When Siblings Are Stuck in Disagreement
Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N., B.S.N., Attorney
This is a case study of a real situation, though the names and details are changed to protect confidentiality.
Two sisters are arguing and in extended conflict about the care of their mother. One sibling, a middle aged woman we’ll call Nellie, lives at mom’s home with mom, and doesn’t work. She takes care of mom, but not very well. The other sister, whom we’ll call Mary, is worried about Nellie’s unstable mental health, and that she isn’t bathing mom properly or watching her closely enough. Mom has dementia. She’s declining slowly, and can’t be left alone.
Nellie has access to two of mom’s bank accounts, even though she does not have power of attorney over mom.
Nellie is very emotionally unstable.
Mary tried to mediate the conflict with Nellie, and Nellie did appear at mediation. Nellie made all sorts of agreements, such as having a professional caregiver come in several hours a week, to check on mom and help out. Then, she refused to sign the “settlement agreement” document, and went back on her word with everything she said she would do.
Nellie wants money, and isn’t satisfied with mom’s income supporting her. She wants to get paid, too.
Mary has the durable power of attorney for finances. What can Mary do now?
Because Mary has the right to control mom’s finances, she can take Nellie off the bank accounts, except for the amount required for monthly living expenses. If Nellie wants more money, Mary can see to it that she will only receive it if she complies with the things she agreed to do at mediation.
Mary has a legal right to control all the bank accounts, and a duty to protect her mom from Nellie raiding the bank accounts for extras she doesn’t actually need. Nellie spends money on herself from mom’s bank accounts.
If Mary can get over her fear of Nellie, and do what her job as power of attorney requires of her, she will be better off. Mom will be taken care of by someone besides Nellie, and Mary will then have “eyes and ears” in mom’s home to help her keep mom safe. Nellie can continue to help care for mom for as long as she is able to help, but Nellie needs an extra hand with bathing mom, and other chores.
This is an ongoing conflict for which control over the mom’s money is key to keeping things stable. Mary is upset, but is able to do what has to be done. She doesn’t want to upset her sister, who is not stable to start with, but is at least able to provide some help for mom. The compromise is somewhat under duress for Nellie, but is workable, even if Nellie isn’t totally happy with it. Mary is a responsible person, and is on the right track.