By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
My mother is in a wheelchair and can no longer care for herself.
I, having a durable power of attorney, moved her into my home and sold her house. My father, who passed away in 2009, and my mother had a joint will leaving all they owned to my sister and me.
After I sold the house, my sister claimed that half of the money belongs to her. I told her that the money belongs to our mother, as she is still alive, and that I will use it in the best interest of our mother.
My sister wants me to make her a loan using our mother’s money. My sister is not very trustworthy. She has a $25,000 debt with the IRS, and keeps a crack-cocaine addict as a live-in boyfriend.
What are my legal obligations to my sister?
Wanna Do What’s Right
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<STRONG> <INTERNET URL="https://twitter.com/Quantanamo" LOCATION="EXTERNAL" /> </STRONG> Dear Do What’s Right,
You have no obligation to your sister, legal or otherwise.
As your mother’s power of attorney, you have a fiduciary duty to her. That means you are legally obliged to act in the best interests of your mother, and make financial decisions with her permission, and ones that benefit her long-term care. That care may get more expensive.
This duty does not include making a case to your mother to lend your sister money — because your sister believes that she is owed money from an inheritance that does not exist. The proceeds from the sale of your mother’s house belong to your mother, and should be used for her and her alone.
I have received numerous letters over the years from people who acted with power of attorney, such as this letter writer who invested and lost $40,000 of her mother’s money in the stock market, and this woman who had a battle royale with her aunt over her grandmother’s estate.
I will tell you what I told them: Having power of attorney is not a task that should be taken lightly. Not only have you taken on an awesome responsibility of caring for another person and their finances, but you are also vulnerable to legal proceedings if you act improperly.
I understand that you want to please everyone, and you feel responsible for your sister. But you are not responsible for her, and you can’t please everyone. So don’t try. You can follow the law and do what’s right for your mother, as you have done consistently up to now.
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