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My mother is recovering from alcoholism. My ‘narcissistic’ sisters took over her finances and they drained her bank account. What can I do?

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I often read your advice column, and now I have questions of my own.

For many years my mother was an intelligent, strong businesswoman who worked her way up the corporate ladder and was making a six-figure salary by the time she was in her mid-40s.

She also was an alcoholic. A very high-functioning one, but an alcoholic nonetheless. I started to notice how serious her drinking problem was in my early 20s, as did other family members, but my younger sisters (twins, three years younger than me) remained in denial until it was too late.

In her late 60s, her years of alcohol abuse finally caught up with her when she developed Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a form of brain damage and whose symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. My sisters finally woke up and helped me intervene when my mother could no longer take care of herself.


‘The first rehab stint cost over $30,000. My mother didn’t drink during her month there and started to improve, but as soon as she got back home she started drinking again.’

The doctors told us that the most important first step in dealing with her was to get her to stop drinking. My sisters decided that rehab was the best bet, but all of the reputable alcohol rehabilitation programs run by hospitals and led by medical doctors and psychiatrists said that my mother was not a good candidate for their programs.

My sisters, having seen the numerous Hollywood movies where someone spends 30 days in rehab and then is “cured,” went about finding a program that would take her, and sent her to the first place they could find. The first rehab stint cost over $30,000. My mother didn’t drink during her month there and started to improve, but as soon as she got back home, she started drinking again.

So another rehab stint, then another and another, and always the same outcome. Before her first rehab stint my mother had over $200,000 in her savings account, and by the end of a year it was almost all gone. I tried to talk to my sisters about what I see as the rehabilitation racket: centers that just want your money and have no real ability to get people to stop drinking. But they wouldn’t listen to me.

At one point I went with my mother to her bank and had her put $5,000 of what was left of her money into a savings account in her name that my sisters couldn’t take for more rehab, because I was worried that my mother was going to end up broke.

‘It will always be two against one’

My sisters found out about it and accused me of trying to steal from my mother, tried to get other family members against me, and got a lawyer to prevent me from having anything to do with my mother’s finances. They told me that if I ever tried to see her again without them present as witnesses, they would file a restraining order against me.

I have gone to other family members for help and advice, including my father, from whom my mother has been divorced since 1990. My father says he agrees with me, but he has no leverage over my sisters so there is nothing he can do.


‘My sisters accused me of trying to steal from my mother, tried to get other family members against me, and got a lawyer to prevent me from having anything to do with my mother’s finances.’

Because they don’t know what to do or they don’t want to get involved, he told me to not fight with my sisters because it will always be two against one, so I should accept that there is nothing I can do.

My mother has no idea what day of the week it is or who the current president of the U.S. is, so she is in no condition to advocate for herself.

The COVID-19 pandemic began pretty much right after this final showdown, so I haven’t seen my mother in the past year, but know that my sisters have moved her into a nursing home upstate. I have pretty much cut off all communication with my sisters. As you can probably guess, we were never all that close to begin with.

I speak to my mother at least once a week just to check in. The one silver lining from COVID is that she can’t really go anywhere and the home she lives in won’t serve her alcohol, so each week she sounds like she is improving a little.

I am very worried that my sisters are going to blow through all of my mother’s money (they pretty much already have). They are now trying to sell her house, which is worth at least $1 million, and I’m worried that they will blow through that as well.

My mother will receive $2,500 a month from Social Security for the rest of her life, but I don’t think my sisters will be able to provide her with everything she needs, considering the home they placed her in alone costs over $3,500 per month.

I love my mother, and I’m afraid my narcissistic sisters who never listen to anyone and are convinced that they are the experts in this and every other situation are making a huge mistake they won’t realize until it’s too late — just like when they wouldn’t acknowledge that our mother was an alcoholic until it was too late.

My question is this: Are my relatives and father correct? Should I just accept that there is nothing I can do and let my sisters spend every dime my mother has, and just hope that they’re able to take care of her? Or is there something I can do to intervene and have some say in my mother’s medical treatment and living arrangements?

Thank you.

A Helpless Sister

Dear Sister,

Helplessness, as your mother’s able daughter, is merely a state of mind. Your mother, unfortunately, is in a more dependent state. I agree with you that she would have been better off in a nursing home from the beginning. Given her illness and her alcohol addiction, rehab was probably not the best place for your mother.

The good news is that your sisters have finally figured that out. The bad news is the money is running out, and you need to be an active participant in your mother’s affairs, and also not be ostracized from her life based on the whims of your other two sisters. This is also a cautionary tale for people who don’t have long-term care insurance.

The dilemma of whether you should put an elderly relative, particularly a vulnerable one such as your mother, in a nursing home is a question complicated by the high rate of COVID-19 in such homes, and the level of trust you have in such homes and in the sites that recommend them (or not, as the case may be).


‘You may wish to hire a lawyer who specializes in conservatorship and challenge your sisters’ power of attorney, or petition the court to take over as POA.’


— The Moneyist

Back to your description of yourself as helpless. You need support in order to help and support your mother, and ensure that the best decisions are being made for her. You may wish to hire a lawyer who specializes in conservatorship and challenge your sisters’ power of attorney, petition the court to become your mother’s POA, or at the very least become a joint POA.

That will give you the legal clout to make good decisions and prevent bad ones. If no family member is willing or able to take your mother in, you will need to put a financial plan together for your mother’s nursing-home care. It will be neither easy nor cheap. Paying money for legal advice could save you money in the long run.

There are also a rake of organizations that will advise you on the wisdom of selling this home and how to set up a trust for your mother’s expenses if you do, and what you need to do to apply for and/or qualify for financial aid. Among those organizations are the AARP and National Family Caregivers Association. There are more here.

You are not going to change your sisters’ minds about you — and, while that would probably make your life easier, it should not be where you direct your energies or focus. There are too many ad hoc actions, and not enough planning. You can have your voice heard, however, and ensure your mother gets the best help available to her.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

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My boyfriend inherited a home and $700K. He pays me $500 monthly rent. Should I ask him for $86K to pay off my condo?

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Dear Quentin,

I have lived with my boyfriend in my home for over 20 years. We never married, and I have three siblings. I also own another condo in the Caribbean, which I paid for myself.

My boyfriend inherited a home from his dad in the South and a large sum of money, just over $700,000. We just got back from this inherited home. He is still deciding if he/we should keep it.

I owe $86,000 on my current home, and my boyfriend pays me $500 a month rent and he pays the electric and cable bill. We also mutually share groceries. I appreciate all his financial help.


‘His ex-wife will get half of his pension and Social Security in Connecticut. I will not receive that as we were never married.’

I am 65 and get a monthly pension of $800 and receive $1,800 Social Security every month.Together, we own three condos. I have no savings, and own two properties.

He is divorced with six adult grown children. I have only met two of his children out of the six. For some reason, he does not want to get involved with their cookouts and parties etc.

He is close with his children, and speaks to his ex-wife on the holidays as needed about any of the children and grandchildren. We always travel alone. His children never travel with us.

His ex-wife will get half of his pension and Social Security in Connecticut. I will not receive that as we were never married. What should I do financially to secure my future?

Should I ask him to pay off my condo balance of $86,000, and promise to leave the condo to him rather than my siblings in my will?

He does not want to get married, for some reason; he was married once and he said he does not want to do it again.

The Girlfriend

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Girlfriend,

Your offer assumes that you will predecease your boyfriend, and that is not a given. If you do not die before he does, he is essentially giving you $86,000 because (a) partners should help each other out, (b) he has newfound wealth and he should spread it around, and/or (c) it’s not fair that he should have all of this dough landing in his bank account when you have had to scrimp and save all of these years. It has a faint ring of that school-days refrain, “If you give me one of your sweets, I’ll be your best friend.” In this case, you already are his best friend. So there’s no upside there.

You have been together for 20 years and you never married. The reason for that may be at least partly related to your respective financial affairs. Your boyfriend has a lot of financial responsibilities, one home (at least he had one home before his latest windfall), children, and an ex-wife, while you have two homes, and are free of your partner’s other financial burdens. He also pays you $500 rent every month, which was obviously a convenient arrangement for both of you. But it seems late in the day to draw a line connecting his financial future, that of his ex-wife’s and your own.

Sometimes, it’s good to ask for help. People often want to help, and it’s a privilege to help out a loved one. But to ask him for a chunk of his inheritance to pay off your home, especially when you have another condo in the Caribbean that you could sell, seems bad timing at best, and opportunistic at worst, which brings us back to the “I’ll be your best friend” sentiment. You are effectively asking your boyfriend for something with nothing in return. By not marrying, you have kept your finances separate. You have gotten this far on your own. There is a lot to be said for that.

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My ex-wife passed away. I’m the beneficiary on her life insurance. Her family wants me to pay her funeral expenses and won’t leave me alone

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I am 32, and just a month ago I found out that my ex-wife, whom I haven’t spoken to since we divorced, passed away tragically in a moped accident. My ex-wife had life insurance through her job. My ex-mother-in-law informed my father that my ex-wife had kept me as her beneficiary on her life-insurance policy, and her family wants the money for funeral costs, bills, etc.

Not only did my ex-wife have me on her policy as the primary (and only) beneficiary, she updated my home address on the policy after we divorced. Also, I found out through the insurance company that my ex-wife had two term life-insurance policies, one for me and one for my ex-sister-in-law.

I blocked my ex-in-laws, and now I received a threatening voicemail from a blocked number, so I’ve taken it upon myself to notify the authorities. I live in New York, I am remarried, and my divorce was very simple and easy. We left the marriage with what we came into it with. The life-insurance company approved the check in my name, and is sending it to my home.

Am I legally in the clear? I have not spoken to or bothered these people once since we divorced five years ago. I just want to be left alone and move on with my life.

Thank you very much in advance.

Best regards,

Fed-Up Ex-Husband

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Fed Up,

First, I’ll deal with your life insurance concerns, and then the subject of your ex-wife’s funeral expenses.

The life-insurance policy was between your ex-wife and her insurer. It’s possible to overturn a life-insurance policy if it explicitly goes against the terms of a divorce decree, as happened in this case, but that too was a complicated lawsuit. Some states do have statutes that can revoke such beneficiary arrangements.

In “Kaye Melin and Metropolitan Life Insurance,” the children of the deceased were awarded the proceeds from the life-insurance policy, not the ex-wife who was named as beneficiary on the agreement. In that case, the law presumed that what her ex-husband wanted after their divorce was incorrect.

The ruling stated: “Thus, if a person designates a spouse as a life insurance beneficiary and later gets divorced, Minnesota law provides that the beneficiary designation is automatically revoked. At least twenty-eight other states have enacted similar revocation-upon-divorce statutes.”


‘I’m reluctant to say that you are ‘in the clear,’ given previous court rulings, and statutes in some states on the revocation of named beneficiaries post-divorce.’

I’m reluctant to say that you are “in the clear,” given previous court rulings, and statutes in some states on the revocation of named beneficiaries post-divorce. In your case, it seems clearer that your ex-wife wanted you to be the beneficiary. She did, as you say, update your address. It would be hard to see a more explicit sign of her intentions than that.

“Unless the policyholder of the life-insurance plan changes the beneficiary designation officially, the people originally named will remain the beneficiaries through the life of the policy,” according to Heban, Murphree and Lewandowski, a law firm in Toledo, Ohio. “Even if the policyholder was not on speaking terms with the individual upon his or her death, that beneficiary would still receive the income.”

“In the case of someone who divorced and remarried, the policy may name the first spouse as beneficiary. If the policyholder never changed the policy to reflect the divorce and remarriage, the ex-spouse could end up with the benefit. This can cause the current spouse and any children from the second marriage to dispute the beneficiary designation on the policy,” it adds.

But much, I suspect, would depend on what state you live in, and the specifics of your case.

On a separate issue, it’s difficult to glean from your letter whether your in-laws had little funds to pay for the funeral expenses, or were mad as hell that you were listed as beneficiary and felt you should contribute, or both. On the one hand, it seems like they are not in a state of mind to be reasonable and, chances are, if you did engage it would lead to further demands and acrimony.

Perhaps you could talk to your ex-wife’s lawyer and see if there is enough money to cover the costs of her funeral and, if not, you could make a contribution. But given the alleged harassing phone calls, their anger and grief, and their antipathy toward you, you would need to have all correspondence go through the attorney and refrain from any direct communication.

There is no excuse for their taking their grief out on you. Still, spare a thought for her family. If you are fed up, imagine how they feel.

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These money and investing tips can help you when inflation is burning a hole in your wallet

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, focus on helping you make sense of the recent spike in U.S. inflation. Understand how rising prices can affect your investment portfolio, and taking appropriate steps now to respond, can prevent unpleasant surprises later.



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