Why parents often don’t share information about their assets
As Baby Boomers and their parents age, we’re receiving more questions about how to manage their housing and their inheritances. We’ll continue to publish these questions, comments and our responses, and encourage you to keep sending them our way.
Reader comment: Maybe there was more information from your correspondent being blindsided by his sister setting up a trust without including him, but your answer indicates you assume the mom has good reason to do so. Here’s a quick synopsis of my story:
Ten years ago, I learned my brother had exploited my parents out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. When I confronted him about this — asking questions about his reasons — he commenced a years-long campaign to convince my mother that I was mean to him and aggravating a health condition of his. His wife, who I barely know, joined forces with him, which really convinced my mother I was no good.
Neither of us live near our mother, but over these years, I have been the one to always go when she needed extra help for medical issues, including many surgeries and emergencies. I do every holiday with her. He sees her generally three times a year on New Year’s Eve, on her birthday and for a vacation at the lake where she used to rent a cabin.
I tried to get my mother to go to joint therapy and have repeatedly suggested mediation to iron out things, but have instead watched a slow erosion of my place in the family.
I started out as the executor of her estate with powers of attorney for financial matters and health care, and my brother was alternate. Now there has been a series of four or five wills that eroded this. Apparently, my brother and his wife have taken over all these powers and appear to be creating a trust that is secret from me. If my mother were to pass away today, it appears that each of my children would get one-sixth of her estate and my brother and his wife (they have no children) would get two-thirds with nothing for me. I have only learned this by occasionally snooping.
I’ve talked to an adult protective services worker who said they see this sort of exploitation frequently, but that it is very hard to prove anything and put in place protections for an older person. I am talking to an attorney now who specializes in these cases and said it is typical for one child to be able to manipulate the parent and turn her and/or him against the sibling.
Unfortunately, my father, who would never have gone along with this, passed away before I learned that my brother has essentially taken my mother’s money. It is very hard to prove undue influence, and clear incompetence is also not necessarily a factor easy to demonstrate.
Rather than assuming the left-out child deserves it, it might be nice to encourage parents to be open with their children about their plans and be willing to listen to all children’s concerns. Our family will never again be whole — and it was so unnecessary.
Thanks for considering another viewpoint.