Sunday, October 07, 2012

Honoring the will of her mother

Now that her mother is 96 and in an assisted living center in the Midwest, a reader has taken over paying the bills and handling her bank account.

The mother receives a pension as well as Social Security payments totaling less than $2,300 a month. Her rent for her apartment in the assisted living center is $5,000 a month.

The ownership of her mother's house was transferred to my reader about eight years ago. Last year, the house was sold and the proceeds remain in the daughter's name. The mother's earnings total a couple of hundred dollars too much to qualify for Medicaid, so my reader needs to come up with another $1, 700 a month just to pay her mother's rent. On top of that, she pays for any additional medical supplies, health insurance and other miscellaneous costs her mother incurs.

My reader draws $3,000 a month from the account that holds the proceeds from the sale of her mother's house. She also supplements that by paying for many things with her own limited income, which is less than $2,000 a month from Social Security.

In her mother's will, she names several people to inherit certain percentages of her money. She has no idea that her daughter is using that $3,000 per month to pay for assisted living and, as a result, there will be less money left to her church and her grandchildren.

My reader says her dilemma is whether she should let her mother's savings build so she can leave a larger amount of money to the heirs, but as a result deplete her own funds -- or whether she should use her mother's funds, which would mean that any inheritance for the grandchildren would amount to practically nothing.

Her grandchildren have told her that they do not want any inheritance. "They would rather that I protect my inheritance for as long as I can and continue to use her income to help with paying her bills," she writes.

"I know that everyone involved would say to go ahead and use her monthly income, but am I not honoring her will by doing so?" my reader asks. "It's been very hard for her to give up all control, and I'm afraid this whole state of affairs would be devastating to her."

The right thing is for my reader to honor her mother's wishes as much as possible, but not to deplete her own funds that she needs to pay her living expenses in the process. Her mother's intention in her will was to divide whatever assets existed upon her death to her grandchildren, the church and other beneficiaries. It's not her daughter's responsibility to draw on her own funds to make sure that her mother's funds stay as healthy as possible.

While the best thing might be to let her mother know the specifics of her financial condition, if their agreement was that the daughter would take care of paying her bills and managing her expenses drawing on her mother's accounts as needed, then that's what she should do.

She is already honoring her mother by taking care of her and her affairs. She should not go broke in the process if the resources exist in her mother's accounts to pay her mother's expenses. If she wants her children to inherit more, she can decide to leave whatever she wants to them in her own will. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.

1 comment:

William jacobson said...

Jeffrey, you hit it dead on. The will is about disposal of the mother's property at death. Clearly so long as the mother has property, then the mother's finances should be used to pay for the mothers care. It is not the least bit unusual that nursing care would be paid out of the proceeds of their house.

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

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