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Conflicts over control: Guardianship versus power of attorney

When a parent starts to have problems functioning independently, the situation can aggravate tensions between their adult children, especially if there's a dispute over who should be handling Mom or Dad's financial affairs.

Sometimes, one sibling will go to great lengths to try to ensure a "win" over the other. Even if you currently hold your parent's financial power of attorney, there are some underhanded maneuvers you may need to anticipate.

Approaching the court for guardianship without warning

You may have been handling your parent's financial (and medical) affairs for years without any intrusion or interest from your sibling. That makes it shocking when your sibling steps in and asks the court for guardianship without warning you that legal action is coming or discussing why such actions are necessary.

Suddenly restricting access to your parent

The sibling who wants guardianship may employ a variety of tricks to suddenly restrict your access to your parent. He or she may then use that recent lack of contact as a pretext for asking the court to grant their petition. Your sibling may suddenly convince your mother or father to move in with them even to an out-of-state location. They may also convince your parent that you have been "controlling" them, while simultaneously offering the idea of guardianship as a way that they can "protect" your parent from further "exploitation."

These sort of maneuvers can often work on a parent who is experiencing the early stages of dementia. Paranoid feelings can be common — and your parent may simply not be thinking clearly enough to recognize your sibling's manipulations.

Using a trust to gain control of any assets

This can be a clever maneuver, as it can throw all of your parent's finances into confusion and leave the banks unsure how to proceed. Plus, your parent may be convinced to sign over new power of attorney papers at the same time the trust is created. This effectively shuts you out and gives your sibling the legal upper hand.

If you anticipate one of your siblings might do any of these things, then recognize the potential for a problem early. Don't wait until the probate court is involved. Effective estate planning includes looking at ways to shut down "hostile takeovers" by siblings and other relatives who may not have your parent's best interests at heart.

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