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Ask Dave

Beware the Caretaker

Colleen thinks her elderly uncle's caretaker may be up to something shady.

QUESTION: Colleen in California has an elderly uncle in Florida. She believes his caretaker has been stealing his money. His water and phone were shut off because the bills are not being paid. He also has a reverse mortgage. She is trying to get power of attorney to gain control of his finances and isn't sure exactly what to do. Dave tells her why she must tread carefully.

Dave's ANSWER: You'll have to find out what stage of decline the reverse mortgage is in. In other words, how much is owed against the house? He has a mortgage on the house, so you could certainly shut that down and sell the house once you get a power of attorney.

I haven't heard you say anything except that you don't like this caretaker that makes you think he's stealing. You don't even have an accusation. You just have a guy you don't like, and now everything of your uncle's is cut off and you just assume it's this guy stealing. It could be that. You just need to be really careful about that because you'll get yourself in a pinch accusing someone of stealing when you don't have any actual reason to believe they are other than you don't like them.

I think there's a possibility that the guy who is helping your uncle is irresponsible. I'm still not hearing anything that says this guy is stealing other than just your assumptions. You have to have some reason there. You'll also probably have to get an attorney and be appointed because your uncle is not competent to sign a power of attorney. You may have to have a court-ordered power of attorney. You probably need to contact an estate attorney or an elder law attorney in that area who can help you with this situation.

I would probably not tell people that this guy has stolen money until you develop some proof, or at least some indication other than just his mere presence and you don't like him. I think you're probably right; I think he is, but you haven't given me any reason to factually believe that other than just circumstantial.

Get him out of there, get yourself put into that role, get your uncle some good help and probably get the house sold. You can probably do all that once you are given the legal right to as a guardian and/or a power of attorney.

But contact an attorney in his city who can help you execute that before the court. If you know your uncle's doctors, that's probably going to help you because you'll probably have to have some documentation from them as to his mental incompetence in order for the court to appoint you as his guardian.

If you can do some of that work before you get there, it might make it to where you don't have to do two or three trips. It might save you some flights from L.A. to Florida.