Q: My dad has Alzheimer’s Disease. My aunt is his Power of Attorney and has been making some questionable financial decisions on his behalf. I saw the Power of Attorney a few years ago, and I don’t remember much detail about it, but I do remember it expires this year. When I asked my aunt about the Power of Attorney and her actions being taken under it, she says she has an attorney and cannot speak to me about it. As my dad’s son, do I have a right to see this Power of Attorney? Can I question my aunt’s actions and hold her responsible for mismanaging my dad’s estate? Can I remove her as Power of Attorney and have her held responsible for her actions while my dad is still alive?
A: Your aunt has no legal obligation whatsoever to show you the power of attorney or give an accounting to you, unless she so chooses. People seem inherently suspicious of Agents under powers of attorneys and most often for no legitimate reason. If you get nowhere with her or her attorney by making an informal request, and, you still are convinced there is questionable activity, you will need to hire a lawyer. If the lawyer’s informal inquiries are denied, he or she can file a petition for accounting and force your aunt to produce an accounting of all her expenditures on behalf of your father. You can then review the accounting with your lawyer. If you still think there are questionable issues, you can start procedural record producing requests and ultimately drag her and her attorney into court on a Petition for Accounting for a no-rules barred legal cage match.
Q: I believe my 88-year-old mother received a settlement from a lawsuit and my younger sibling who lives with her and is disabled is spending it. He is acquiring lots of assets. (Bridgeville, PA)
A: If he is operating under a Power of Attorney to act for her, you can file a petition for an accounting of her money he has spent as an agent under the Power of Attorney. You could also file to become her guardian. Calling Adult Protective Services may be a good first step. They can take your information and do a home visit. If their assessment is consistent with yours, they may advise the court action I mention above which will require an attorney. (Dormont, PA)
Q: My mother made me executor of the will and my brother is asking me questions about what is being paid and how much is in the account. Do I have to answer his questions?
A: If your mother has died and you are the executor of an estate that is opened in Allegheny County, I do hope that you have an attorney. I know of no obligation during estate administration of an executor to inform the heirs or other persons, how much money is being spent and how much money is in the estate account. However, before an estate closes, the heirs need to sign off on a Family Agreement. By signing the Family Agreement, the heirs agree that they have received their fair share of inheritance and they are satisfied that the estate was administered fairly. If they have suspicions about your activities, whether justified or not, they may refuse to sign the Family Agreement. This would then require your attorney to prepare a full accounting of the estate money and property, called a First and Final Account. The heirs are sent a copy of document with a letter informing them of when the account is to be presented to a judge for approval and that they have the right to appear in court and address the judge. My advice is this. If you are not hiding anything, you should provide at least some basic information. Just talk to the heirs, or let your attorney talk to them. I do this on occasion and I also keep an informal accounting of the estate account which I can send to any heir who requests. You will have less problems down the road if you communicate with family. If you are hiding something, you better inform your attorney.
Q: I have been my mother’s power of attorney as well as on a joint checking account with her for the past couple of years. She has now had to be placed in a dementia care home and my sister who was not involved with any of her care filed for and got guardianship. I then closed the joint accounts and sent the money to the care home. My sister got copies of bank statements and is now charging me with stealing my mother’s money. My mom and I were ok with me spending what I needed as well as me using money from my private account to help her with bills. Since I was a legal joint owner on that checking account does my sister have a legal standing to accuse me?
A: Based on the limited facts I am hearing, the simple answer is that when you were acting as POA Agent, you had a fiduciary duty to act in your mom’s best interest and document all your expenditures of her money. If you can did act in her best interest and can document all of her expenditures, your sister can allege all she wants, proving it is another matter. In order for her to proceed against you legally, she would need to hire an attorney to file a petition in Orphan’s Court requesting an accounting of all of your spending as agent for your mother on her POA.