On the sudden advice of his attorney, our widowed 92-year-old father recently shocked us by abandoning a partial college tuition gift he had promised his grandchildren.
At the same time, he eliminated us from formerly assigned executor, healthcare proxy, and last-wishes roles, which he turned over to that same lawyer. He also permitted his money managers — who earn a percentage of assets under management and who have consistently dissuaded him from liquidating and enjoying any of his several million dollars in savings — to share his account information with that attorney.
We feel that he is being abusively manipulated by the attorney and managers who, we fear, are motivated to somehow profit by controlling all details of his money and end of life. Without waging a relationship-destroying and unaffordable legal battle, what are our options to challenge both his soundness of mind and external manipulation driving these questionable decisions? We enjoy an active and friendly father-son relationship.
We appreciate your guidance.
On Behalf of Four Siblings Who, Above All, Love & Respect Our Father
Any sudden and dramatic change in your elderly father’s circumstances, especially where all of the clout over his estate is falling into the hands of one lawyer, should absolutely raise alarm bells. Your first stop should be to ask your father questions — while doing your best to avoid a confrontation — about why he has taken these steps.
Outline your concerns over one person suddenly having so much control over his finances, and why this — the unfettered power to access and invest your father’s money — raises red flags for you. Explain that any change in your father’s health could leave him vulnerable to financial mismanagement. And, yes, he should be enjoying his money.
Under the law, your father must have been of sound mind and not under or subject to duress, restraint, fraud or undue influence to sign a power of attorney document. You can report this lawyer to the state bar association, and send a letter to the financial institution that is managing his funds, reminding them of their responsibility.
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 also have further steps you can take, in addition to contacting your father’s primary physician and making an appointment for a physical and mental assessment.
Financial institutions have procedures in place for spotting the warning signs of elder abuse — if that is what is happening — and state regulators have in recent years put pressure on advisers to help prevent it. It impacts an estimated five million Americans every year, according to the National Council on Aging, and multiple agencies say the number of cases are increasing and underreported.
While the role of power of attorney — assuming that is the goal of your father’s lawyer — expires after this death, estate plans often include what’s called a “durable” power of attorney. This permits the trusted individual (in this case, your father’s lawyer) to retain power of attorney if and/or when your father can no longer make decisions for himself.
Your father should feel empowered and protected, not controlled or cajoled. Offer to go through his bank accounts to make sure there is no suspicious activity. Once the money is gone, it’s much harder to get it back. So acting swiftly and decisively is key. It may also help you avoid thousands of dollars or more in legal fees, should the situation escalate.
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