My father married a wonderful lady about three years ago; both were widowed and in their 70s and 80s. The woman was well off — not rich, but having several rental properties, investments and cash on hand. My father was comfortable and had no financial concerns, and was able to afford vacations and other things to enhance retirement.
The woman had one child, a daughter who was adopted as a small child. The daughter made it clear she did not approve of the marriage and considered my father a golddigger.
Fast forward two years, well into the COVID-19 pandemic. My father and his wife sent a message to all family members stating they were going to spend the holidays alone in their home, and did not want visitors due to COVID-19 concerns.
The woman’s granddaughter had COVID-19 and went to visit her grandmother; the daughter came as well.
Shortly after this visit, the grandmother (my father’s wife) came down with COVID-19, and was very ill. My father came down with COVID-19 a day or two after his wife.
“‘Within weeks after my father’s death, the daughter had gone to her mother’s lawyer, and had her declared incompetent with the daughter as her guardian.’”
I went to their home to take care of them, as they could not find anyone to do that for them. The daughter was recovering from COVID-19 and the granddaughter who presumably gave them all the COVID-19 was not inclined to help
My father died and his wife survived. Within weeks after my father’s death, the daughter went to her mother’s lawyer and had her declared incompetent, with the daughter designated as her guardian.
I went to collect some of my father’s things and saw his widow. She was using a walker, her hair was unkempt and she was completely under the control of the daughter and granddaughter.
They had manipulated her to the point she just gave up. At first, she got in her car and drove about 300 miles away to a relative’s house trying to fight the takeover. Once they got her back, it was all over for her and she had no say in her life.
The widow was quickly moved into an assisted-living facility, with all bank accounts and assets under the daughter’s control. The granddaughter was set up to manage the house and is being paid about $2,500 a month to do so.
They did not manage to kill my dad’s wife, but they did kill my father. The end result was what they wanted: all the money and property, and my father out of their lives.
I think they did it on purpose. I believe they knew they had COVID-19, and they knew my father and his wife did not want visitors for fear of being exposed.
Devastated & Angry Child
The hard truth is that you may never know their intentions. What we do know: Visiting this household with vulnerable and elderly people cannot be undone. Regardless of how your stepmother’s granddaughter and daughter behaved in the aftermath of your father’s death, and how they may have taken advantage of her illness and isolation, their motivations will be the one unknowable. My first and last piece of advice is to deal with what you do know, and don’t allow these suspicions — however real they feel — to knock you off course.
The National Center on Elder Abuse, a government agency affiliated with the U.S. Administration on Aging, and the nonprofit National Adult Protective Services Association will have resources and provide help with the steps you can take to report suspected financial elder abuse, in addition to contacting your stepmother’s primary physician. Elder abuse impacts an estimated five million Americans every year, according to the National Council on Aging, and multiple agencies say the number of cases is increasing and underreported.
A call to adult protective services in your state, or even a visit to your stepmother’s home by a social worker, may be enough to set off alarm bells. The best solution may be an independent power of attorney, someone who has no vested interest, who can help take care of her home and make long-term healthcare decisions if and/or when she becomes incapacitated. This is more important than inheritance, and she will need money for it. The Moneyist files are filled with such letters, such as this woman who felt like a prisoner in her own home.
You don’t say whether your stepmother’s daughter has power of attorney over her affairs or has taken over as conservator of her estate. The former is usually voluntary and typically set up before the person becomes incapacitated. It’s also revocable. A conservatorship, on the other hand, is more complicated. A petition to the court is usually required to take over as conservator, and it requires expert witnesses and gathering documents. The powers granted under a conservatorship are immense and it’s often an uphill struggle to undo them.
At least two physicians in most states are required for a determination on incapacity. “An adult is considered to be incapacitated when they lose the ability to make rational decisions for themselves and/or to communicate their decisions with others. Some of the most common cases of incapacitation include Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, mental disability, senility, or an adult who is in a coma,” according to Jackson White. “It’s possible for someone to be partially incapacitated, to the point that they can still make some rational decisions but need help in other areas.”
I’m very sorry your father died from COVID-19, especially as it was so avoidable. Unfortunately, people — sometimes, but not always, young people — feel invincible and don’t think of other people as vulnerable. The illness and its consequences are abstract to them, despite over 837,000 people dying from this disease in the U.S. alone. Some people even use fake vaccine cards so they can go about their lives without experiencing the inconveniences of the unvaccinated. I hope the options outlined here provide some kind of a roadmap to help your stepmother.
Meu can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at email@example.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.
Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.
The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.
More from Quentin Fottrell:
• I live with my girlfriend, 59, who owns several homes and has saved $3 million. I pay utilities and cable, and do lots of repairs. Is that enough?
• ‘He is the most computer-illiterate person I know’: I was my husband’s research analyst, caregiver, cook and housekeeper. Now he wants a divorce after 38 years.
• ‘Our friends always yearned for a relationship like ours’: My husband of 16 years left me for another man. I don’t want them to live in our properties. What can I do?