Huge family mess/aunt in nursing home (long)

beacheAugust 16, 2011

My widowed aunt (my uncle's wife) went into the hospital in late December '10 and was moved to a nursing home in early January '11. We did not know this before, but apparently she had granted Power of Attorney (POA) to her out of state niece (on her side of the family) back in 2009.

She had been showing signs of confusion off and on, but had managed to cook, pay her bills and walk a mile round trip each day to pick up her mail. Lots of friends and family kept her socially active. And we all kept an eye on her to make sure she was okay. I did notice that she seemed to be getting more confused and an incident in January made it pretty clear that she needed some additional supervision.

But suddenly this niece puts her in a nursing home 40 minutes away from everyone she knows and loves. She cleaned out the apartment and took everything (I don't care about the belongings) including my aunt's lockbox with all of her critical papers in it. My aunt had nothing. She is on Title 19. The niece visits rarely, doesn't return my aunt's phone calls and refuses to move her to a beautiful nursing facility just 10 minutes from where she lived her entire life. If my aunt lived there her relatives could easily visit her, take her to lunch etc. Over the past few months my aunt has become increasingly upset over the situation. The niece told her "I am the boss of you" and "You are here for life". Friends and relatives who called the niece were told that she was in charge and they were not to question her decisions. We were not privy to any information about my aunt's medical diagnosis, her social worker reports, or anything else. Meanwhile my aunt started suggesting that the niece was ripping her off. My aunt seemed depressed and angry.

Finally when my cousin came home from visiting my aunt she couldn't stand seeing her so unhappy. After being rebuffed again by the niece my cousin contacted me and I agreed to help her. We took my aunt to her attorney. Once he determined that she was doing this of her own free will he revoked the niece's POA and my aunt gave the POA to both me and my cousin. The attorney sent the niece the POA revocation along with a letter listing the things my aunt wanted returned.

We knew the niece would not be happy, but wow, we had no idea where this would all go. The niece flipped out and has called my aunt several times screaming at her. She calls the nursing home crying. She called my cousin and refuses to return any of my aunt's belongings including her lock-box with her papers, her wedding ring and my uncle's watch. Hmmm....

So with very little information and our POA clutched in our hands we started asking questions. We found out the following:

--Savings account emptied as of March($3000)

--Full monthly payments have not been made to the nursing home ($1135 missing)

--Full deposits have not been made to my aunt's personal spending account at the nursing home so she has no money to buy stamps or get her hair done.

--$205 per month was supposed to be sent to AARP supplemental insurance and the remainder to the nursing home. That policy was canceled for nonpayment in Feb'11 so that's 6 months of premiums that she pocketed.

--And today we found out my biggest fear had come true--the niece cashed in my aunt's life insurance policy, which was only enough to bury her.

My question for all of you is, what should we do now? Do we call the State and report Title 19 fraud? Do we call the police? We are lost in all of this and never expected anything more than an argument from the niece. But never thought we'd uncover illegal activity! Any input is appreciated.

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People like this deserve to be nailed to the wall. And, actually, it may not cost you too much to do it. What you described is criminal. However, given the amount of value described, I suspect you'll not recover much more than the physical items. If they're important, use the threat of criminal prosecution to get them back. If she remains uncooperative, don't hesitate to move ahead.

That attorney you talked to shouldn't have let you out of their office before asking you if your aunt has a will and, if so, who is named as personal representative. Most often it's the same person named in the POA. Might want to check that out.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 7:59PM
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Yes, there was fraud. But whether you want to do anything about it is up to you. It sounds as if it could get messy.

Now, about those papers....Do you think there is any thing in that lockbox that is really critical? Things like deeds, etc. can usually be verified by other means.

Keeping things like your aunt's wedding ring seem to me to be a case of theft. Perhaps threatning to call the law might get her cooperation. She'll scream, but let her.
This woman needs to be taught a lesson. I think you could also get a restraining order so that she cannot call or bother your aunt.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 8:21PM
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asolo, The attorney prepared the will for my aunt and my sister in law is the executor.

There are no deeds, titles etc. in the box. But the ring and her life insurance policies are in there. I fear the niece made herself the owner of all of them and will cash them in one by one. My aunt never owned her own home or anything but those policies totaled about $8000 face value so we knew a funeral would be covered.

One would think that someone who is stealing from a helpless elderly woman would lay low and hope she doesn't get discovered. Instead she's fighting hard and threatening to sue! She also said to my aunt "I'm family! I could get into trouble!"

I probably wouldn't pursue criminal charges, but I will notify the state that administers Title 19 and they can do what they will with her.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 8:44PM
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Most of the papers in the lock box are probably not as important as you think. If you know what insurance companies she deals with you can call the company or see a rep and show him your POA. The deed can be checked on at the court house. I have called and found out who owned certain buildings over the phone. As far as cashing in the insurance policy and theft of money, she had POA at the time, but I think she can be audited. Being audited may be a good way to get her to co-operate. If the family who cares about her get together and share the cost, I would go after the woman, just on principal.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 8:48PM
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Contact Adult Protective Services thru your local District Attorney or Social Services (varies state by state.) They'll take care of the criminal part of it.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 9:02PM
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".....she's fighting hard and threatening to sue! She also said to my aunt "I'm family! I could get into trouble!""

Right....who's she going to sue...and for what? What an idiot.

This is one disgusting piece of dung for a human being. Make your complaint to the appropriate authorities and give them every assistance in the prosecution. Except for time and aggravation, it will cost you nothing. She deserves to have her life ruined.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 9:28PM
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You might also talk to the lawyer and get a restraining order against the niece. No phone calls, no visiting etc. Did she sign any checks to deposit where??? This would be fraud and it could be a form of Elder Abuse which is in many states a felony. The reason she is upset is that her ""income"" is cut off. Be firm, make sure you and your cousin start a journal and document everything. Dates, times, who you talked to, why, threats, etc Is there a Council of Aging in your area? Senior Citizen Center? These people can be a be help guiding you to protect yourselves and your Aunt.
Good Luck and stay alert.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 10:58PM
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Thank you everyone. I contacted DSS today and they gave me the name of the Ombudsman to contact regarding elder abuse. They will look at both the verbal abuse (today the niece told her "I will haunt you the rest of your life.") and the exploitation (monetary) of my aunt. We are looking into a restraining order. My cousin is documenting every conversation regarding this situation.

The niece called today and told my aunt that she would return the box of papers, but she knows nothing about the engagement ring or my uncle's watch. She also told my aunt that she gave away all of her clothes. She never showed up with the box. And now my poor aunt has no winter clothes, boots or even a coat. Of course we will help her out....

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 11:32PM
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Beache, you're doing all the right things. Be sure that you (family) are prepared to actually press charges. Many many times, families are unwilling to press criminal charges on a member, no matter how bad the fraud. But you are in good hands following thru with the agencies you have contacted.

The down side is that you may not (probably not) get back anything that the niece stole. But the most important thing is that your aunt is protected going forward.

Good for you and the others for stepping up and taking care of your aunt!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 1:04PM
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"Family" stuff is almost always rough. If the niece is willing to make restitution and thereafter behave herself, I would have a different opinion about prosecution than I do. However, OP has described a real stinker. Doesn't sound like enough money to get excited about but the behavior described is truly despicable.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2011 at 1:53PM
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Also, POA only goes into effect (at least in my state) if the person who granted it is unable to give directions about their affairs, so if this niece acted independently without your aunt's consent --it sounds like your aunt WAS aware of what was going on and protested (too bad that no one at the nursing home was an advocate for her either) and when it was NOT necessary for her to step in as POA (since your aunt is competent enough to execute another POA!) she IS guilty of fraud, theft and certainly elder abuse.

I would definitely call the police, and senior protective services. This is a criminal matter. If you are lucky, some of the money that she stole can be recovered from her accounts or wages if action is quick enough before she hides it (hopefully she has not spent it).

Where are this niece's parents, siblings etc in all of this? Will they be helping her hide the money?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 4:17PM
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Depends upon how POA is worded. Generally, competent people after giving POA can unilaterally rescind it or any portion of it at any time by even verbally saying so.

In my own several cases -- including now, with mom -- the grantor handled things when they could. If they couldn't or didn't want to, I took over. In each of my cases, the "authority" to act went back and forth depending upon circumstances.

However, in ALL cases the "attorney-in-fact" named in the document has a fiduciary duty to act in the grantor's best interest....that is, to act on grantor's behalf as they would have acted had they been able or willing. They must do this to the best of their abilities and as a "reasonable" person with such a responsibility would. It is a legal obligation. What has been described here was criminal on the part of the "attorney-in-fact" both in her assumption of authority contrary to grantor's wishes and in her self-interested actions even she had authority.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 1:56PM
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Hi everyone. My cousin and I are still working on getting my aunt moved closer to us and on reporting this niece to the authorities. We have spent hours on the phone and in meetings. Believe it or not everyone in the state keeps passing the buck on this case. We had the state nursing home ombudsman get involved (finally someone returned our calls!!). He went the nursing home and talked to my aunt, the nursing home director and the business office staff. He said that the niece DID commit fraud on my aunt, the nursing home and the state. He said my cousin and I did a great job digging up all this info, but that he was going to do nothing because our actions have stopped her from continuing the behavior. What!!!??!!

We managed to find two untouched life insurance policies worth about $4000 total and we set up an account with a funeral home. The other 5 policies are gone and were never reported to the State on the Title 19 application. We are meeting this week with the nursing home Director to see if they are interested in pursuing this woman. If not, I'm calling the Attorney General's office as recommended by the funeral director.

I am so frustrated with all of this! Will keep you updated as things happen.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 1:28PM
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Love it! So....if break into your house but don't break into any other houses afterword, then I'm not responsible for the first burglary because I'm not doing that anymore? Nope. She did what she did. She committed criminal acts. She knew it was wrong and she did it anyway....just like the burglar. She caused harm and, if not stopped, would have caused more.

Again, I say if there was remorse and restitution I would have a different opinion.

However, in the greater scheme of things, this is small stuff for the AG or any enforcement agency. Only you can decide if it's worth the effort. I sure do like to see people like you've described get their desserts, though.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 4:29PM
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