Personal Finance

Meg Green’s money dilemmas: My brother has taken over our mother

Dilemma: My mother is in her late 80s and, except for memory issues, she is in fairly good health. She has a condo that she owns, all paid for, and income from Social Security, my father’s pension, and a brokerage account that’s supposed to send her money every month.

After my mother had surgery for a broken hip, my brother, who is retired and never married, moved in with her to help. This was supposed to be for a month but has turned into almost a year. She’s well recovered physically, but he refuses to move out. He says she needs him. She complains he’s messy, he smokes and he’s not very nice to her; opens her mail and uses her charge cards. She no longer drives, so he has her car and is supposed to take her places. But he’s often too busy. I think he spends his days at the track and casino. When she says anything, he shuts her down, so she’s afraid to speak up.

There’s a lot of friction every time I call. He obviously wants us out of the picture. So my husband and I made a surprise visit. We live over 1,000 miles away and own a small restaurant. I hadn’t been there since her surgery. I admit, I probably let this go on for too long.

We found her frail, jumpy and frightened. And now we know why. My brother had power of attorney “to help” while she was recovering and now has taken over everything, including her bills. When we asked to look over her accounts and checkbook, she said he has it and she doesn’t know anything. He said it’s none of our business.

We called Mom’s financial person, who said he takes orders from my brother on behalf of our mother, since he has her power of attorney. He was led to believe it was OK. We were shocked and dismayed to see what’s been taken out of the account. It’s way more than her expenses. Mom told him she wants to take back control, but we don’t think she can handle it. The broker suggested we get a lawyer.

Meg’s solution: I totally agree. . . . You need a lawyer who specializes in elder abuse issues, because this is a classic case. Your poor mother is intimidated and a “prisoner” in her own home, and needs rescuing. I know you live far away and have little time off, but you can’t desert her either.

Here’s what I suggest. Have your husband work double duty to run the restaurant, for now, and you plan to stay with Mom, no matter how uncomfortable your brother makes you, until things get straightened out. If she doesn’t have her own attorney to help, then you find one for her, and have him or her meet with your mother to hear what her wishes are. Please note that with abuse also comes guilt. She may want to protect your brother, in fear or in misguided loyalty, in which case an eldercare therapist can help. But first, you need the courts to wrestle control away from your brother. The financial advisor needs to be put on notice that this is happening. Let her bank know as well.

From what you’re telling me, Mom shouldn’t be living alone, nor should she be subject to your brother’s ways. In the midst of your being superwoman/daughter, and while this process is beginning, look around for an ACLF that she would be comfortable in. Moving is difficult on a good day, but it’s the best option for your mother to have care and a lifestyle that can be comfortable and even nice.

I don’t know if it’s a possibility for her to move near you, or if she’s best off staying near her home, her doctors and any friends she has left. But it’s quite obvious she needs to be in a safe place. Having a caretaker move in wouldn’t work, because your brother would be back in the intimidation game. And how do you get him to move? Only by moving Mom, and then selling the house.

That’s a lot on one plate, my dear, but unless you have a big support group there to help, I’m afraid you’re it.

Got a dilemma? Email Meg Green, CFP, is a wealth manager with offices in Aventura. Her Money Dilemmas column runs monthly in the Miami Herald.