On December 5, 2012

If you’re from a close-knit family, you may not be able to imagine what it’s like to be embroiled in a feud that pits you and your siblings against each other. But when it comes to handling the family estate, personal and financial issues can tear apart families with astonishing force.

An Aurora, Colorado, woman and her nine siblings discovered this when it came time to deal with their father’s estate. Their story offers some important lessons for other families on how best to administer a family estate.

Although the woman doesn’t have many fond memories of childhood, she says that her father made sure toward the end of his life that he had something to pass down to his children. He wrote a note stating that all of his savings should be distributed equally among his children. As in many families, the siblings eventually had to decide who would look after their elderly father — who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease – and his money.

One of the youngest sisters volunteered to be his conservator, which the Aurora woman says should have raised a red flag because her sister and father weren’t close. But it wasn’t until the father died and it was time for the Aurora woman to act as executor that the problems surfaced. She said she asked her sister repeatedly for all of their father’s financial records, to no avail.

She found out the reason for her sister’s reluctance after taking her to probate court. As conservator, she had used the money on her own expenses, including tuition for her children, cars, her income tax payments and her husband’s business. She was convicted of fraud and embezzlement in probate court and ordered to pay back more than $260,000.

Many of the convicted woman’s siblings believe that if they had communicated better from the start, they could have avoided the legal and financial mess they’re in. Regular check-ins might have alerted the family to their father’s shrinking bank account and prompted them to take action sooner. The state of Colorado feels much the same way. Conservators are required by law to file annual financial reports detailing income and disbursements for every account.

Being a conservator isn’t always easy, but that’s another reason to reach out to family members for support. Often when entire families pull together, problems like these can be avoided.

Source: CBS Denver, “Financial Abuse Of Elderly Becoming More Common,” Nov. 16, 2012

Categories: Trustees, Executors & Fiduciaries

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