‘She was granted power of attorney, but she is abusing that power’: My sister is taking complete control over my 94-year-old mother —and even changed her will

I’m 60 and a single mother. My daughter, 17, has a developmental disability. How do I make sure she’s taken care of after I’m gone?

My 71-year-old sister has power of attorney over my 94-year-old mother. My sister is retired and, at times, has refused to have anything to do with the family, meaning my mother and father. After my father passed away in 2011, my oldest sister has been trying to take complete control over my mother. She was granted power of attorney, but she is abusing that power. 

My mother has always lived near me. In 2015, she moved to the same town in South Carolina. She was happy here. COVID-19 came around, and the non-assisted living center she lived in wouldn’t let them out or allow anyone in for their safety. My sister came up from Florida in April 2020, took my mom to Florida for a visit, and never brought her back home. 

‘I visited my mom earlier this month, and she complained about having chest pain. I took her to a doctor and had X-rays taken of her chest, where two fractured ribs were found.’

She rented my mother a place and put her in it along with all the furniture, but there isn’t enough room for everything. My sister changed my mother’s will, and put herself as a beneficiary on my life-insurance policy that I have my mother on as a co-owner. She must have forged my name, because I did not sign any documents allowing her to do this. 

My sister changed my mother’s will to give herself all my mother’s jewelry, her car and boat. She also changed the percentages in her will to read that she gets 40% of the estate, my brother gets 40% and I get 20%.

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I visited my mom earlier this month, and she complained about having chest pain. I took her to a doctor and had X-rays taken of her chest, where two fractured ribs were found. 

I set up two doctors’ appointments and physical therapy, but my sister got wind of it and cussed me out in a text saying I had no business doing that because she had power of attorney, and Mom didn’t want to pay the copay for the doctors’ visits. She canceled the appointments. My girlfriend called social services and reported this as elder abuse. 

What can I do?

Desperate to Help My Mother

Dear Desperate,

These stories are, alas, all too common. Your sister is betting on you standing by, and using your distance as an advantage. Your best course of action is to hire a lawyer and file a petition with the probate court to replace your sister as power of attorney.

In some cases, an independent power of attorney can help make long-term financial and healthcare decisions if and/or when she becomes incapacitated. In this case, you should move to replace your sister as valid, out-of-state power of attorneys are allowed in Florida.

The changes to your joint life-insurance policy would likely have required both signatures, so that should be part of your body of evidence. The time for passivity is over. You should contact the life-insurance company ASAP. In addition, changes to a will are not valid if they can be proven to have been made due to fraud or undue influence. Call your lawyer.

“Like most states, Florida law allows a person to bring a petition for the appointment of a guardian,” says Neil V. Carbone, partner at Farrell Fritz, P.C.  “A guardian of the person would handle a ward’s personal affairs as delegated by the court. This would generally include the right to consent to medical treatment and to make decisions concerning the ward’s social environment.”

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“A guardian of the property would handle a ward’s financial affairs, with certain transactions requiring prior court approval,” he adds. “So that the court can monitor the actions of the guardian, the guardian would have to file certain reports with the court.”

Your mother’s injuries are concerning and your sister’s resistance to allow her to see a doctor is even more bizarre and disturbing.

“In addition, Florida law provides for an ‘elder abuse injunction,’” Carbone says. “The injunction will protect a vulnerable person from exploitation on a temporary basis until a hearing can be held before the court. The injunction may prevent the respondent from having access to the vulnerable person or the vulnerable person’s assets.”

The National Center on Elder Abuse, a government agency affiliated with the U.S. Administration on Aging, and the nonprofit National Adult Protective Services Association will have resources and provide help with the steps you can take to report alleged abuse. Contact your mother’s primary physician in Florida too.

Elder abuse impacts an estimated five million Americans every year, according to the National Council on Aging, and multiple agencies say the number of cases is both increasing and underreported. 

“Unfortunately, elder abuse is not uncommon and the abusers are often relatives of the vulnerable, elderly person,” Carbone adds. “In fact, the fights that traditionally played out among children over a parent’s money after death, are playing out more and more frequently towards the end of the parent’s life, usually when the parent requires help with day-to-day tasks, medical appointments and financial matters.” 

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Keep a record of all communications with your sister, especially those related to your mother’s injury and your sister’s response. Your mother’s injuries are concerning and your sister’s resistance to allow her to see a doctor is even more bizarre and disturbing. It suggests that your mother may be in danger, and there is more than financial abuse taking place.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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More from Quentin Fottrell:

• ‘I’ve felt like an outsider my whole life’: My father died without a will, leaving behind my stepmother and her 4 children. Do I have any rights to his estate?
• ‘He was infatuated with her’: My brother had a drinking problem and took his own life. He left $6 million to his former girlfriend who used to buy him alcohol
• She had a will, but it was null and void’: My friend and her sister are fighting over their mother’s life-insurance policy and bank account. Who should win out?

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