How to Stop an Aging Parent From Giving Money Away

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Aging adults give away billions of dollars a year to unscrupulous criminals, family members, friends, charities, and caregivers. Sometimes they have the money to give, and other times waste their entire estate and go into debt.

The context in which this happens has everything to do with whether you can stop an aging parent from giving their money away. Unfortunately, some situations are not black and white and can result in protracted arguments and eventual estrangement. 

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You may think that your parent is being taken advantage of, or you suspect that your parent is giving unusual sums of money to a sibling. Imagining a sibling taking advantage of your parent is very hard to accept, but it happens.  

Families have gone to court over money issues and whether a parent has the right to give money to whomever they want. The best solution is prevention and ensuring that you have all of the protections in place before you need them, starting with a financial power of attorney and a will.

How Can You Tell If Your Aging Parent Is Being Taken Advantage of Financially?

If you suspect your aging parent is being taken advantage of financially, there are several ways to find out. But, the critical piece that must be in place to make your job easier is that you already have some financial authority- power of attorney. Without the legal right to investigate your parent’s account activity, it will be a challenge to determine whether there is financial exploitation.

If you are a long-distance caregiver, there is still much you can do to detect financial exploitation. Hiring in-home caregivers or a geriatric care manager can assist you in reporting back on suspicious activity and monitoring mail and phone calls.

Cognitive impairment

Older adults with dementia are particularly vulnerable to exploitation from anyone, including a family member. They may be susceptible to fraudulent stories or to family members who attempt to convince them to change their will.

An aging parent with dementia may participate in sweepstakes or allow door-to-door salespeople to perform work on their home that isn’t needed. Or someone takes your parent’s money promising to do work and never comes back. Computer scams, mail, phone calls are all ways older adults with dementia are taken advantage of.  

Unexplained account activity

Usually, what this means is larger than normal sums of money flowing out of the account. These could be cash transactions (therefore not traceable to a person), or you may be able to see who the money is going to. Also, review credit card activity for unusual purchases that are not normal for your parent. 

A sudden love interest

Many older adults are widowed, lonely, and vulnerable to scam artists who convince them that they want a romantic relationship. What follows are requests for money for them or one of their family members. Most professional caregivers are honest and committed workers, but some may cross the line and take cash or gifts from an older adult or even convince them to marry to gain access to their finances. 

Unpaid bills

If you notice unpaid bills, look closely at your parent’s accounts to see if there is a cash flow problem. If there is, it might be an indication that money is going to someone else. Take notice if utilities are turned off, or other bills go unpaid. 

Your parent suddenly changes their will

If your parent tells you they want to change their will, or worse yet, changes it without your knowledge, this could be a red flag. Try and see a copy of the new will to see who the new beneficiaries are. Has the will changed to one sibling, and the others are no longer included? Is the new beneficiary a love interest or caregiver?

Social isolation

Isolation leads to loneliness, making older adults more vulnerable to financial predators or manipulation by a friend or family member. Loneliness coupled with medical and physical problems can make an elder more vulnerable to persuasion.

If your parent lives alone, consider getting rid of the landline and get them a cell phone. If junk mail is a problem, have the mail sent to you for sorting. 

Personality changes

When someone is being manipulated and threatened, you might notice a behavior change. Your parent might be more fearful, anxious, or depressed. It is not unusual for older adults to deny that they are being manipulated because they are afraid of threatened reprisals. Or, your parent is defensive about giving money and gifts to a “friend” or love interest. 

Can You Stop an Aging Parent From Giving Money Away?

This is a challenging question with no simple answer. Within reason, your parent has the right to give money to whomever they want. Things become more complicated if there is a question on whether your parent has capacity. Capacity is a legal definition determined by the court system and based on medical evidence and is due to dementia in most cases. Start early to set up estate planning documents that address the possibility of incapacity should it happen later. 

If there is a question about your parent’s capacity when they have given money away, there is the possibility of petitioning the court for guardianship/conservatorship. But, someone could object to this process by asserting that when your parent gave the money away, they were not deemed legally incapacitated. 

In cases where criminals are exploiting someone financially, you can intervene by taking over your parent’s accounts or contacting the bank, assuming you have the legal authority to do so. By taking over all account activity, you can prevent your parent from giving money to unscrupulous people or charities. Take care in these circumstances not to infringe on your parent’s right to give money to legitimate sources. 

How to Discourage Your Parent From Giving Away Money

Discouraging your parent from giving money away can be challenging and frustrating. But it is critical that you must make every effort to stop your parent from wasting their estate if criminal activity is involved. If your siblings or other family members are involved in financial exploitation, things could get contentious. Sadly, family members are the biggest perpetrators of financial abuse.

Talk to your parent

Talk to your parent first to get their side of things. Try and stay calm and neutral so you can get accurate information and find out how they are feeling about the situation. Encourage your parent to open up to you about what is happening so you can gather evidence if you need it later. Be respectful and empathetic during these discussions. 

Have a family meeting

In cases where you have evidence that a family member is receiving large sums of money, having a family meeting is a good place to start. You want to give the family the benefit of the doubt and clarify any misunderstandings. Once you have a clearer picture of what the situation is, you can proceed from there. Sometimes family members justify taking money from a parent but aren’t aware of the legal and ethical consequences.

If outside criminal activity is involved, suggest that the family strategize and agree upon a course of action. If it seems appropriate, you can include your aging parent in these discussions but expect there could be resistance and anger about your interference. 

Education

Consider educating your parent about their financial situation. They may have little knowledge of their assets and expenses and the toll that giving money away is having on the estate. If you suspect that someone outside the family is exploiting your parent remind them of their will and the original intent to leave money to family members. Spell out what these losses mean and how they affect everyone and could compromise future care. 

Enlist the help of a financial advisor or estate planning attorney

The best time to meet with an estate planning attorney is before something like this happens. But if you haven’t, sometimes getting a professional involved can have more of an impact on your parent’s decision-making than you can. A financial advisor or estate planning attorney is a neutral party who can evaluate and identify areas of concern and explain costs of care moving forward. 

Contact Adult Protective Services and other authorities

If you have done everything you can to try and stop fraudulent behavior from someone else, you can contact adult protective services. They won’t necessarily be able to do anything if they determine that your parent willingly and knowingly gives their money to someone else.

But, if they suspect coercion or threats, or other criminal behavior, they may intervene. Also, every state and the federal government have departments to contact to report scams.  Have your evidence ready to present in detail. 

Consult an elder law attorney

Sadly, family members are most often the perpetrators of the financial abuse of a parent. If you suspect or have evidence that this is the case, contact an elder law attorney to advise you on legal options.  Families have spent vast sums of money fighting one another over their parent’s estate, so choose your options carefully. 

How to Stop an Aging Parent From Giving Away Money

If your parent has the capacity to make sound decisions and there is no criminal activity involved, they can give money to anyone they want. You may not like it, but you may have to accept their decision. However, if you suspect coercion or exploitation, then take the actions we suggest to stop the unnecessary depletion of your parent’s estate.

Approach all of your communication with compassion, accepting that your parent may not fully understand the consequences of their actions. 

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