Home » Business » ‘He demonizes me’: My delightful father, 95, has substantial assets. I’m afraid my right-wing brother will steal his money. What can I do?

‘He demonizes me’: My delightful father, 95, has substantial assets. I’m afraid my right-wing brother will steal his money. What can I do?

Dear Quentin,

My dapper, delightful father, 95, has substantial assets and has made a very simple, notarized will leaving his assets — mostly equities — 50/50 to my brother and me. My brother is named executor, and he also has the sign-in passwords to all our father’s investment accounts.

Father lives most of the year in Ohio, near my not-as-delightful, tobacco-chewing, right-wing younger brother, who hates my independence and politics. My brother used to just call me a feminazi and libtard, which was fine.

He demonizes me, I believe, in psychological preparation to embezzle our father’s estate, and cheat me out of my inheritance. He told me if I contact him ever again by phone, text or email he will not notify me if our father dies.

Unethical ways of profiting off our father

There are many ways he could unduly profit when the time is nigh: (1.) secretly change the transfer-on-death beneficiaries on accounts secretly, (2.) take money out of the accounts using our father’s passwords, and (3.) overcharge executor fees and delay probate. 

I have shared my concerns with my father several times, but he is strangely reluctant to do a better will or a trust, or change executors. He will not listen. They are closer geographically, and my brother loves and socializes with him, which is great. I live 2,000 miles away.

I do hope my suspicions are unfounded, and truly have no ill will towards my brother, but, justifiably, also no trust. It’s expensive to have to hire a forensic accountant or investigator after the fact. Is there anything I can do now to prevent my brother’s potential unethical behavior?

Suspicious Sister

“Animosity does not bode well for a smooth probate.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear Sister,

Whether your brother is right-wing, left-wing, left or right of center, the issue seems to be your political and personal differences. In families, it’s hard to know which came first. My guess is neither of you were compatible to begin with. Rarely can such divisions be traced to one thing.

That leaves you with a broken relationship, and one person in control of your father’s estate; with access to his bank accounts; and, possibly, with power of attorney over your father’s finances and healthcare while he is still alive. Animosity does not bode well for a smooth probate.

Several states, including California, have civil penalties if an executor or administrator fails to file probate, and, as an interested party, you can petition for the removal of the executor of your father’s estate, and have a court-appointed executor instead. 

More than 369,000 cases of financial elder abuse are reported to the authorities in the U.S. annually, with an estimated $4.8 billion in aggregate losses, according to this analysis of federal and state data by Comparitech, a cybersecurity research company.

Appointing a trusted person as executor

There are so many cases of people who suspect an elderly relative has been the victim of financial elder abuse, and there are signs — isolation of the individual and a sudden close relationship. However, it’s extremely hard to say whether that is the case here.

Legal experts recommend assigning a trusted person as power of attorney and as point of contact overseeing an elderly relative’s finances. Your father may already believe he has done that, so talk to him about having more than one person granted power of attorney.

What do you do if you suspect it might happen? You obviously don’t wait for your brother to empty your father’s bank accounts, but nor do you at present have evidence that he has done anything wrong. You could, for instance, contact adult protective services and your father’s bank.

Explain to your father the difference between naming a co-owner and naming a co-signer of bank and investment accounts, and ask him to check with the bank that he has done the latter rather than the former. These two are often mixed up, and that can have serious consequences.

Co-signer versus a co-owner of accounts

A co-signer has the authority to make withdrawals on the account and write checks; a co-owner shares in the assets, and will inherit the account when the other owner dies. This can expose the new co-owner to liability and to debts, and also open the door to financial mismanagement.

AARP has some suggestions for loved ones to keep a closer eye on an elderly relative’s accounts.Services like EverSafe and LifeLock can monitor suspicious activity — large withdrawals or sudden changes in spending habits — and notify you and/or your father.

“These services do more than provide front-line protection in detecting scams, fraud and identity theft — they can also offer support in recouping any losses,” AARP says. “They can walk you through the steps to take in reporting it and mitigating your losses.”

Don’t make the same mistake this relative made when a 90-something relative’s house was sold and will was changed right under their noses. The best ways to be vigilant are by asking questions, keeping an eye on bank statements and staying in constant contact with your dad.

Related: ‘I’m 60 and looking to retire’: My brother was released from jail and wants to buy back our parents’ foreclosed home. Should I help him?

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

My mother-in-law will leave her house to her five grandchildren rather than her two sons. But her elder son won’t move out. Is this a bad sign?

My husband and I signed a postnuptial. Will I be able to keep two houses that I bought during our marriage — now we’re headed for divorce?

I’ve paid rent to my boyfriend since 2012 — and helped raise his child. He’s making $200,000 on the sale of his home. Am I entitled to half?

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