Estate Planning

What To Do When A Sibling Is Manipulating Elderly Parents

Ty McDuffey


A pressing concern for many families is protecting elderly parents from potential exploitation by siblings. 

Unfortunately, emotional, physical, or financial abuse is more common than you might expect. Money matters can stir up mixed motives and suspicions even in the most loving families. 

However, families can navigate these challenges with the right approach. 

In this article, we will discuss how to protect your parents while maintaining healthy sibling relationships, as well as common issues among family members and offer solutions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Elder abuse affects millions of older adults worldwide, with neglect being the most common form of elder abuse. About one in 10 elderly people living in their own homes experience elder abuse.

  • Signs of elder neglect include unintentional weight loss, dehydration, poor hygiene, unclean living conditions, dirty clothes or unkempt hair, and loss of interest in activities or hobbies.

  • Protecting elderly parents from financial abuse involves being wary of sudden changes to estate plans, documenting everything, calling Adult Protective Services, and invoking Power of Attorney.

How Common is Elder Abuse and Neglect Among the Aging Population?

As the elderly population continues to grow, adult children are increasingly taking on responsibilities such as making financial or medical decisions for their aging parents. 

However, this can sometimes result in the children exerting undue influence over the parent's life, leading to elder abuse. 

Elder abuse is a widespread global public health and human rights issue, with up to five million older Americans abused annually, and only a small fraction of cases are reported to the authorities. 

Neglect is the most common form of elder abuse, defined as the failure to meet an older adult's basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care. About one in 10 elderly people living in their own homes experience some form of elder abuse.

What Are the Signs of Neglect in Senior Parents?

You should still keep an eye out for signs of elder neglect in senior parents, even if there are no visible signs of physical abuse by a sibling or caretaker. 

Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • Unintentional weight loss due to lack of food

  • Regular symptoms of dehydration due to lack of water

  • Poor hygiene leading to bad breath and/or body odor

  • Missing crucial medical aids such as medication, dentures, a hearing aid, or a walker

  • Living conditions that are unclean or in disrepair

  • Wearing dirty clothes or having unkempt hair

  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies they usually enjoy

How to Protect Elderly Parents from Financial Abuse When a Sibling is Stealing

Financial elder abuse can be just as damaging as physical or emotional abuse. Unfortunately, older people may not realize they are being financially abused, making it even more important for family members to be vigilant and proactive. 

Here's what you can do to protect your elderly parents from financial abuse when a sibling is stealing: 

Know the Signs

Be vigilant and observant, looking for signs such as missed bill payments, sudden changes to estate plans, unexplained bank changes, and unusual withdrawals or check signatures.

If your parent usually pays their bills on time but suddenly starts missing payments, this could be a sign that their money is being mishandled.

If your sibling has access to your parent's bank account or credit cards, they could be using their funds for their own personal expenses, neglecting to pay your parent's bills on time. They may also be stealing money from your parent's accounts, leaving them with insufficient funds to pay their bills.

Missed bill payments can result in late fees, negative marks on credit reports, and service interruptions. You may need to start monitoring your parents' financial accounts more closely, setting up automatic bill payments, or seeking legal advice if financial abuse is suspected.

Be Wary of Sudden Changes to Estate Plans

If your parent has had a long-standing estate plan but suddenly changes it without a clear explanation, this could be a red flag. 

A sudden change in their will or trust could be a sign that someone is exerting undue influence over their decisions regarding the distribution of their assets after they pass away. 

Undue influence happens when someone uses their position of power or trust to manipulate and influence another person's decisions, particularly those related to finances or estate planning

If your parent is experiencing cognitive decline or is physically dependent on your sibling, they may try to influence your parent's estate planning decisions for their own benefit.

If your parent has suddenly changed their estate plan without a clear explanation, investigate the circumstances surrounding the change. 

Ask them why they made the change and if they were influenced by anyone else. You may also want to speak with an attorney who specializes in elder law to review the new estate plan and ensure that your parent's wishes are being honored.

Document Everything

Keep detailed records of all financial transactions and suspicious activity.

Detailed records can serve as evidence in the event of financial abuse or fraud. If you suspect that your sibling is mishandling your parent's funds, detailed records can help you to build a case and provide evidence to support your claims.

Call Adult Protective Services

Adult Protective Services (APS) is a government agency responsible for investigating reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable and elderly adults. 

If you suspect that your elderly parent is being financially abused by a sibling, contacting APS is an important step to take.

You can contact APS by calling the agency's hotline or making a report online. The hotline is typically available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can find the hotline number for your state by searching online or calling your local Area Agency on Aging.

When you contact APS, they will send a caseworker to your parent's home to investigate the situation. The caseworker will talk to your parent, other family members, and any caregivers involved in your parent's care to gather information.

If the investigation reveals that your sibling is responsible for the financial abuse, APS can take legal action against them to protect your parent's interests. Depending on the severity of the abuse, your sibling may face criminal charges and may be required to pay restitution.

Invoke Power of Attorney

If you are the legal power of attorney for your elderly parent, you have the authority to make decisions on their behalf regarding financial and legal matters. This authority can be granted through a legal document called a power of attorney (POA). 

To invoke a POA, you'll need a copy of the legal document granting you such authority. You may need to provide this document to banks or other financial institutions to gain access to your parent's accounts. Once you have access, you can review financial statements and transactions to look for any suspicious activity.

By invoking your POA, you can monitor financial transactions, freeze accounts if necessary, and take legal action against your sibling if you find evidence of financial abuse.

Keep in mind that a POA only grants you the authority to act on your parent's behalf while they are alive and mentally competent. If your parent becomes incapacitated, the POA may no longer be valid. In that case, you may need to seek guardianship or conservatorship to continue managing their affairs.

How to Take Action When Siblings Block Access to Elderly Parents

It can be concerning when a sibling prevents access to an elderly parent, leaving you and your family members unsure of what is happening to their loved one. 

Siblings can often use discreet methods, such as answering the phone for parents or making excuses to avoid visits, making it challenging to know what is going on. 

This can indicate some form of elder abuse, with the sibling wanting to control the situation and keep others in the dark.

Call the Police

If you suspect elder abuse, the first step is to call the police and explain the situation. The police can perform a wellness check on your elderly parent and intervene if they suspect abuse. 

During a wellness check, the police will visit your parent's home and assess their well-being, looking for signs of physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. They may also interview your parent, as well as any caregivers or family members who are present.

If the police suspect that your parent is being abused or neglected, they may intervene and protect your parent by removing your parent from their current living situation, contacting social services, or even arresting the suspected abuser.

Take Legal Action

If the police cannot help, legal action may be necessary, and you can file for guardianship of your parent. Once you become the guardian, your sibling will no longer be able to continue their abuse. 

To do this, you'll need an attorney experienced in guardianship cases. They can guide you through the process and help you complete the necessary paperwork.

To file for guardianship, you need to submit a petition to the court outlining your concerns and explaining why you believe guardianship is necessary. You will also need evidence to support your case, such as medical records, witness statements, or police reports.

After you file a petition, the court will schedule a hearing to review your case. At the hearing, you and your attorney will present evidence and arguments in support of guardianship. Your sibling will have the opportunity to respond and provide their own evidence and arguments.

If the court finds that guardianship is necessary, it will issue a guardianship order. This order will give you legal authority to make decisions on behalf of your elderly parent and protect them from abuse or neglect.

How Can Trustworthy Protect Your Parents' Important Documents?

If you are looking for an online platform to securely store and manage documents for your elderly parents, you've come to the right place. Trustworthy's online document management and cloud storage platform can help keep your parents' documents safe and organized, making accessing and managing their important paperwork easier. 

Here's how Trustworthy can help:

  1. Secure Storage: Trustworthy provides encryption and other security measures to ensure your parents' files are stored securely. This can protect sensitive information from unauthorized sibling access or cyber threats.

  2. Access Control: Trustworthy allows you to control who has access to your parents' documents. You can set permissions to ensure that only trusted people can view or edit the documents, reducing the risk of unauthorized access or misuse by siblings.

  3. Organization and Searchability: Trustworthy can help keep your parents' documents organized and easily searchable. This can be particularly helpful if you need to access your parents' important documents quickly, such as medical records, legal documents, or financial statements.

  4. Backup and Recovery: Trustworthy's online storage provides an additional layer of protection against data loss. In the event of physical damage or theft, storing digital copies of your parents' documents online can ensure you can still access them.

  5. Remote Access: With Trustworthy's online document storage, you can access your parents' documents from anywhere, anytime. This can be particularly helpful if you need to review documents while away from your parents' home or while meeting with legal or financial professionals.

    Sign up for your free 14-day trial with Trustworthy today.