Question: My mother has borderline dementia and is making bad financial choices based on an outside influence (ex-boyfriend) in her life. My brother and I are concerned. We have dual power of attorney for her, but wonder when we should step in. Any help on what steps to take would be appreciated.
Answer #1: Assuming you have a valid financial or general power of attorney that complies with state law, you need to check the document. When does the document say the power is effective? Some are effective immediately upon signing it. In that case, you can use the power right now. She may, however, try to revoke it.
Most powers of attorney, however, are considered “springing.” That means the power of attorney is effective upon some triggering event, usually incapacity. The document should say how incapacity will be determined. For example, some say that the principal (the person who signed the power of attorney) must be determined to be incapacitated by two physicians. If such a requirement is in the document, then you will need written statements from the physicians stating that she cannot manage her financial affairs. Those statements should be kept with the power of attorney and made a part of it.
Remember that financial institutions may not accept the power of attorney. Some will not accept a power that is a certain number of years old. Others will look for certain clauses that may or may not me in your document. And some financial institutions seem to give people a hard time just because. It is very difficult to try to force a financial institution to accept a power of attorney.
If your power of attorney turns out to be ineffective for whatever reason, you may need to petition the court for a conservatorship.
Ronald Zack, Esq.
Answer #2: The fact that your mother granted you and your brother her power of attorney is a good indication that she trusts the two of you (and is, perhaps, relying on you) to step in to protect her interests when you think protection is warranted. You should look into her situation and her finances as far as your power of attorney allows, while at the same time respecting whatever level of autonomy your mother is capable of exercising. It might be appropriate to enlist the input of her physician or other medical providers who are in a position to shed light on her medical condition. Hopefully, your mother has given her medical providers her written permission to share her health information with you. She may have done this in her advance health-care directive, her “HIPAA authorization,” or other estate planning or health care documents. If she has not done so, her medical providers will probably decline to talk with you.
POSSIBLE ACTION STEPS:
- Get clear with your brother on your specific concerns.
- Agree with your brother on who (if anyone) should be consulted concerning your mother’s medical condition and her finances.
- Approach your mother with your concerns and let her know that you are there to make sure her interests are protected. If you can involve your mother’s physician or other family members or trusted individuals, that will probably promote her comfort level.
If your mother clearly understands that you are endeavoring to act in her best interest, she will probably appreciate the attention that you are focusing on her.
Scott Makuakane, Esq., CFP
Founding Partner, Est8Planning LLLC
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813