My uncle is 74 years old, recently diagnosed with the beginning stages of dementia and an old family friend is stealing two-thirds of his Social Security check. The “family friend” is my cousin’s ex-wife whom he had divorced some 35 years ago. They reconciled and she moved into my uncle’s house.
Neither she nor my cousin are gainfully employed or generate any sort of household income. My uncle’s $1,500 Social Security check is the only household income.
I had first started suspecting that something wasn’t quite right when she convinced my uncle to buy her a car. I didn’t raise a fuss about it because she was transporting him to his doctor’s visits every couple of months and handling his shopping.
‘I had first started suspecting that something wasn’t quite right when she convinced my uncle to buy her a car. I didn’t raise a fuss about it because she was transporting him to his doctor’s visits.’
Well, during one of my visits about six months ago, she told me that she had begun managing his funds because he was bouncing checks. My uncle told me that the banker told her that if he didn’t add her to his account, they were going to close his account. This is also what she told him to coerce him into adding her to his account.
I, of course, know that this would be an unorthodox practice for any financial institution, but a part of me still wanted to trust her. His bills were getting paid and he had what he needed (or so I thought).
On another visit, I noticed that my uncle’s shoes were held together by insulating tape — he said he didn’t have any money.
Keep in mind, my uncle had just received his check about 10 days before and his bills total less than $400 per month. There is no reason why he shouldn’t have any money. Naturally, on the following Saturday, I took him to buy two new pair of shoes.
‘This woman told my uncle that his psychiatrist said that if he didn’t sign over power of attorney to her, he was going to place him in a nursing home.’
This woman then told me that my uncle had signed over power of attorney to her. She told my uncle that his psychiatrist said that if he didn’t sign over power of attorney to her, he was going to place him in a nursing home. At this point, I clearly see what is happening here.
A few days later, Jan. 3, I picked up my uncle and took him to the bank so we could review his account. He received his check for $1,498 that day. By the time we got to the bank, he had just over $700. She had already taken nearly $800 out of his account.
Upon reviewing his last six bank statement with the banker, she had been paying his utilities totaling about $500 per month (because she jacked his cable bill an extra $100), and taking the rest out via checks written to her name. My uncle said he signed the checks because she told him she needed to pay his bills.
I have shown him numerous times where she has taken $1,000 per month from his account. The very next day, he’ll tell me “No, she’s not taking $1,000 out of my account,” and I have to show him again.
‘After being questioned by the banker, she admitted that the extra money she took out of his account was for her car payment, insurance, her cell phone and grocery bills.’
After being questioned by the banker, she was caught in several lies and admitted that the extra money she took out of his account was for her car payment ($250 per month), insurance ($178 per month), gas for her car, her cell phone bill, groceries, co-pays for my uncle’s doctor ($50 every two to three months) and whatever else they need for the house.
I am concerned she is going to coerce him into signing over his house, put him in a nursing home, and then high-tail it back to New York with the proceeds from the sale of my uncle’s house and whatever money she has accumulated from taking from his account.
I have called adult protective services twice and provided copies of his bank statements. They closed the case on the word of a naive, vulnerable, old man suffering from dementia. They don’t seem to understand his state of mind.
This is a man who swears that Cuba is going to invade our country and has announced the second coming of Jesus Christ and the importance of refusing the mark of the beast.
I have convinced him to rescind the power of attorney. At least now I know that she doesn’t have the power to make the decision to put him in a nursing home.
But I still can’t stop her from helping herself to his checking account, or coercing him into signing over his house.
There are a lot of moving parts to this disturbing dilemma. Your uncle appears to be suffering from dementia and has very few people who he can rely on 24/7. This woman, alas, has filled that gap. What’s more, he seems to have become dependent on her. They are all the hallmarks of someone who is a prime target for financial elder abuse. Isolation and illness make him particularly vulnerable. He may also be scared of her. It’s hard to tell from your letter, but this woman seems like a very determined character.
There are a lot of moving parts to this disturbing dilemma. Your uncle appears to be suffering from dementia and has very few people who he can rely on 24/7. This woman, alas, has filled that gap.
Talk to your uncle’s doctor and go with him to his next appointment to get the proper tests done to assess his physical and mental health. Send a letter to the bank and speak to the branch manager and, with whatever evidence you can gather from the doctor and/or with the consultation of a good lawyer, tell the bank that they will be liable for any losses incurred by your uncle, who is (a) not of sound mind or (b) in a vulnerable state. Make a point of referencing the date of your previous visit, and note your disappointment that more was not done.
“Isolation is a red flag and many studies of elder abuse say a lack of a good support system and physical and psychological isolation are hallmarks of the problem,” according to Kathleen Quinn, executive director at the Washington, D.C.-based National Adult Protective Services Association. And the more people keeping an eye on the elderly the better: Over 90% of reported cases of abuse involve a family member or a trusted caregiver. This case, involving your cousin’s ex-wife, seems remarkably opportunistic.
There are 1 million cases of elder abuse reported to National Adult Protective Services Association per year, which is a small fraction of overall cases. U.S. states are currently working on compiling a database of national elder abuse data. The National Center on Elder Abuse, a government agency affiliated with the U.S. Administration on Aging, reports that elder abuse lags by as much as “two decades” behind research into fields of child abuse and domestic violence. The Social Security Administration can also appoint payees for people who need help.
Once you have met with your uncle, his doctor, lawyer and bank, you need to put a financial and strategic plan together for what happens if and when you remove your uncle’s carer from his life.
Once you have met with your uncle, his doctor, lawyer and bank, you need to put a financial plan together for what happens if and when you remove this woman from his life. Your cousin’s ex-wife is taking advantage of him, but she also appears to be paying herself to take care of him. It’s a complex, messy situation as cases of elder abuse often are. But it will only happen again unless you can, with the help of family/friends and other local services, make sure that your uncle is safe and cared for. From what you say, his condition is only likely to get worse.
Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).
Would you like to sign up to an email alert when a new Moneyist column has been published? If so, click on this link.
Get a daily roundup of the top reads in personal finance delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Personal Finance Daily newsletter. Sign up here.