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Oct. 22, 2020, 12:24 p.m. EDT

My aunt ransacked my late mother’s house. All paper was removed — except for one alarming letter from her doctor

‘When I retained a lawyer and the lawyer contacted my aunt, she said my mom gave her everything. My aunt is a retired police officer and has a lot of connections’

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Moneyist,

My mom passed away and my aunt didn’t even notify me. I found out one month later. No one was notified. When I found out I was devastated and dumbfounded. When I went to my mom’s house, it had been ransacked. Literally, all the paper in the house was taken. You would be lucky to even find a gum wrapper.

To my surprise, my mom’s boyfriend had written a fictitious power of attorney saying that my mom gave him all of her belongings: her house, car and bank accounts. The writing was not my mom’s, nor was the signature. It was not witnessed and my mom’s signature was forged.

The Moneyist: My husband earned less than me for a decade, so I paid more towards our expenses. I want him to repay me

It gets better. I was able to stop him from getting any money from my mother’s bank accounts and life insurance, 401(k), etc. But when I retained a lawyer and the lawyer contacted my aunt, she said my mom gave her everything. My aunt is a retired police officer and has a lot of connections.

I did find one alarming letter from her doctor, dated in 2012. It was the result of a diagnostics test saying my mother had developed a significant cognitive deficit. I believe that my aunt manipulated my mom into revising a new trust and leaving me out of it. How can I find out the truth of this matter?


Dear Stephen,

Of all the pieces of paper to leave behind, that was not the one.

The hospital and doctor will have a record of your mother’s case, which should illustrate that she was not of sound mind when these transactions took place. If your aunt and/or your late mother’s boyfriend convinced your mother to sign over her home and your mother was already in cognitive decline, and they benefited disproportionately from that designation, they have not only left themselves open to allegations of fraud, they have likely shown themselves to be guilty of elder abuse. Either way, it looks bad for them. I’m only sorry you have to go through this.

You did the right thing by hiring a lawyer immediately and freezing all bank accounts. Once spent, money can be difficult to recover. Ditto personal belongings, especially if there was no inventory of your mother’s belongings. There is also a statute of limitations on wills, and the clock usually starts ticking after the will has been filed with the probate court. The statute also varies by state. There are different deadlines for trusts and wills that apply to different claims, and those statutes can change depending on circumstances. But there is no statute for fraud.

The Moneyist: My late husband did not see his son in 30 years. Should I mail his son photos and other memorabilia — and risk him making a claim on his estate?

A power of attorney has a fiduciary duty to act in your mother’s best interests. Part of that responsibility involves keeping receipts and being completely transparent, informing family members of transactions. In such cases where a person did not act responsibly and funds were misappropriated, the banks in question have been held liable. But these cases are obviously complex. Transferring assets into your aunt’s name adds another problematic layer and, in a worst-case scenario, could be regarded as theft and fraud by your mother’s estate attorney and the courts.

Your aunt’s connections to the local police force won’t help her now.

The Moneyist: My wife and I live with my dying mother. My brothers and I will inherit her home. Should I ask her to sell it — and move in with me?

<STRONG>You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com</STRONG> . Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here.

<STRONG>Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out <INTERNET URL="https://www.facebook.com/groups/moneyist/" LOCATION="EXTERNAL">the Moneyist private Facebook</INTERNET><PHRASE TYPE="COMPANY" SIGNIFICANCE="PASSING-MENTION"><SYMBOL COUNTRY="US" TICKER="FB"></SYMBOL></PHRASE> group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.</STRONG>

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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