Family relationships can be difficult, sometimes leading to a parent and child no longer speaking to one other. When someone is in this situation, it is worthwhile for that person to evaluate his or her long term expectations for what will happen as his or her parent gets older and eventually dies. What is the best case scenario? Are any apologies in order before it’s too late?

The Worst Case Scenario: a Parent Dies Having Been Grossly Taken Advantage Of

When Jane’s father, Tim, passed away, Jane had not spoken to or visited her father in a few years. After Jane found out that her father had died, she went to the funeral and took a few days to process his death. Then she went to his house to deal with his estate. She was surprised when her old key did not work and she found the house in extreme disrepair. Jane had always thought her father, a bit of a miser and a loner, had a significant amount of money.  Part of what caused the rift between them was his assertion that he didn’t need her help in taking care of himself.

The neighbors saw her “poking around” and came over and said they had been close to Tim and, not knowing who else might take care of things, had already submitted Tim’s will to probate. When Jane read her father’s will, she was dismayed to see that he had not left her anything – not money, not the house, not the china set she had loved as a child, not even the silver spoon and cup engraved with her own birthday.

All of Tim’s property was left to his neighbors. Jane found out they had moved in soon after she stopped visiting her father. A couple of years before his death, he had slipped and fallen while shoveling his sidewalk. The neighbors were out shoveling, too, and ran over to help.

The neighbors took him to his house and finished shoveling for him. Jane believes they likely started helping him while he was injured – doing errands, taking out money from his checking account for groceries, etc. At some point, they convinced him they would be able to help him better if they had a Power of Attorney, giving them the power to conduct his financial affairs as if they were him. They bought new cars with the money, gave expensive gifts to their children, transferred title of Tim’s house to their name, and transferred money to their own accounts. They also convinced him to sign a new will.

Jane believed her father had been tricked, taken advantage of, or influenced unfairly, but she also realized that proving this would be a huge challenge. Moreover, undoing any of the transactions executed under the Power of Attorney would be nearly impossible and mostly pointless (the cars were bought and driven, the jewelry was worn and could be claimed to be conveniently “lost”). It would be difficult to prove, now that Tim was gone, that he did not intend to give the neighbors practically everything he owned. The neighbors’ position would likely be that they were there taking care of him and he told them to buy those things as an expression of his gratitude.

What the neighbors did was morally wrong and possibly criminal, but Jane did not have the money to pay an attorney. Perversely, the neighbors could use her father’s money to defend against a will contest or any challenge to their actions under the Power of Attorney.

It Can Be Too Late

So, whatever your relationship with your parent (or other relative), especially if you have a difficult relationship, think about how the future could play out. You don’t want your parent treated like Tim in this story – taken advantage of and stolen from. Even if you have trouble getting along with a family member, this is not the right way for people to be treated when they’re nearing the end.

Check in or have someone else you trust do it to make sure that everything looks “right”. If there’s anything unusual, addressing it earlier will be better. Otherwise it can be too late. Encourage your family to do their planning and name trustworthy people to manage their affairs.

If you’d like to learn more about Powers of Attorney, Wills and other aspects of estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for your  Family Wealth & Estate Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.