Kathy was shocked when she read her mother’s bank statement. How could it be there was only $100 left? Where did the other $50,724 go? The family was planning to use the money to pay for care to assist Nancy, age eighty-six. She was having trouble walking and was so forgetful she could not be left alone.
Nancy’s second husband of thirty years, Rick, age eighty-four, was a retired mechanic. He was doing his loving best to provide daily care, but wasn’t comfortable helping Nancy bathing and he was a terrible cook. Rick relied on his stepdaughter, Kathy, to help with bathing Nancy, cleaning, finances, and shopping. It was getting too much for both of them. Kathy, a professional geologist and in her sixties, was still working. She lived twenty minutes away. Nancy’s other child, Bob, age sixty-two, visited his mother twice yearly, once on her birthday and once at Christmas even though he lived 2 blocks away. When asked to help, he always said he was too busy running his plumbing company.
The date of the big withdrawal happened to be two days after Nancy’s 86th birthday party. Thirty people – friends, neighbors, and family – had come to celebrate. Even Bob came and brought his mother a gift. At least five of the guests approached Kathy to say they were concerned her mother was not her usual self. She could not remember who anyone was, including her son Bob. Nancy told the same story over and over. “Did you know, I banked peanut butter cookies today for the neighbor girl, Margie? She is six, you know.” When most of the guests were gone, Bob asked Kathy why their mother didn’t recognize him. Kathy explained that in the last month Nancy had become more difficult to care for because of her increasing dementia. She told Bob she was looking into hiring care givers to come to the home to help. If that didn’t work out, she feared their mother may end up in a nursing home. Bob asked how much a nursing home cost. Nancy was not sure but estimated it would be a least five thousand dollars a month.
The birthday party had been early in the month. Looking at the bank statement, Kathy could see the $50,724 was withdrawn two days after the party.
Kathy asked a neighbor to sit with her mother while she and Rick went to the bank to find out who withdrew the money. The clerk told them it had been Bob. The clerk explained that the account was in the names of Nancy, Rick, and Bob. Nancy’s Social Security number was the tax identification number for the account. Bob’s name was also on the account even though his name did not appear on the statements. Rick remembered that, years ago, when he and Nancy had set up the account, Nancy suggested adding Bob, just in case they were out of town and needed someone to pay bills.
While still at the bank, Kathy called Bob. She told him they were at the bank and asked him why he had taken the money. He replied that his mother always told him that this bank account was to be his inheritance when she died. Then he said, “To be honest, I thought if you used that money for her care, I would inherit nothing and that does not seem fair. So I took the money.” Kathy was flabbergasted, but tried to speak with a normal voice. She asked Bob to return the money immediately. They needed it to pay for Nancy’s care. He said no.
Kathy relayed the call to her stepfather, Rick. He looked both defeated and worried. On the drive home, they decided to file a complaint with the police to see if they could get the money back. Rick called the police and was told nothing could be done since Bob’s name was on the account.
The news devastated Rick. That bank account was the only money available to pay for his wife’s care. He knew he could not continue caring for Nancy on his own even with some help from Kathy. He had two choices, neither of which he wanted to make: Ask Kathy to quit her job and help him as full-time caregiver; or sell their home of thirty years, with the flower and vegetable gardens they enjoyed. They would move into a retirement home that provided caregiving support and pay for it with the money from the house sale.
The next day when Kathy stopped after work to help out, Rick told her he had listed the house for sale. They sat at the kitchen table and cried. The future they wanted for both Rick and Nancy to live out their days in the home they loved had disappeared.
- Consider having a court appoint a conservator to remove exposure to financial exploitation.
- Arrange for a duplicate copy of all financial statements (from banks, brokerages, credit unions, etc.) to be mailed to the senior’s financial agent named in the Financial Power of Attorney.
- For all titled assets, check who is the titled owner.Titled assets include: bank accounts and lock boxes, Certificates of Deposit, Money Market accounts, investments, annuities, vehicles, deeds.
- Certified Elder Law National Attorney Directory: National Elder Law Foundation (nelf.org)
Susan M. Graham just published a book entitled “Can Lawyers Always Save the Day for Seniors? – True Retirement Stories”. She wrote this to share stories of common problems for elders that can be avoided or minimized if they just took time to plan and seek help.
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