How do I instigate an audit of my elderly mother’s money? She is being swindled by family!

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)

Where to start in a suspected case of fraud for elderly parent?

Q: Mother is elderly living in a nursing home. Severe dementia, however not ruled as incompetent by a court (because it was never an issue before…). Relative in another state passes and evidently my mother was a beneficiary to her life insurance policy. When this relative passed, they sent paperwork to my mother to file the claim. My brother (who is estranged from the family but does visit her) somehow got this claim information. No one else, including myself, knew anything about it. He files the claim, gets her to sign it, a check is issued. I learned of this by finding some random paperwork in her room and researching. After talking with the insurance company and providing my POA they tell me the check was cashed BY HER (I saw a copy, it’s indeed her signature) to a bank account I know nothing about. My assumption is that he ‘added’ her to his bank account and had her deposit the check in it. I called the bank, they won’t talk to me without a court order even with the POA. I know crimes have been committed, but I’m not sure where to start. APS? Police? If she signed it ‘willingly’ is there even any crime since she is not ruled incompetent by a court?

A: Calling Adult Protective Services and the police are good starts. Also, as soon as possible, get an opinion in writing from her doctor that states at the time the check was signed she was incompetent. If you cannot get any resolution through APS or the police, hire a lawyer. The lawyer will determine what actions are necessary to have the money returned. It could be as simple as a letter to your brother. It could be more protracted and require court action and a court order.

How can I stop my sisters from giving away our family home and their money?

Q: I own a house in joint tenancy with my two older sisters. They live in the house and I do not. One has had two strokes and doesn’t really know what’s going on, and the other is making very poor financial decisions, is very angry, forgetful, and talks to herself. I fear she may have dementia but I don’t know how to get her to submit to an exam by a specialist. Now they have a new “friend” to whom they have given power of attorney, and who helped them create a will naming her as a beneficiary. A medical caregiver in the house told me she saw one of my sisters give this “friend” the deed to the house. They are writing her checks for thousands of dollars. This has all happened in the course of three months. The only asset is the house, and they have income from their pensions. I am now staying with them because I feared their friend was planning to move in. How do I keep the house safe, and how do I get rid of the friend? My sisters think she’s wonderful because she drives them and has helped them clean up their house, but she is poisoning their relationship with me which has been good until now. (Allison Park, PA)

A: You raise some concerns here which touch on elder abuse and financial exploitation. You may want to contact adult protective services to do a home visit and assessment. You should ask the friend to allow you to examine the POA and any other documents your sisters have signed. Make copies if you can. You will also benefit from consulting with an attorney about the suspected financial exploitation and what would be involved if you wish to become their guardian. As far as the deed, you would need to sign the deed in order to transfer ownership to anyone, assuming the property is held as joint tenants with right of survivor.


Is it illegal to make changes to a bank account of a person with Dementia/Alzheimer’s?

Q: How does victim proceed? For years, a lady had her only living relative listed as ITF (beneficiary) on her bank account. Now the lady has dementia. A distant friend filed for Conservatorship saying the lady isn’t mentally capable of managing her own finances, but withdrew the petition prior to the court date. Months later, the friend took the lady to the bank and removed the relative’s name from the account listing herself as ITF (sole beneficiary). Recently without the lady’s knowledge, the friend withdrew over $20,000 from the lady’s account, getting several cashier’s checks, leaving no monies to pay all of the lady’s monthly expenses. Per bank manager, friend had POA, funds shouldn’t have left bank and believes possible friend knows teller. Even if lady signed POA, she wasn’t mentally capable. Is any of this legal?

A:  If your information is accurate, it sounds like she is being taken advantage of and her money is being stolen. This is possibly a case of financial exploitation. Call the Department of Aging to notify them. They may schedule a home visit to assess the situation. A person who has “standing”, which takes too long to explain, is someone with an interest. A person with an interest, which is certainly a relative, can take action. It is possible this elderly person is being influenced or has signed a POA over to this “distant friend”. The interested person who comes forward can file a petition to freeze the accounts and for an accounting of all POA funds. Unfortunately, this involves hiring a lawyer, but may be the most expedient remedy. The lawyer can also advise if a guardianship is needed and can get it started.