My mother-in-law doesn’t want to care for her husband with Alzheimer’s — but took his home and money
Published: July 21, 2017 7:41 a.m. ET
Her husband signed a document giving her power of attorney a year ago
PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR
My father-in-law got remarried 14 years ago. He wrote a new will,
leaving his home and money to his new wife should he happen to die
first. He has now gotten Alzheimer’s and she no longer wants to care for
him. She has asked his son to take him as she does not want to put him
in a long-term care facility. This is only after she tried to move him
to an assisted-living care facility and he totally resisted. He has
enough of his senses to know that this is not what he wanted.
His wife had my father-in-law sign a power of attorney a year ago (when
he was partially of sound mind and body) and has taken it upon herself
to sign the house over to herself. They had a shared bank account with
$100,000 and she put it in an annuity in her name only. The only money
he has left is his government pension which she can’t touch and is in
Also see: My brother stole my $110,000 inheritance by altering our
My brother-in-law is now caring for his dad and seems to have no
recourse to get half of his ownership in the home and half of the
$100,000. They are still married and we want to complete a separation of assets. She still has the power of attorney and has only given my brother-in-law a medical power of attorney. Once we get approval from
his wife to move the pension over to his own bank she will no longer be
able to afford their home and be forced to sell.
If she was going to put him in an assisted living facility there would
have been a cost associated and she would have had to pay some money.
Since my father-in-law is in the care of his son, his wife has not
offered to provide any assistance. What recourse do we have to get half
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She lives in Ohio and my father-in-law now lives in South Carolina with
Shocking stories? The Moneyologist has heard a few. But there was a
point in your letter — “she no longer wants to take care of him” — where
my jaw actually dropped.
It seems like she does not or cannot pay for a private nursing home or
she does not want to explore the options available to your father-in-law
under Medicaid, which is administered by the states. As Richard
Eisenberg from NextAvengue.org recently wrote on MarketWatch, “Roughly
52% of people turning 65 today will require long-term care at some
point” and, he added, “I’m sad to say that the new AARP ‘Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard’ finds that most states aren’t
doing a great job helping people needing such care.” And Ohio ranked 34
out of all 50 states.
Also see: How can I ensure my husband and his lazy kids honor my will?
There seems to be very little you can do to challenge the will your father-in-law wrote 14 years ago, but I’m not convinced that power-of-attorney that he signed one year ago is beyond reach. He may
not have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago, but this is a progressive disease and the symptoms can start a long time before a
person requires medical care. What’s more, he may have been mentally fit enough to be aware of how he would be dependent on his wife of 14 years.
He was scared, he trusted her, his mental state could also have been
even slightly impaired (as his or any doctor could attest based on other Alzheimer’s cases).
He must have been of sound mind AND not under or subject to duress,
restraint, fraud or undue influence.
“Alzheimer’s can last a long, long time,” says Anne Tumlinson, founder
of Daughterhood, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that provides information and resources to people caring for aging parents. “People
with Alzheimer’s are much more likely to be among the 14% of older
adults who have very high care needs that last beyond 5 years. It’s definitely the one care situation that can bankrupt everyone in the
family.” As a result, she says, seeking seek legal assistance “immediately” is really important.
When care needs go on this long, often the only option or recourse — particularly for the extremely demanding care needs of someone with Alzheimer’s — is a nursing home, which because of the high cost, will
end up being reimbursed by Medicaid, Tumlinson says. There is one major possible complication, however. “His wife could be standing in the way
of this man’s eligibility for Medicaid because states do not let the ‘community spouse’ keep all the money while the state Medicaid program
pays for care. The community spouse can keep some of the money but not
all of it.”
As I have told other people who have written into this column, hire a
lawyer who specializes in conservatorship and challenge this power of
attorney now, rather than later. You could petition a court to have
yourself appointed instead. And advice I have given to divorcing
couples, may apply here too. California, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana,
Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington treat all marital assets as
community property, meaning that assets acquired during the marriage
only are divided equally between the two spouses. But in California, for example, children may receive a portion of separate property.
Your wife’s mother-in-law may have washed her hands of her husband of 14 years, but he has a family to take care of him and give him the respect
and love that he deserves. But he will need financial support. Some 42%
of people caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s spend $20,000 or
more a year on caregiving, which includes out-of-pocket expenses for
assisted living, in-home caregivers, medication and medical bills,
according to one report by Caring.com. One-third of that number spend
$30,000 or more. The cost of end-of-life care for dementia (at $278,000)
is far more than cancer ($173,400) or heart disease ($175,100), another
survey by MetLife last year showed.
For these reasons — ethical and financial — you owe it to your father-in-law, wife and brother-in-law to seek legal advice and do for
this man what he cannot do for himself.
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