Thursday, January 8, 2009
You Never Suspect Your Siblings of Financial Elder Abuse
January 4, 2009. By Heidi Turner , PT. 1
Oceanside, CA: Paula believes her parents were the victims of financial elder abuse at the hands of her 2 sisters. Although she suspected financial abuse a couple of years ago, it wasn't until her parents moved in with her that Paula learned how deep the financial abuse ran. As a result of her parents' situation, Paula now knows more about financial elder abuse law than she ever thought possible—all thanks to the actions of her sisters.
Paula's father turned 96 on December 31, 2008 and her mother turned 85. The situation actually began about 5 years ago, when Paula's younger sister became pregnant with her second child. The sister and her parents came to an agreement that they would lend her $64,000 as a down payment on a house but the father would be listed on the deed and share equity in the house. Furthermore, both parents would live with Paula's sister in Virginia.
That happened for while, but in 2005, Paula's father became ill and Paula, who lives in California, started flying out regularly to see her parents. At one point, Paula, her parents and her sister had a meeting with an attorney to discuss legal and financial matters. Paula says she had an uneasy feeling from that meeting and alerted the attorney to her concerns, however there was little he could do about it.
Paula says she was worried because it seemed that her sisters (there are 2 sisters, one older than Paula and the other younger) were too eager to get their hands on their parents' money. Paula's father asked Paula about having Power of Attorney, but Paula said at the time that she was uncomfortable doing so because she lived so far away and did not want to be doling out money when she didn't know what the money was for. So, Paula's father went to Paula's sisters for Power of Attorney.
Paula became more concerned about things when she noticed that her younger sister, with whom her parents were living, was not taking care of their parents. Their bathroom was never cleaned, they were not receiving important medical attention (including a cancerous growth on Paula's father's head) and the parents were frequently left home alone, sometimes to care for their young grandchildren.
"On one of my visits, my older sister [who lived in Connecticut but made sure she was in Virginia whenever Paula was] was heading out," Paula says. "I asked her to pick up a newspaper for my father and she said he could read an old one. I told her that he shouldn't have to read an old paper and I would pay the quarter for today's paper but she wouldn't get him one. I thought she was cheap, but later, when I told a social worker about it, the social worker told me it was because my sister didn't want him to know what day it was. She even made it so that it was never convenient for him to watch television—any time he wanted to, she came up with something else for him to do."
Oceanside, CA: Paula explains further about financial elder abuse as a continuation from part 1. She says the last straw was when she phoned her parents and learned that her younger sister had not been around for a week. Paula learned that she had gone on vacation and left her parents home alone, without telling them where she had gone or when she would be back. Paula's mother said they were ready to move in with Paula, so Paula set about bringing them to California to live with her.
"My father kept asking for a financial accounting of his money but my older sister refused to give it to him," Paula says. "He asked me about the $64,000 he had in the house, but my sister wouldn't produce the records for the house. When she did, my father's name wasn't on it. She said he signed the house over to her but couldn't produce the papers to prove it. I contacted the lawyer, but found out that my sister had fired the attorney without ever telling my father.
"My father expected to be paid back that $64,000 and I found out that he loaned my older sister $30,000 that he expected to be paid back. I put in change of address forms for my fathers accounts and finally was able to receive some information [Paula's sister wouldn't let her take any paperwork from the home]."
Through a series of phone calls and dealings with banks, Paula learned that her sister had written checks to herself from her father's account and even moved his stocks from one company to another so that she could write more checks to herself. Paula also learned that her sister canceled their father's trust and will and had a letter sent to their father's financial institution having him declared financially incompetent—leading the financial institution to freeze his accounts. By the time Paula got the account unfrozen, thanks to a lot of letters and the intervention of a lawyer, the account had lost $40,000 in value.
Paula's parents decided to set up a new trust, in which all 4 children received equal amounts after both parents had died. Paula's sister phoned the lawyer, threatening to have her disbarred, harassed Paula and showed up unannounced at Paula's house.
It wasn't until Paula spoke with a social worker that she learned that what was going on was considered financial elder abuse. She learned that, in total, close to $300,000 had been taken from her parents, including charges for food in Connecticut when her parents were never in that state, charges for presents for her parents and other needless charges. Paula says there may even be other accounts her sisters are stealing from but she does not have the account numbers so she can't find out for sure.
Paula knows for sure that her older sister sold their parents' car, worth $9,700, even though her name was not on the car and it was illegal for her to do so, and her sister liquidated $21,500 from one of their father's stocks but did not report it on his income tax. Now, the IRS wants $3,000 for that transaction, and although they have agreed to put the account on hold for now, Paula knows they will want the money eventually. She also knows that thousands of dollars from her mother's Wachovia account were written to cash, but that money was not used to help her parents at all.
"Just this week, a social worker came out because my sister keeps calling them and sending them out," Paula says. "The social worker said, 'This isn't going to end. She won't let go. She is threatening to sue you and take your house. You need to get an attorney.'
"You never expect your siblings to do this. I'm kind of in shock, a little bit angry, that she can't let it go. The whole thing is, she was neglecting my father. She left him alone for 2 weeks, I know what she wanted to happen."