70-year-old mother-in-law is hoarder and has spending problems. We have POA. How do we keep her from ruining herself financially?

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She has had lung CA for 4 yrs. She came to sons 4 months ago; was 20,000 in debt with credit cards. Used paid for house to get equity line to pay off debts. Discussed in detail with her about finances and budgeting and not being able to use cards any longer; she appeared to understand. Was hospitalized recently, big scare for fam. Realized that she had opened more cards, and was $3,000 farther in debt in 4 months time! She is doing well as far as CA is concerned, and she can do for herself as far as personal care. Doc says no driving or staying alone. If she passes driving test and get fall alert, she can be independent but that means that she can begin spending again and we are terrified about the consequences. She has an addiction to spending and hoarding. My husband has POA. Is there ANY way to flag her credit to prevent anymore companies from giving her cards! She is stubborn, says she will get more cards or do w/o meds to spend like she wants! after bills and meds, not much left

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Top Answer
You should seek the advice of an attorney. You can have her declared incompetent to handle her finances and get a conservatorship for her which would put you (or your husband) in total charge of her money and finances and takes all responsibility away from her. I do not know if you would also have to get legal guardianship over her, but if you do I believe that guardianship would make you legally responsible for her and everything she does, which means you would also be liable. As I am sure you are aware, excessive spending and hoarding is symptomatic of a much deeper problem. Would she agree to seeing a professional about this?
Why does a 70 year-old need a POA for financial and medical reasons?
Is she cognizant? Or, is she so disabled that she cannot think?
If the above does not apply, then she is capable of making decisions in her own name. All you can do is talk with her and explain that carrying debt is not wise. I would purchase credit card insurance ( small fee) in the event that she passes and leaves a large debt. Just like anyone else, she has the right to spend at will and suffer the consequences.
p.s. Why are YOU paying her bills?
My concern would be what kind of plan you have for her as she ages. Will she live with you till she dies? If the day comes and she needs a nursing home, she may qualify for a Medicaid home but generally most of them are not as nice as non-Medicaid Only homes. If she has enough money to be self-pay for a few years, she probably can choose a good nursing home that will keep her till her money runs out and then Medicaid kicks in. I'm just speaking from my experience with my mom who is self pay for a very nice assisted living facility for about 2 years and when her money runs out they will subsidize her until she needs nursing home care and then they will help her apply for Medicaid while still staying on the same campus as the assisted living facility. I know it sounds selfish but I can't have mom living with us b/c I work and my husband just retired and doesn't want to be her care-giver, plus we have other responsibilities.
If your mother-in-law can understand how important it is for her to stay out of debt, it would be helpful. but, if she isn't able to b/c of mental/emotional problems and that's why you have POA, I would notify all of her credit card companies that she isn't competent and to not issue cards to her. If applications for more cards come to the house, tear them up before she gets them.
The only way you can fully take over her financial affairs and take away her rights is to have her declared incompetent. Speak with an attorney about making sure her bad decisions don't come back on you.
Thanks for some of the advise to my previously asked question. I will try to clarify some aspects of our situation. As I said, she has lung cancer which for the most part isn't curable, only treatable to extend life. She recently was hospitalized, during that time she became neurologically compromised and didn't know who she was or where she was. Its too complicated to explain, but it really woke the family up to fact that we needed a durable power of attorney in order to handle her affairs. When she came out of this mental state and her faculties had returned to normal, we met with a notary public and had the POA signed. WE didn't pay off her bills; she borrowed against her house which was paid for free and clear, to bring her monthly bills within a manageable amount. She has NO savings and lives on $1,500 a month social security income. The very sad part is that when her husband died 6 years ago, she received monies from insurance, CDs and other sources which totaled over $125,000. Her sons tried to stay out of her business and let her manage her own affairs, but that was a mistake. She spent all of that money, plus added $20,000 in debt; when she came to the boys in March, this was her plight. She acquired the home equity loan, got her bills paid off, set up a budget and we explained to her how things would have to change in order for her to remain independent and in charge of her own money. While she was in the hospital last month, they discovered that she had not adhered to budget, had opened more cards and was an additional $3,000 in debt. I know some look at this like N1K2R3 and say she has a right to spend what she wants, but when you care about someone, why would you let them ruin themselves like that? Why would you sit idly by and do nothing? She was given a chance to prove she could manage, but she couldn't. She has reached the point this year of being in the "gap" with Medicare and her medications; she now has to pay full price for meds. With monthly bills and now medicine, the children will most likely have to make sure she has groceries and necessities. It makes the family angry that she has squandered her money. She is so stubborn that when we explained to her she didn't have much money left over after monthly bills and meds, she said she didn't care, she was going to have money to spend! We asked her was she going to do without her meds in order to spend money and she said she would if she had to. We have already been checking her mail and discarding card offers and catalogs, but we don't know how to stop her from accepting them once she can stay alone. Her house was like something you see on tv, the hoarding show. Years of spending, money just thrown away. I do think she need psychological counseling. We DO want her to be independent, but not at the expense of losing everything she has, which isnt much. It's not about inheritence either; when she passes and her property is sold, it will take most of that money to pay off her debts. Everybody realizes this and expects nothing when she passes. Thanks to those who responded with compassion; caring for a parent is a HARD row to hoe and brings out the worst in families that are good!
Yes, your husband may call all credit bureaus and request to freeze her credit. You may call in a professional(intervention if you will) to help with the hoarding. Then have a garage sale......
Trying - you might also consider filing for bankruptcy on her behalf. You should be able to do this JUST for the credit card debit and they can't take her home - the home equity loan will likely remain. I believe that credit card companies target people like your mom - elderly and fixed income - therefore if their customers file for bankruptcy then it's the credit card companies own darned fault! They should not be granting her credit in the first place.... also - if she does a bankruptcy, you'll notice that the card applications will be decreased, although not disappear completely.

If possible, divert her mail to your home or another childs home with her PoA, then screen her mail before giving it to her. We had to do this with an ill uncle or he'd be in the same situation. The home shopping shows were his downfall!! He died 10K in debt after just 3 months and did all his shopping from a HOSPICE!!- $3k for your mom doesn't seem so bad considering that scenario.

Impulsive spending is an addition - some people get a slight buzz from spending; they like the feeling of control and the endorphines (SP??) released when it happens. Perhaps your MIL needs prozac or something like that to help her cope. Moving to assisted living might also help if there are other people and activities to distract her attention from home shopping shows or her other shopping outlets. Many assisted living centers will accept medicaid and is does not mean you must sell her home immediately to pay for her care. Each state has different laws about elders assets and how/when they place liens on an elders home so understand it all in detail.
Best of luck - your MIL is lucky to have such a concerned and loving family.
If her MD said she can not drive or live alone why is she driving and living by herself as far as credit cards go -if she has no spouse no one else is responsible for her debts it is not like it is that a husband spends too much money and hoards and were to die his wife would have to take on his debts but a person is not responsible for their parents debts if you call the credit card companies and tell them she has cancer and if she were to pass away no one will be paying them off or have your lawyer write them about your concerns they will very quickly take away her use of the cards and not send her anymore offers.
Based on some of the things you described, it sounds like your mother in law is dealing with an addiction to spending and debting. If in fact she has a true addiction, all of the preaching in the world is not going to stop her from spending. The only thing that will help is to allow her to suffer the natural consequences of her actions. Don't bail her out anymore. Suggest she get some help and maybe attend 12-step meetings such as Debtor's Anonymous (DA) or Clutterer's Anonymous.
I dont know-- unless you can get a doctor to say that she has deminished capacity I dont think there is much that you can do. There are different kinds of POA and most of them kick in when she is incapacitated so until you reach that point there is not much that you can do. I have brothers and sisters that are in the same boat but there is nothing I can do about it. The hoarding and shopping are a sickness but Is someone incapacitated if they know that it is wrong but do it anyway? Maybe since she has terminal cancer -- this is her last hurahh. She wants to be happy and maybe this makes her happy. I really dont know if controlling my finances would be my number one priority If I had terminal cancer either. I also think that you will not be stuck with the bills because you have power or attorney. I know that it is hard to watch someone ruin themselves but If you cannot talk them out of it and cannot prove that they are incompetent I dont that that there is anything that you can do. Maybe you can get her to a support group for terminal cancer patients. They have been there. I know that my caregiver support group helps me through alot of problems because they understand what is going on.

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