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Posted March 5, 2009

Ask An Expert

Caregiving Relationship: When Siblings Disagree on Care

Q.  My siblings continue to harass me about my mother's income. I had a power of attorney, but my sister had her change everything. My mother has lived with my husband and me for the last three years. How can I stop them from continued harassment about her money? 

Patricia A., Wellford, South Carolina.

A.

While you obviously have no control over your sister's behavior, you do have control over how you respond to her and your other siblings. If your mother is competent enough to change her legal documents, then she should be competent to decide what information she wants your sister to have. Your mother should also be competent to give your sister that information at any time. You can inform your sister that she should be addressing her questions to your mother and leave it at that.
 
If your mother is not competent to make these decisions, then she may not have been competent when she made changes to her legal documents. If your mother was not competent to sign legal documents, then the document your sister has may not be valid. In that case, as her originally appointed attorney in fact (the person who holds her durable power of attorney), you have the right to manage her finances and decide who has access to what information.
 
It will be difficult to continue caring for your mother in your home if you don't have the authority to make financial decisions. Having responsibility without authority is an impossible place to be. It may be a good idea to consult with an elder law attorney about your legal options regarding this change in authority. If you haven't done so recently, it may also be a good idea to have your mother assessed by a physician to determine her level of competence.
 
Reading between the lines, it appears that there has been some longstanding conflict in your family about your mother, her finances, and her care. Is it possible that your sister has been feeling left out of the information and decision loop, and she did something drastic as a result? When family relations become strained, emotions can run high and resentments can begin to build. Some families find it enormously helpful to sit down together with an uninvolved professional such as a clergyman, family therapist, social worker or professional mediator to put issues on the table and look for solutions. It might be worth considering.

This answer is provided by Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW, a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. Molly, a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues, is the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is www.eldercareteam.com, and she can be reached atmolly@eldercareteam.com

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