My mom has more wealth than she can imagine, but she still thinks she doesn’t have enough money to live on. She is 89 and a hoarder. I don’t visit her often, because it reminds me of the way I grew up. The house is filthy and odorous with insects and pests. We could have spent and invested the money to live a prosperous life.
She and I do not have a relationship; her relationship is with her money. She doesn’t even know where her money is, but she thinks it is safe. When my father died, their trust stated his assets were to be divided among Mom, my brother and me, but she just transferred all his assets into her account. Some accounts still have Dad’s name on them.
She keeps her money in money-market accounts. Our family assets consist of money-market accounts, and U.S. and overseas real estate. The overseas rents are deposited in an overseas bank account, which my brother has access to. The bank accounts in the U.S. are in a mess.
My brother has never worked a day in his life
My brother is 60 and has never worked a day in his life, and still lives at home. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree; he is also a hoarder and lives in a dirty, messy house just like Mom. He has been siphoning money from Mom, and puts it in his account. This is a classic case of elder abuse, from a close family member.
I heard a lot of these cases, but have never seen anyone getting prosecuted. Mom previously contacted Adult Protective Services; the social worker said she could spend some money to improve her life, but she did not. He knows that I know what he is doing, and he does everything to avoid me.
‘Mom knew my brother had been siphoning money from her, and even gave me a financial power of attorney.’
Mom knew my brother had been siphoning money from her, and even gave me a financial power of attorney, but she would not coordinate with the bank so I could look at the statements to see what was going on. Mom doesn’t trust anyone, and by hoarding information, she thinks she is in control of her money.
It was an ordeal to get her to give me her medical information so I could make her COVID-19 vaccine appointment. Our family of three members does not get along: Mom just wants to hoard her money, my brother just wants to siphon money from the family, and I just want to manage the family affairs and have everyone live and enjoy their life. I am not getting any cooperation. If we do nothing, a time bomb will explode.
I have consulted with an attorney; his advice was to wait until Mom is incapacitated and then file for conservatorship. At that point, he said, we can then put everything out in the open.
If I file now, Mom and my brother can gang up to fight with me; they can cut me out of the family inheritance. Mom is not very lucid now, and not able to make the trip to the courthouse.
I left home at 17 and never went back
I feel very sorry for her that she is living like that, but I have done all I can. With her not trusting anyone and my brother hoarding the information, he still lives at home. Mom could become incapacitated, and my brother could take her money and refuse to take care of her. My brother wants to control the family assets.
I left home when I was 17, never went back, went to school, got two graduate degrees, had a career, and retired. I cannot let my brother squander away my family wealth, which I am entitled to. I have let them squander so much already, and I need a plan to deal with it when Mom passes, which is just a matter of time. I want to settle it so I can travel and put my affairs together.
What do I need to do to protect myself and not let my brother take over the family fortune, and how do I claw back what he has stolen? I know I could not have him justify his assets. He could have Mom sign documents to transfer assets to him. This will all come out when the time comes.
What can I do? We are not a family anymore. We don’t get along. Everyone is living in their dream world. I have helped them both financially and done things for them as a family. They are not a bit appreciative, and have fought me every step along the way because they just want to line their pockets.
We will not be able to work it out; legal proceedings will happen to force everyone’s hand. We cannot work together for everyone’s interest, and I have to spend my time writing this!
And I have to spend my time answering it!
Your mother’s primary relationship is with her money, your brother’s relationship is with her money, and your relationship is with her money. This is an unfortunate situation from all three angles. Hoarding is a mental-health disorder. But this is a toxic situation where everyone wants something, including you.
Only when you face up to your own participation in this family dynamic will you find some peace. I understand that you don’t want your brother to steal money from your mother, and you don’t want your mother to live in squalor, and you have tried to help your mother. But your motivation is to ensure your inheritance is intact.
I disagree with one part of your letter. I don’t believe anyone is “entitled” to an inheritance. A person is free to do with their money whatever they choose. She could leave it to your brother, or to the animal rescue. That’s her prerogative. You are retired and independent, yet a part of you still lives in that house.
‘This is a toxic situation where everyone wants something.’
She doesn’t owe you money for a terrible childhood. Maybe she did the best she could, and maybe that wasn’t good enough, but no amount of money will give your childhood back or make you happy now. Unless you examine your own motivations, you too will be a prisoner of your mother’s home. Only you hold the key.
Your attorney likely knows that your mother cannot give up control because she does not trust anyone but herself. Yes, you want to protect her from your brother, but you are also coming to this situation from a place of self-interest regarding your inheritance, fear and not a small amount of anger.
I also disagree with your attorney. You have one thing in your favor. You have power of attorney and, in many states, that power of attorney is presumed to be durable, meaning that it continues should your mother become mentally and/or physically incapacitated and unable to make decisions for herself.
If you genuinely believe your mother is the victim of elder financial abuse, do something. If you are afraid to intervene because of the risk to your own inheritance, you are part of the problem. You can’t condemn your brother for serving himself, and then do the same because of a fear of losing the grand prize.
A call to adult protective services in your state or even a visit to your mother’s home by a social worker may be enough to set off alarm bells. Elder abuse is commonly underreported, the National Adult Protective Services Association says, and family members usually have a way of finding their relative’s weak spot.
The best solution may be an independent power of attorney, someone who has no vested interest in your mother’s inheritance, who can help clean her home and make long-term healthcare decisions if and/or when she becomes incapacitated. Above all, she will need money for that.
You ask what you can do to protect yourself. What can you do to protect your mother?
By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.
Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.
More from Quentin Fottrell: