In our work at AgingParents.com, we often hear from adult children that the elder in their lives absolutely doesn’t want to be “put in a home”. By that they typically mean that they fear giving up their own living situation and being forced to go elsewhere for some form of care. They extract promises from their loved ones that they’ll never do that. There are times when family can’t take care of the aging parent at home and a living situation with caregivers in place is a solution. But for some with ruthless adult children, the nightmare comes true. Here is a real-life example.
Jonas was 96 when his daughter, Becky decided, for reasons that remain unclear, to put her father in a care home. He had trusted her. He had given her Power of Attorney over finances and put her in charge of his healthcare too. Jonas could get around on his own with a walker, and generally take care of his daily needs. He was computer literate and tracked his investments online regularly. His biggest problem was short term memory loss. He was hard of hearing. He needed some help with daily activities, but his mind was clear. His daughter found a doctor to look over her dad briefly and say that he had dementia. For an elder with hearing loss, the examiner must get very close to the aging person so that they can hear and understand the testing. That earlier testing conclusion was questionable, as the records appeared to make him out to be completely “out of it”. He was not. He was clear about what he wanted, able to make good sense in any conversation and remained alert when talking with others. But his daughter apparently wanted his money, which was considerable.
Becky lied to her father and told him he needed “rehab”. She told him she would take him to a place where he could get it for a short while. She then dumped him in a care home with a floor for those with advanced dementia and left him there. No “rehab” is available in assisted living. Jonas could think for himself, make reasoned decisions, and express his wishes. He was there for three miserable months before he reached out to his son, Jack, in another state. He realized he had been lied to. He was not getting “rehab”. He was being warehoused with a lot of others, far worse off than he was with dementia. Jack flew into Jonas’ town and contacted a competent elder law attorney at once.
Jack advised the attorney that her father was very wealthy. Maybe Becky just wanted his money. He was furious at what Becky had done. She had taken away all of Jonas’ credit cards and identification. She had also taken over Jonas’ bank and investment accounts, and changed all the passwords so Jonas could not even see what was going on. She had transferred millions of dollars of his money into her own private account to which Jonas did not have access. All of this was done without his knowledge or consent. This was elder abuse!
The attorney first had Jonas tested by a licensed psychologist, to see if he still had the mental capacity to change his legal documents. That got done. The psychologist did the testing and interviewing over a period of three hours. This was not a superficial exam. He then reported that Jonas did indeed understand what he had, and that he was capable of decision-making. He did well enough on testing for the doctor to state that he had the necessary capacity to do whatever he wanted with his legal documents. The attorney then promptly changed the Power of Attorney and healthcare directive for Jonas, as he requested, and got documentation from the psychologist as to Jonas’ capacity. Jonas appointed Jack to be in charge.
Jack then went to the assisted living home to move Jonas out and take him home. The assisted living place, having a record of Becky being in charge, called her. Becky called the police. The attorney, Jack, Jonas and the police officer all stood in the lobby, attempting to get this straight. The officer interviewed Jonas. He was very clear in stating his desire to have Jack in charge and that he wanted to go home. The officer then told the assisted living staff that Jonas interviewed very well and was clear about what he wanted. He said that they could not hold Jonas against his will and to let him go! Jack moved his Dad out. But it didn’t end there.
Jack took Jonas to a hotel to rest for the remainder of the stressful day. He then drove Jonas to his home. The door was locked and they could not enter. A different daughter was there, and she told Jonas he could not come into his own home. With that, it was clearly time for the attorney to get a court order to stop the abuse. She collected the necessary information and presented the claim to the court. She asked for what in California is called an “elder abuse restraining order.” These are protective restraining orders designed to stop abusers from having access to a vulnerable elder. There was a hearing in court. The attorney for Jonas succeeded. As part of the order, the other evil daughter who locked Jonas out of his own home had to move out immediately. Jonas’ attorney will seek an emergency guardianship, called conservatorship in California, to further keep him safe from any other abuse. Jonas is in favor of it and will cooperate. Jack and his supportive brother will both be in complete charge of Jonas, when the conservatorship is granted.
This is a sad matter of betrayal of trust, a very distressed 96 year old, and at least two sons who care enough to go out of their way and hire a lawyer to protect their Dad. Because Jonas has assets, all of this can be accomplished with a competent private attorney. Without that financial security and the ability to hire a good lawyer, it is likely that the daughters would have gotten away with this horrible abuse
- If you are the elder in your own family be very careful about whom you appoint on these powerful legal documents that are part of your estate planning. Don’t choose an adult child nearby just because they are conveniently located. Be sure the appointed person is totally trustworthy.
- If you are an adult child who sees a sibling taking advantage of your aging loved one, step in and at least get legal advice as to the rights your elder may have to change an appointment of who is in charge. Sometimes it is too late for the elder to still have the capacity to change the original Power of Attorney and healthcare directive. Dementia will erode capacity. Other more forceful legal steps may be needed to protect the elder.
- Senior care homes vary in how restrictive they can be. No one like Jonas should ever be forced to go to one, particularly when he has the means to remain in his own home with caregivers if he needs them. Assisted living homes are less restrictive than nursing homes, but in this case, they tried to force an elder to stay when he wanted to leave with his family member. They saw the new legal documents Jonas had signed and they refused to accept them.
- Facing the serious question of whether an elder has legal capacity to make decisions about who is in charge of assets and healthcare must be explored thoroughly. A safe way to figure it out is to insist on what is called neuropsychological testing. This is standardized throughout the U.S., and it can only be administered by a licensed psychologist, not a medical doctor. There is an interview and testing of the elder. It is scored with numbers, and compared with what is normal. Some psychologists are unethical and actually do harm in what they write up. Others do the right thing, and are not doing the testing at the request of a greedy family member. The most reliable assessments of elders take place over time and the doctor uses more than one source of information to get to the truth about an elder’s capacity for making decisions.