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Monday, June 8, 2020

Adult children still looking for ways to get their hands on parent's money

Today we received another question about distributing a parent's estate while that parent is still alive. I've blogged about this before, but the question comes up so frequently that I believe it's worth talking about again.

Today's caller said that their mother has moved into a care facility. The caller is the executor of the mother's will. In total, there are four children.

The question was whether the children could distribute the bulk of the mother's money to themselves. The answer is no. Sorry, but you'll have to wait.

First of all, the fact that the caller is the executor in a will doesn't mean a thing until the owner of the will dies. If the mother is alive, the executor has absolutely no legal authority to distribute anything to anyone. Period.

Secondly, the will describes what to do with the estate after the mother dies. It does not say what to do while she is alive. People have to outlive her by a certain amount of time. There is no such thing as taking the inheritance early because the right to inherit does not even arise until the mother dies.

Had this been the extent of the conversation, I would have formed no negative judgment of the caller. I am thrilled when someone asks a question that prevents them from making a legal error. But once all of this was explained to the caller, the next question was whether they could sell the mother's house and split that money. Somehow my message was not getting through. This family wants mother's money and they want it now. The law is inconvenient and they were hoping that we would help them find the loophole to take the funds. That's not what I do.

So let me say this as plainly as I can. If you take money from someone without their knowledge and consent, it is theft. Yes, theft. Even if it's your mother. A parent with dementia who no longer understands money cannot give that consent. Being an executor doesn't allow you to touch a thing while the parent is still alive. If you act under a POA and sell a parent's property, you are not allowed to touch that money either. It has to be invested for the parent.

At this point, I am usually met with a round of objections such as "mom doesn't need that money" or  or "it's going to be ours anyway" and other similar rationalizations. You can argue with me all you like, but the law says what it says. Bottom line is this; It's NOT your money. It's not up to you to decide whether she still wants her property. If you are acting under a POA, then yes you do get to decide what your parent needs financially, but you're still not allowed to give away the rest.

Try to get over the idea that because someone is old, they have no rights. They do. And one of their rights is to be protected from greedy children. I always get a lot of push-back from readers when I post or talk about this topic because they are offended that I call the children greedy and I call their actions theft. Maybe that seems harsh. But is it really, when the children are ignoring the mother's wishes as set out in her will and actively looking for ways to get around the rules for their own financial gain?

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