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Posted: March 30, 2006

Practical Caregiving

Sibling in No-Win Tug-of-War Over Mom's Interests

Suspicions abound when one sibling resents the situation another sibling has created for an aging loved one. What to do? THeir are questions of motivation and non-physical abuse -- and a mother intent on helping her son get back on his feet. But is this healthy?
I pulled this letter from my e-mailbag, and want to share it with you while trying to assist Evelyn along the way.
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Dear Jean:
 
I am 59 and live in Oregon. My mother is almost 89 and lives in Florida in her own home. My brother lives with her, but does next to nothing to assist her in any way. In fact, he is verbally and finacially abusive. She does nothing to change his behavior toward her.
 
She uses a walker, has osteoperosis, high blood pressure and heart problems. She experiences very little pain, and is quite competent and aware of her surroundings.
 
She recently allowed me to obtain voluntary guardianship. I already had power of attorney (for healthcare and all else). However, she refuses to sell her house and move in with me or into an assisted living facility. I cannot force her to move; that would devistate her.
 
She will not let me attempt to remove my brother from the premises. She says he is her son and she is helping him until he gets on his feet.
 
She cannot afford (nor can I) to obtain the necessary in-home care she needs. For the past two years, I did hire a home healthcare assistant for her, but my mother let her go because my brother did not like the idea of another person knowing "what goes on in the house" (his abusive and neglectful ways). I also had the situation investigated by Florida's state authorities, but they were unable to provide any help because mother would not implicate my brother in any way, even though there is proof and witnesses to his behavior.
 
Do you have any suggestions? My goal is to find a way for my mother to live out her years in a safe, peaseful and calm environment with adequate care for her needs, and to be happy with her circumstances. I want her to be able to keep her dignity and sense of independence. Am I expecting too much?
 
Evelyn W., Portland, Oregon
 
Dear Evelyn:
 
It sounds like your mother does need your help, and that isn’t always an easy thing to achieve. Since you don’t live near her, you may need to do a little more investigating to prove the neglect and abuse of your brother. Be sure to write everything down, and include the name of the person who gave you the information and the date. Something you should also consider is whether your witnesses eould be judged reliable as they seem, if examined by authorities. Do you know them very well? You said your brother did not like someone else knowing “what goes on in the house” -- who made that statement? Your brother, your mother or one of your witnesses?
 
I am not saying that you are wrong. I am saying that you need more proof, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be a statement from your mother.
 
If your brother is as verbally and financially abusive as you have been led to believe, one of these days he might become physically abusive. As you know, something does need to be done to protect her.
 
The laws in each state are different, and I am not a lawyer. You may need to contact an elder law attorney in Florida to get this situation resolved. Then, you may also need to do something against your mother’s wishes. Her safety is more important than her not wanting to move. Please consider having her move in with your or into an assisted living facility close to you. You would be in a position to take better care of her when she needs it. Long distance caregiving is very difficult and can lead to wrong conclusions. It won’t be easy, but you may need to do it. You may need to step in to be your mother’s mother rather than her daughter.
 
You might need to get legal guardianship. I don't know if you can do what you may need to with the voluntary guardianship. Being a guardian means that you do what is necessary (when it is necessary) to protect someone from hurting themselves or from being taken advantage of, much like a parent protects a child. An elder lawyer should be able to help you do that.
 
Below is the contact information for organizations you might contact for information and help.
 
The first place I would call is the NationalCenter on Elder Abuse.  Their website says: "If at anytime you have any questions or comments for us, please give us a call at (202) 898-2586 or email us at ncea@nasua.org.  While we are unable to provide direct casework or handle individual elder abuse cases, we can put you in touch with those who can help."
 
Next, I would contact the National Guardianship Association to find out more about your legal relationship with your mother. Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult and a person over the age of 18 who does not have the ability to make an "informed decision," or, there is a risk of harm that they may experience due to their inability to provide for themselves or manage their affairs. 
 
With the above information in hand, talk to a lawyer. Go to one or both of the following places:
 
LawHelp.org is a website that aims to provide both legal and lawyer referral information to people with low-incomes as well as to provide support and information to attorneys and advocates serving them. They are in the process of adding individual states.
 
The vision of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is to be the recognized leader inspiring and empowering attorneys to enhance the quality of life for the elderly. Some of the issues NAELA members assist their clients with include, but are not limited to: public benefits, probate and estate planning, guardianship/conservatorship, and health and long-term care planning.
 
Good luck and please let me know what you are able to do. I am sure there is something, but you may need to make a lot of phone calls to find out what and how. As I said, I would contact the ElderAbuseCenter first, and go from there.
 
Jean

© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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