Category Archives: Elder Law

Can I get a POA over mom without her knowledge?

Q: My 89-year-old mother has been diagnosed with severe delusions and after a psychological and medical evaluation, a letter was written stating that she is suffering from delusions and is not capable of handling her financial affairs. With an attorney in my presence, my mother stated that she would never let anyone take over her financial affairs and stated that she would not live. My mother believes she is a CEO of a company, married to someone that does not exist. Her only source of income is social security around $960 per month and most of it is used to set up business phones. Banks accounts were set up as business accounts even though the name she sets it up is different than her ID. There is other devastating and crazy actions that consumes all her SSI. Her current doctor will write another letter regarding her delusions and she is currently taking medication for delusions. Is it possible for me and my sister to get a Power of Attorney without our mother having knowledge of it because it would harm her and could make her have a stroke or serious medical issue? We heard from other families with the same situation that they have done it. Is so who can do it and what is the average cost and time frame? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: No, you cannot get a Power of Attorney over someone without their knowledge. The person must be competent, understand what they are doing and sign the document. Your mother sounds like she may not be competent to sign such a document. If that is the case, your only option would be to file in court to be her guardian. Your mother certainly would have to know about this proceeding as she would be summoned to court unless excused for health reasons. You should consult with a CA lawyer in person.

Will I lose my house?

Q: We built an in-law apartment onto our home with proceeds from the sale of their home. If they need to be moved into a nursing home before five (5) years have passed, will they or us need to come up with the full amount of money generated from the sale of their house, necessitating the sale of our home to recoup the $53,000 spent on their apartment, before Medicaid will pay the rest of the expenses? Or does Medicaid accept/require the remaining monies only? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: You need to consult with an attorney who is versed in Medicaid regulations. Generally, the idea is that any transfer of wealth, without fair consideration (like gifts) within five years of the Medicaid application, can render the Medicaid applicant ineligible for Medicaid funding to the extent of the value of the transfer. It is not the nursing home that triggers the 5-year look back but the Medicaid application. If you are saying that they liquidated their home, to pay for an addition to your home so they can live in it under your care, I am not sure the entire value of the addition is a gift as they are receiving consideration in the form of housing and care. An attorney can also advise you on a caretaker contract which may help you shelter some of the in-law’s estate.

Can a person with a revoked license buy a car?

Q: My dad is elderly and is an ex-alcoholic with a revoked license (habitual offender). He wants to buy a van, so I can drive him to the store and appointments and frankly, take him to and from the bar. Can he buy a van from a private seller and register it and get insurance? I would just have him write me a check and buy in my name, but I don’t want my relatives to act like he is gifting me money. We just want to buy like a $1500 van.

A: If you have a valid driver’s license, current insurance, and the car will be registered to you, I don’t think your father is breaking any law that I am aware of merely by writing the check. If he not only wants to pay for it, but also register the vehicle and obtain insurance in his name, I believe he can. He just cannot drive, obviously.

Is verbal agreement with my grandmother legal?

Q: My grandmother has been saying for years she wanted me to have her house. She even gave me the deed. Years later my grandmother has dementia and my aunt is her guardian on a Power of Attorney. I am still in possession of the deed physically but nothing has been transferred to my name. I would like to proceed in doing the transfer but don’t know where to begin (before my money hungry family comes after it. (East McKeesport, PA)

A: I would review the documents and all information with an attorney. The way you present this, it looks to me as if there was no deed signed by grandmother to you. The fact that you are holding the old deed with her name as owner (grantee) does not help you at all. If she is incompetent to sign legal documents at present, she cannot sign a deed to you. Ask your aunt if she will sign a deed to you through the POA.

Can we lose our home?


Q: My spouse and I have lived on family land that is owned by my parents for 26 plus years. We pay our own property tax however it is on family land that has never been deeded over to us. We were told 26 years ago that the land would be divided between us siblings. My family is the only one who lives on the land. My dad is now disabled and uses a walker and my mom is not able to take care of him and is in very bad health. He is looking at going into the nursing home. We are worried about what will happen to us since we live on the land that isn’t deeded to us. Do we have any rights after living here for so long? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: The only way for you and your husband to get ownership of this property is to have your parents deed it to you now, or pass it to you through their wills. With either method, they need to be competent to do so. If they are presently competent, they should do this now before their health declines, if it is what they want to do. However, this decision must be made with full knowledge of Medicaid implications. If either parent should need to apply for Medicaid funding all transfers of property within the preceding five years are scrutinized. If property is gifted or sold for less than market value (gifts to family) it could subject them to a Medicaid penalty. Therefore, only do this type of estate planning under the advice of an attorney versed in Medicaid regulations.

Can I be POA for parents if I have past IRS issues?

Q: My dad is 90 and my mom is 87. They are no longer capable of h handling their own affairs. I have been asked to take over as power of attorney by their friends. My only problem is, I have federal tax issues dating back ten years. Is there a risk that the IRS could get my parents life savings if I become their power of attorney? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: The short answer is no. Generally, when acting as an Agent for the Principal under the legal parameters of a Power of Attorney, the Agent is acting in a fiduciary position and is not personally liable. The Agent should have not personal liability for the debts and expenses of the Principal. The Principal’s assets should not be subject to claims of the Agent’s creditors. It is only when the Agent acts outside the scope of his authority of the POA or acts illegally, can the Agent be subject to personal liability.

What can be done about my mother who is legally separated from my father?

Q: My father had a massive stroke two weeks ago and my mother has basically taken over the entire situation. He is not well, and needs someone to assist with his care and recovery, not hinder it. She does not allow him to talk for himself, she has told us all to leave them alone and that she is taking care of him. She recently returned from a two year “vacation” in Arizona, because that was what was best for her. I have two other siblings who feel the same way about the situation and we are wondering where we may stand. From a legal standpoint, do we have any footing to get her removed from the situation? (Greensburg, PA)

A: A complicated situation. If he is competent, you can have him sign a financial and medical Power of Attorney to you or another sibling. However, if he is not competent, or if the POA causes such a conflict with your mother that it creates problems for service providers, you may need to file to be his guardian. My suggestion is to have a comprehensive consultation with an elder law attorney as many more facts are needed to determine precisely how to deal with the situation.


Should we seek POA or be his Guardian?

Q: Our Dad is deeply involved in a financial scam. He has sent between $6,000 and $15,000 to scammers for “taxes” for the prize he has won. He has had 3 months of Social Security checks diverted to some jagoff we don’t even know. He has finally admitted he was deceived but still talks to them on the phone and still talks of sending them money. Sometimes he seems fine mentally and other times he doesn’t. So far, Dad hasn’t agreed to POA, but we think he is coming around. We don’t know if that will be strong enough. What should we do? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: It is a delicate situation. If he is competent to sign a POA and you can get him to, you may be able to safeguard his bank accounts in such a manner that he cannot withdraw without your (the Agent’s) approval. However, if he will not sign one and/or is beyond control due to dementia, you may need to have a family member appointed as guardian. Being guardian will provide more control of his affairs. However, a guardianship requires court involvement and monitoring. I suggest a consultation with a lawyer who handles guardianships.

Will a Financial Durable Power of Attorney cover my incapacitation?

Q: I have crafted my accounts, etc., to be transferred to my children, equally, upon my death. In the event I am incapacitated before I die, is a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances and Advance Directives enough to give my children access to my accounts without having to create separate accounts with their signing authority already on them, and authority to manage my care? (McMurray, PA)

A:  Yes, a legal General Durable Power of Attorney should empower an agent to do the things that the principal wants the agent to do. However, it is better if these things, which are called, “powers”, are listed as specifically as possible in the document so that the agent’s authority to exercise such powers are not questioned. My suggestion is to consult with an attorney in drafting a POA so that it will be customized to accomplish what you want it to. As mentioned, a POA is a very powerful document and if misused, can lead to problems with taxes and Medicaid, to mention a few. As to an Advanced Directive, that is a medical document that comes into effect at the end-stage of life. It should have nothing to do with your finances.

Can I set up a special needs trust for my older brother who is receiving benefits?

Q: My 70-year-old brother is a named beneficiary in my Parents’ trust and will receive $120,000.00. I would like to ensure that this money can be preserved for his needs going forward – assisted living, nursing home etc. without affecting his current social security benefits. His wife is also receiving benefits of some sort. Neither are competent to manage their own affairs. (Ligonier, PA)

A: First question that needs to be known is, are your parent’s alive? Is your parent’s trust irrevocable? If so, what type of discretion does the trustee have in making distributions to trust beneficiaries? You really need to have the trust instrument examined by a competent estate or trust attorney.