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The Moneyist: ‘She is at risk of outliving her savings’: My mother, 100, was tricked into deeding her home to my brother. How can I persuade him to give her financial support?

Dear Quentin,

Several years ago, our father died and left a fully paid house to our mother because he knew she would be needing some financial support in her later years. Unfortunately, a few years ago our older brother tricked our mother into deeding the house to him.

Our mother is almost 100 years old, and she is living in an assisted-living residence and at risk of outliving her savings. The financial assistance that our father had planned for her is in our brother’s hands.

What can she do to make sure her son provides the financial support that her husband had planned for her all along? What course of action can she take to make sure her final days are spent peacefully in a dignified home, with the caregiving help she has been used to?

Concerned Child

Dear Concerned,

This column is replete with letters of financial malfeasance involving elderly relatives. It’s all too common. Vulnerable people are often targets for financial exploitation, and unfortunately their abusers are often someone they know and trust, such as a friend or even a close family member.

The Department of Justice defines financial or property exploitation as “illegal or improper use of an elderly or adult with a disability’s money, property, or other resources for monetary or personal benefit, profit or gain.”

“This includes, but is not limited to, theft, misappropriation, concealment, misuse or fraudulent deprivation of money or property belonging to the elderly or adult with a disability,” the Justice Department adds. In this case, elderly is defined as anyone aged 60 years or older.

“Unfortunately, financial predators are often a friend or neighbor the elderly person knows and trusts, or even a close family member.”

Statutes of limitations vary by state, so the earlier you take action the better. In California, for instance, the statute of limitations for elder financial abuse “is generally four years from when the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the abuse,” the Velasco Law Group says.

But if the financial abuse is “current and ongoing,” there is no statute of limitations in California on elderly financial abuse. Of course, even if there were evidence of abuse, it could take years — and your mother, at age 100, likely will not have time to pursue and win such a case.

Patricia Tobin, a certified elder law attorney based in San Rafael, Calif., and fellow of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, recommends checking the elder-law section of your local county bar association for a referral and/or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Assuming that your brother will not take out a home-equity credit line or use rental income from the house, Tobin said a lawsuit would likely be onerous. “Such an action may not be supported by the facts of the situation, and could be very hard to win, and create a long burdensome project, with only limited chance of success.”

Generally, when someone transfers the deed of their home, it’s a done deal. It’s one of those irrevocable acts that can come back to haunt the former homeowner. (Exhibit A: “I quit-claimed my house to my most responsible son. Now he has blocked my calls.”)

Roughly 35% of adults say there’s a 50% chance or more of them outliving their savings, while the same percentage says it’s more likely their savings will last; 18% say they don’t know. Other surveys say more than half of people believe they’ll outlive their retirement savings.

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