My elder sister has always been tricky for me to deal with as she is very critical and suspicious of anyone’s opinions or motives, and pulls everyone down for their life choices. For the sake of our elderly mother, we all try to bumble along but this has not been easy.
Due to ill health, I have had more financial support from Mum than my sister, on the proviso that all will be evened out with any future inheritance. This has caused tensions between my sister and myself – understandably – but I have done my best to make sure everyone in the family knows and agrees about this. I have found it particularly difficult as my elder sister is two-faced about it – encouraging me to ask Mum for help against any “future money” while saying very horrible things to my other sister.
My mother now has early onset dementia – her memory is poor, and Mum is anxious that we siblings all get on. Because of this, Mum will tell us different things, which of course makes honest communication between us all even more tricky.
Mum has decided to move to live near my elder sister. We are all a bit sad about this (having offered for many years to have her live with us) but all want what’s best for her.
My sister has now become very difficult and refuses to involve my brother or me in any plans (she gets on with my younger sister). While with Mum recently, I read her post for her, to find that my elder sister has now been awarded power of attorney (PoA).
Because I find my sister so slippery to deal with, as I find she moves the truth around to suit her defensive position, I thought long and hard about how to request that she keeps my brother and me in the loop. Her reply was simply, “Why should I?” I just don’t know how to deal with her and want very much to be fair.
Did your mother actively know and approve the power of attorney? Did she have capacity to do that? She can only grant PoA if she has capacity. And, in that case, only the person giving it – in this case your mother – can apply for it. Your sister should not have applied for it on her behalf.
“Any conversation about PoA,” says Gary Rycroft, a solicitor and member of the Law Society wills and equity committee, “should start with the person who wants to give PoA saying, ‘I’d like to give PoA to …’ Not someone saying ‘I’d like to apply for PoA for …’”
In dealing with a tricky member of the family, my advice is to always pick the medium you best converse in – so if you can’t talk to each other, could you consider email for communication? That way, too, you will have a record of what has been said.
It’s interesting that your younger sister gets on with her and I wonder if she could be the one to bring you all together in this? Does your elder sister keep the younger one in the loop about your mother’s care?
I’ve taken out the location where your mother may be moving to as I didn’t want to identify you, but note that if she does move outside England and Wales different laws may apply, according to where her assets are.
How do your other siblings feel? If your mother wants you all to get on, is she aware that you can all be given PoA by her? Just because you don’t get on very well with your sister, doesn’t mean that she will mishandle your mother’s affairs, but I do think that, even in the most convivial family, being transparent, united and correct in the way you handle things for an elderly person is a good idea.
I think you and your other siblings need to establish exactly what your mother wants. This is key – it is her life and assets we are talking about. The questions to ask are:
Who does she want to have as PoA? Does she know all her children can be given PoA? Does she want you to have PoA for property and finance or welfare and health or both (there are two types)? Is her will up to date and does it reflect – if she wants it to – who has already had money from her, such as you?
“When you do this, also ask your mum about her advance care planning and how she’d like you to act on her behalf,” says Rycroft.
No one likes to look into a future where a parent can’t decide things for themselves, but it can make difficult decisions further down the line so much easier.
Contact the Office of the Public Guardian if you feel your mother’s best interests are not being served – ie you have a concern about how your sister is handling your mother’s affairs.
Rycroft thinks the answer to your sister’s question “Why should I?” is simple: “Because we are also our mother’s children and we care about what happens to her.”
Your priority is your mother and her care. If she is being well looked after, if her wishes are being followed and if she is not in any way being exploited, you may need to leave your difference with your sister to one side for now. But I still believe all of you should be involved with your mother and your sister’s care of her should include keeping her siblings up to date.
A useful link: gov.uk/courts-tribunals/court-of-protection
This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 24 September 2016.