Family issues - legal & otherwise

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-24-1997
Family issues - legal & otherwise
Fri, 03-14-2014 - 10:02pm

This is about my Mom & sister.  My Mom is 90 yrs. & my sister will be 58.  The issue is my sister has Tourette's syndrome, ADD & maybe something else.  All tthroughout our lives, my parents refused to believe anything was wrong with her & never had her professionally diagnosed.  I remember she did OK in school, but as an adult it was difficult for her to keep a job at times and she's been unemployed for quite some time.  

My concern is what happens after my Mother dies?  My Mom is active & healthy although currently her knee is in pain & she might have to go for another knee replacement surgery.  She had one already & this is for the other knee.  Nothing else is really wrong with her physically & she still drives her car.  Anyway, the issue remains as to how my sister will live & function on her own.  My Mom & sister have been sharing a condo apartment for the last 10 yrs. and prior to that they shared the family home in the suburbs.  So my sister has never been married & never really lived on her own.  After my Mom passes, I cannot support or take care of my sister.  She will have some money to move into an apartment and support herself.  But financially, she is not able to manage her money.  She spends it faster than she needs to.  So when the money runs out, there is nobody to support her.  I've told my Mom this and she knows I can't support her and she doesn't expect me to.  She also doesn't care because she will be dead.

Now comes the thorny legal questions.  If my sister runs out of money & can't pay for housing or food, how do I research what my rights or obligations are?  I don't have the money to pay for an institution.  Maybe she will have to go back on welfare & Medicaid?  Does welfare or Medicaid pay for housing & food?  The other issue will be her lifestyle.  Currently living with my Mom, she has an affluent lifestyle.  Thanks to my late father, he was a Wall Street executive and my Mom lives off his military pension, savings, Social Security, etc. so my sister is able to have her own room, attend college, have a very comfortable lifestyle.  I know after my Mom passes, that is going to end fast.  My Mom has stipulated in her will, the condo apartment they share will need to be sold and the profits from the sale divided among 4 people (my 2 kids, me & my sister).  

So these days, as my Mom is entering her 90's & my father in law is 93, I am thinking about my sister's future.  The scary thought is she may end up on the streets homeless.  And my scary thought is I don't want to feel guilty for that.  


Avatar for nora_mcl
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-30-2011
Sat, 03-15-2014 - 10:19am

Hi Kathy-I'm not a lawyer, I don't think anyone on the board is a lawyer. But I can give you my opinion & tell you what we had planned if Adam survived us.

First thing I'd do would be to spend the money to talk to a lawyer-in your career, you must know one who will give you some advice at a reasonable fee. We had one I'd actually dealt with when we had our other unofficial-foster-child (she was 16 & too old for CAS, but too young to be on her own). Anyway-we used him to make a will that stipulated who would be Adam's Legal Guardian & how our meagre estate would be divided. His advice was very wise & experienced. We also had to get Power of Attorney for Adam.

A lawyer can tell you how to ensure that your sister is NOT your sole responsibility-that any money she gets goes into a fund to be doled out monthly so she can't just 'blow it' in a short time. Will your mother allow your sister to undergo testing to prove her limitations? If she has Tourettes, you can use that to see if she qualifies for assistance (I don't know NY State rules here)-maybe to go into assisted living. But I think step #1 is to see a lawyer to get his/her advice. It will cost something-but if you have your paperwork, call ahead & see what you need to bring, para-legals are cheaper on the phone & it may be a para-legal can do most of the work.

Good Luck-we worried a lot about Adam's future too. Although, as Mike said the other day, we still wish we were worrying about it. Once we had the Guardian in place, we worried less-now not at all, of course.


Avatar for elc11
Community Leader
Registered: 06-16-1998
Sat, 03-15-2014 - 8:30pm

Kathy, very wise of you to be thinking about this now, how to put things in order while your mom is still healthy and of sound mind.

To clarify a couple of things: Medicaid is state-provided health insurance for those with low income, one needs to qualify. The recipient can have some assets but when a person has too much they have to "spend down" until they reach the low income threshhold. Welfare is different altogether, although if your sister qualified for welfare she might automatically qualify for Medicaid, and for food stamps. Medicaid can only be used for medical (like any health insurance), food stamps (usually a debit card) can only be redeemed for food (although not necessarily healthy food) but could be all spent well before the end of the month, and I think that public assistance ("welfare") is essentially cash deposited into a bank account (as opposed to paid directly to a landlord) so theoretically she could spend it on fluff instead of paying rent etc. You might want to research them online to see how they are distributed in your area. I don't think you have a legal obligation to do anything for your sister, financially or otherwise, so I don't think that the state or county would try to make you support her. It sounds like you feel a moral obligation to see that she is cared for but you don't want to be directly responsible for it.

Did your sister work enought to qualify for Social Security benefits when she turns 62?

Is your sister actually incompetent, or just doesn't manage herself well? (which could be said of plenty of people who are mentally competent). If she is found to be incompetent then a judge could appoint a guardian and/or conservator, who could be you (but it sounds like you don't want such a role) or somebody else. The state provides them for incompetent people who do not have any family or friend to do it; and I think there are people who will do it for a fee when the family does not want to do it for whatever reason. The conservator is for financial matters, the guardian is for non-financial such as medical decisions, housing, etc. The same person could do both. If she is competent then she would need to agree to having such oversight. You can google those two terms to see how it is addressed in NY State.

There might be a way to establish separately when or how each beneficiary receives their portion of your mother's estate. Possibly she could stipulate that your sister's portion goes into an account that is doled out over time so she cannot blow it all quickly. Another possibility is to allow the sale of the condo to be delayed and your sister allowed to continue living there for some amount of time; of course this would delay when the rest of you get your inheritances but maybe its worth it knowing that sister/aunt has a roof over her head? I take it that your mother does not have a living trust? You and she might want to look into that, with you as Successor Trustee. 

Like Nora suggested, it would make sense to see a lawyer to see how all of this applies in the case of your sister.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2009
Sun, 03-16-2014 - 10:30am

Not much more to add, except for a caution. We have had a vey similar case in my extended family. And I have seen a similar case on the street. Daughter lived at home, didn't work that much over the years. It wasn't that daughter coulldn't work but, for various reasons, she didn't hold down a job for that long. From 40+, she was umemployed and aged parents paid all the bills. Both ladies, in their late 50s, have very few life skills.

Parents pass away and then the fight started over the family home. In one case, they got the daughter finally to move out into a place nearer other family members, to keep on eye on her and how she manages her share of the parents' estate. The other one is still on-going. The estate cannot be settled because daughter refuses to move out;she  is having a very difficult time getting on with life.  Both daughters felt that they gave up their lives to take care of aged parents and deserve more of a share of the estate.

I don't know if this is the case with your sister but, if it is, your sister might very well be an emotional mess when your mom passes. She will be like a 16 year old, when it comes to financial matters and resentful that she is like that.  It is hard at start a life when you are in your late 50s. It can be done but very difficult.

My advice is that you sit down and have a heart-to-heart with your mother. Makes sure she has made arrangements for there to be money to maintain the condo during  the months after she passes to pay taxes, maintaince etc.. Letting your sister stay in the condo could be very unhealthy for your sister but moving to a place of her own would be scary for her and will take time.  It could get nasty.  Encouraging your sister to find a part-time job now would help her make the transition when the time comes. People with Tourettes do work  and people with ADHD take medication and also do work. You might have to be brutal but, in the long run, it will be a kindness.

And yes, you should go and see a lawyer. Good luck.