Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My mother is 95: Elderly parents and conservatorships

While in Twin Falls, Idaho this past weekend to celebrated my mother's 95th birthday, we got to talking over lunch at a local cafe with the waitress about her 93-year-old mother. It wasn't a pretty story.
The woman (who appeared to be about 60 and single) said her mother had been living with her and another sister for the past 20 years. But recently an older brother had moved the mother out and into a rental house that he owns in another part of town. "My mother hasn't been alone for years, she's got early Alzheimer's and thinks she's in California," said the waitress with a bitter shrug. To make it worse, the brother has taken out a restraining order to prevent contact with  her mother. "It's all about my mother's money," she said. Now, her plan is to find the house and report her mother's living situation to the local Adult Protection Services agency. "I really love my mother," said the woman. "My kids want to kill my brother. My brother wants to control my mother's money...a mess." The situation with my own mother isn't much better.
Last Thanksgiving, my younger and only sister called the police to report that my mother had been kidnapped, when I took her out for lunch without my sister being along to monitor the conservation. My sister's behavior was shocking to me. We haven't spoken since.
My sister, who is bi-polar and has little income, has been living with mother almost continually for the past 14 months. My mother gave me power-of-attorney so now the fight is about who's in charge of the money.
My mother's attorney is recommending a conservatorship for my mother to get the money issue off the table. Such a court-ordered device would allow an independent third-party to manage my mother's finances free of the influence of either my sister or myself. My mother tends to agree with whomever has spoken with her last and "just wants everyone to get along." The conservatorship seems like a good idea to me, since my sister and I don't agree on much of anything, anymore. In a hearing on Monday, a judge approved a temporary conservatorship for my mother since she was not able to attend the hearing because of ill health. With that in place, a trust bank executive will start a discovery process regarding my mother's assets and finances.
My goal: To allow my mother to stay in her house where she's lived for the past 70 years, pay her bills and for my sister to go on living there, as well, if that's what my mother wants. With the money issue out of the picture, my hope is that the tension among the three of us will be reduced.  But with money involved that's probably a long shot.
Conservatorships are an interesting way for families to manage an elderly parent's money when there's disagreement. They are different than a guardianship, where the elderly person is incompetent, but instead can be applied (in consultation with the eldersly person) through an independent third party. Of course, the independent third party (in this case, a bank) is charging for the management services. Below are several Web sites that shed more light on conservatorships.

Click here for ElderAngels.com.
Click here for ElderLawmag.com's definition of a conservatorship.
Click here for additional information regarding conservatorships at wisegeek.com.

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