Over the past week, I have been contacted by two different sons concerned about the well-being of their mothers who were or about to be victims of undue influence. While both cases were similar in that they each wanted to support their mom, their options for accomplishing this goal differed vastly.
Son 1 has a very close relationship with his mom. His mom was widowed in the past 12 months and was grief stricken. The family was all happy to have an uncle step in to offer assistance around the house and companionship for mom. Uncle’s support allowed Son 1 to return to his busy career and life without having to worry about his mom being lonely. While Son 1 says he checked in on his mom almost weekly, he admits that he was not as attentive as he should have been in the months that followed the death of his stepfather.
Son 1 began to be concerned about 6 months after his stepfather died. He realized that the uncle had moved into mom’s house and that he rarely was able to speak with his mom without the uncle in the background or interfering with their visits. However, he noted that his mom seemed happier than she had since his stepfather died. Rather than raise his concerns with his mom, Son 1 convinced himself that he was being overly protective.
Fast forward to 5 months later. Son realized that his mom’s health had begun declining. Being her only child, Son 1 believed he was the agent under her Advanced Healthcare Directive and successor trustee of her Trust. Although he knew it was going to be a huge commitment, he was prepared to begin the transition of assuming those roles, as needed, and help his mom in any way necessary. He prepared himself for an uncomfortable conversation with his mom. However, he was stunned to learn that his mom had recently changed her estate plan and now uncle was in charge of making healthcare decisions for mom and acting as successor trustee of her Trust. This discovery had caused a huge argument between Son 1 and his mom in which she defended the uncle and scolded son for being selfish and self-absorbed.
Having consulted friends, family and a few other attorneys Son 1 called me to discuss conservatorships. He was understandably distraught over their disagreement and worried about his mom. We discussed his mom’s diagnosis and he admitted that she needed some assistance but was still able to manage her affairs, if she so desired. He admitted that while she had suffered some recent health challenges, there was not an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis.
I explained the conservatorship process and told Son 1 that cases like this are very difficult. While the court will consider susceptibility to undue influence and elder abuse as a reason to grant a conservatorship, proving it can be extraordinarily difficult and it usually ends up damaging if not destroying the relationship between the mother and son.
To add insult to injury, I also had to explain to him that conservatorships are extraordinarily expensive and given the uncertainties, he would find that many attorneys would require him to pay the court costs and a large retainer for legal fees, potentially in excess of $20,000 just to bring the action.
Son 2 also shares a close relationship with his mom. His mom is recently retired and divorced. Although not the same as a death, she was alone a lot during the COVID quarantine and craving companionship. Son 2 is a busy professional with a young family, but he lives close to his mom and visits her several times a week. During these visits he and his mom spoke often about her finding a hobby or outside interest.
During quarantine, mom joined a local club and began attending meetings virtually. When the lockdown orders began to lift, his mom began attending meetings in person. Son 2 was thrilled to learn that mom had found a hobby that she enjoyed and had started making some new friends. He loved seeing his mom happy and was relieved that she was getting out of the house.
After about a month, Son 2 realized that his mom had begun to develop a close friendship with a man from her club. He discussed this new friendship with mom and expressed some concern about this man’s motives. He reminded his mom that she was very well off financially and needed to protect what she had worked so hard to build. His mom assured him that they were just friends, but admitted she enjoyed the attention from her new friend.
A month or so later, Son 2 noted that this man was at mom’s house several times a week. Son 2 made it a point to stop by his mom’s house more often. Son 2 again spoke to his mom about this relationship and was alarmed to learn that mom was considering asking her new friend to move into a vacant room in her home. With the help of his wife and some of his mom’s other friends, Son 2 was able to convince his mom that this was a very bad idea. However, he realized that he needed to take steps to protect his mom.
Son 2 had a series of very difficult and candid conversations with his mom. He expressed his concerns over the motives of the new friend. In these conversations, Son 2 was able to get his mom to admit that her loneliness may make her vulnerable to predators. She agreed to allow Son 2 to step in and begin taking a more active role in the management of her finances. Together Son 2 and his mom sought my assistance to implement the changes to mom’s estate plan.
After talking with Son 2, I thought about the similarities of these two stories involving a lonely mother, a loving son and a predator. These stories highlight the very short window of opportunity you have to identify a predator and exorcise them from your loved one’s life before their undue influence and elder abuse do potentially irreparable damage to your loved one’s bank account and your relationship with them. Unfortunately, I tend to receive inquiries from many more individuals dealing with Son 1’s situation than I do those who were fortunate enough to not only see the warning signs but know how to communicate with their loved one and protect them before it is too late, like Son 2.
We can help. If you believe your loved one is or was a victim of Undue Influence or Elder Abuse, contact Cannon Legal Firm for a free consultation or information on additional public and/or private resources for reporting abuse.
Contact Cannon Legal Firm today. We proudly serve Seal Beach, Long Beach and the surrounding communities for all your Estate Planning, Trust & Estate Litigation, Trust Administration and Probate needs. Contact us for a free consultation, to schedule an appointment at our offices at 3020 Old Ranch Parkway, Seal Beach, CA or schedule a Zoom or telephone appointment online. Dana@CannonLegalFirm.com – 562.543.4529 (Voice and Text) – www.CannonLegalFirm.com.