When a loved one influences financial decisions
Q. I think my mother is being influenced by her boyfriend to change her will and beneficiaries on her accounts. She already sold her house to move into his, and she gave him most of the money I think to cover her expenses, but she doesn’t have her name on his house. I can’t imagine she means for me and my brother to get nothing when she dies. What can I do?
A. This is a sticky situation, and if you get involved, it could get even stickier.
As long as your mother is a competent adult, she can give away her assets as she sees fit and name whomever she pleases as beneficiary, said Mary Scrupski, director of estate planning with Prestige Wealth Management Group in Flemington and Millburn.
She owes her adult children no duty to leave them anything at all, she said.
However, if you can prove that her boyfriend unduly influenced her to change her will and beneficiary designations, then the transfers might be voided, Scrupski said.
But typically, these challenges take place after someone has died.
“If you are convinced that her boyfriend is truly taking advantage of her, then you can report the situation to Adult Protective Services,” Scrupski said. “Each county has its own office that investigates matter such as these.”
But before you make that call, Scrupski said you may want to discuss the situation directly with her and tell her about your concerns.
Alternatively, you could start your own legal action during her lifetime, but, Scrupski said, most likely this will be a difficult case to win.
“A court would probably be hesitant to interfere with someone’s right to direct their own financial affairs, no matter how foolish it might seem to an outsider,” she said.
Unfortunately, situations like this are becoming more and more common after a spouse dies and the surviving spouse gets involved with a new companion.
One way to avoid a situation like this from happening is to leave money in trust for a surviving spouse rather than giving it to them outright, Scrupski said.
“It may seem harsh but ultimately it could be the best thing to do for a spouse,” she said. “If the assets are in trust and the spouse has limited access, then they might not be a good target for someone who might want to take advantage of them.”
Scrupski said trusts are not just for minors, but can be very useful to protect assets in many varied situations.
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Click here to sign up for the NJMoneyHelp.com weekly e-newsletter. Like NJMoneyHelp.com on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.