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Parent's New Roomate Should Cause Concern
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: My parents were always close-mouthed about their finances and guarded their privacy with a passion. But since my mother died three years ago, I have seen a change in my father Ė now 81. Six months ago, he allowed a 47-year-old woman and her 22-year-old daughter (at least I think itís her daughter) to move into his home. This is very unlike him. He tells me they met at church and he took them in because they had no other place to go. He also tells me that the 47-year-old is a financial whiz and is paying his bills and handling his money so he wonít have to worry.

I have never met these two, and Dad has never offered to introduce us. When we visit, neither woman is there. But his home is clean. He tells us they are out shopping, and our visits are relatively short.

I have a brother and sister, but I am the closest geographically. We have talked and donít know what to do about this situation. We donít know if Dad has signed a power of attorney or what. We are concerned about what might happen if he gets sick, or if all of his money that will be necessary for his care is taken. Is there anything we can do?

Answer: The situation you describe may well be a recipe for disaster Ė that is, if disaster hasnít already clobbered your fatherís finances. While the intentions of your fatherís friend and her daughter may be exemplary, it appears to us that red flags have been waving in the wind. A stranger of the opposite sex Ė or even the same sex -- who moves in with an elderly individual and takes over his or her finances is most unusual and may connote undue influence. And just as disturbing and suspicious is your fatherís refusal to introduce you and other family members to this trusted financial confidante.

While all individuals are entitled to privacy in their financial dealings, and while we understand your fatherís desire to keep these matters private, when elderly people reach the point that they must depend on others for care, itís time for them to be candid and to share information just in case the unthinkable Ė incapacity Ė occurs. Advisors and others in whom elderly persons may place their trust should foster and encourage, not discourage and denigrate, family relationships.

Taking the NextStep: Since your father is not incapacitated, you will not be able to be appointed as his conservator or guardian. Without his authorization (which he probably wonít give you), you wonít be able to get information from his doctor, lawyer, or banker, either. Therefore, we suggest you consider the following: 1) Try to take your father away from his home and have a heart-to-heart talk with him. In a non-confrontational manner, tell him about your concerns. Tell him that you and your siblings are concerned about him and would like to help him. Try to find out if he has signed a power of attorney. 2) Consider checking out the roommateís background and the situation through an experienced private detective. Try to find out if the roommate has a criminal record . 3) Go to the public records in the county where your father lives and see if you can find a recorded power of attorney. Find out if your father has put a mortgage on his home or if new vehicles have been registered in his or her name. 4) Go to the probate or surrogate court where your motherís estate was probated and get copies of the estate inventories which will show you what your mother owned when she died. These records might give you some idea about what your father started off with when your mother died. 5) Consider reporting your concerns to your local adult protective services agency, as it appears to us there is a good probability that your father may be a vulnerable adult taken advantage of by an unscrupulous predator. But whatever you do, try not to breach whatever is left of your relationship with your father unless is it absolutely necessary.

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