggie above. You're going to have to report him. He will not necessarily know who reported the abuse. Does your mother have any friends? Any siblings? Does anyone else visit her? Is there a day program for seniors in her area that picks participants up and takes them to a center? Have you spoken with her doctor?
posted by mareli at 3:23 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Read A Citizen's Guide To Preventing and Reporting Elder Abuse from the California AG's office while waiting for the LA District Attorney to call you back.
posted by SMPA at 3:25 PM on August 27, 2012

It's heartbreaking, but perhaps one of you need to be named as her guardian; or even get her moved into a retirement/nursing home where her health can be monitored, and she can be protected from your brother.
posted by easily confused at 3:30 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

If she's mentally competent, choosing to fund her son's disastrous lifestyle is a choice for her. Sadly, she's enabling a life that's bad for him, but she's not the 1st parent to do this, and won't be the last. Get some names of attorneys who work with trusts for adult (disabled) children, and who can advise you on his and her competence, especially regarding living in a home that is unsafe(feces). Unblock his email, because he may be engaging in criminal threatening, and you may need evidence of his (lack of) mental health. If he's not on disability, he probably should be. The laws regarding Soc. Sec. Disability and money require a specialist lawyer.

Mom, I'm worried about your finances. I want to help you make sure you have the safe retirement you and Dad worked so hard for. Brother isn't likely to have a steady job, and it's awfully easy to run through a lot of money. I want to recommend that you put some money in trust, in case you need it, or Brother does. Putting money in trust for Brother, and having a trust for his welfare would give him a real safety net. I know you want to make sure he's well taken care of. The attorney/accountant gave me these names of experts in structuring finances for someone who needs help.

Also, Mom, I'm worried about the condition of the apartment. May I hire a housekeeper to come in weekly?

As long as Mom thinks it's a fight about money, she's likely to resist. If you can get her lawyer/accountant/pastor or any trusted figure to help her see the need to get Brother some help, or at least protect his future, she may listen. Your brother, however vile he has become, sounds pretty ill, and your Mom probably wants him to be safe.
posted by theora55 at 3:48 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

If nicer approaches don't work, you could consider anonymously tipping off the police as to brother's illicit (drug related) activities. If he ends up in jail, it would probably make it easier to help your mom. But be very careful mom never learns it was you who tipped the police.

Also, depending on how deep he is in and how much you currently know, it might be in your interest to report him just to protect yourself from things like being charged with accessory. Heavy users tend to be dealers as well. And when you don't live there, how much you know tends to be a case of just scratching the surface. Given what you have described, the concerns you have expressed may be the tip of the iceberg. The cash he carries around could be drug money.

Other potential hardball tactics: Contact the landlord about the state of the apartment. It is probably in violation of the rental agreement. Request a competency hearing.

But first, contact some of the resources listed above in other answers. If it can be handled more nicely, that is the way to go.
posted by Michele in California at 5:24 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

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