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This is my fifth diary entry in a series of essays relating some of the problems I have struggled with since deciding to place my mother in a nursing home.  In my first essay, Caveats for Caretakers (1), I wrote about my discovery that the federal government does not recognize power of attorney as having any legal standing, and that for each agency, office, or department from which my mother receives a check, it would be necessary for me to become her representative payee.  They each have their own set of conditions, but especially challenging was the Office of Personnel Management, who said that their preference was that I be my mother’s court appointed fiduciary.  Their alternative conditions I was unable to meet, and so I called a lawyer and began the process of becoming my mother’s legal guardian.

My mother had direct deposit for each of her checks, and so there was no immediate need for me to become her representative payee.  There was, however, the problem of her mail.  Having shut down her apartment, I had the Post Office forward her mail to my apartment as a temporary measure.  Then I called Social Security and had her mailing address changed, no questions asked.  The Office of Personnel Management, on the other hand, required a letter from my mother.  So, I typed one up and got her to sign it.  Owing to her dementia, she did not know what she was signing, but I guess the federal government would rather have the genuine signature of an incompetent person than that of someone with power-of-attorney.  Moving right along, when I called the Department of Defense, the woman I spoke to asked if my mother was present, so that she could talk to her and get her approval for me to discuss her affairs.  I told her that she was not present, but that even if she were, she would not understand what was being asked of her.  As a result, the woman said I would have to become a representative payee, before she could even talk to me about my mother’s mailing address.  I learned long ago that if you call the federal government, and you do not like the answer you get, call back the next day.  There is a good chance that you may like the second answer better.  Consequently, the next day I called the Department of Defense again, and the man who answered changed my mother’s mailing address without further ado.

At this point, you may be wondering why I would need to do anything else.  Her checks were being directly deposited in her bank account, and the bank recognized my power of attorney. Now that her mailing address had been successfully changed, it would seem that I could just coast.  However, it would be just a matter of time before my mother would run out of money and need Medicaid.  My mother’s three checks would not be enough to pay for her nursing home expenses, yet they give her an income above the limit allowed by Medicaid.  To bridge this gap, many states have qualified income trusts, often called Miller trusts.  Once I set up the Miller trust, I will have to direct her checks to this new account, and in order to do that, I will have to be her representative payee.  So, it had to be done.

Since I would have to become my mother’s legal guardian to satisfy the Office of Personnel Management, I decided to wait until I had that document before dealing with Social Security or the Department of Defense.  The elder care attorney that I had talked to about the Miller trust did not do guardianships, but he recommended someone else.  The someone else was actually a divorce lawyer who had done guardianships in the past, but was reluctant to take my case. The fact that my mother had already given me power of attorney, coupled with the fact that I was an only child, precluding the possibility of there being a challenge to my case from one of my siblings, persuaded my attorney that a trial would not be necessary, and that my situation would present no difficulties.  So, she agreed to take my case, and I wrote her a check for $2,500 (damn that Office of Personnel Management anyway!).

My lawyer had a busy schedule, so nothing happened for the first two months.  Eventually, however, I signed some more forms, and the application was filed.  A few weeks later, while I was visiting my mother in the dining room of the nursing home, my mother was served papers, notifying her of my attempt to become her legal guardian, and advising her of her rights, should she have any objections.  Of course, my mother was not able to understand the papers, and I was the one who actually took possession of them, but otherwise, all was in order.  An old woman sitting at a nearby table looked at my mother, gave me the evil eye, and then looked back at my mother, and said, “Whatever you do, don’t sign anything!”  My mother was engrossed in her soup, and did not hear her, but it sure made me feel as though I was doing something sneaky.

A couple more weeks passed by, and a court investigator showed up.   I guess I should mention that since I am retired, I am able to visit my mother between 10:00 A.M. and 2:30 P.M. every day, which accounts for how I happen to be there when these people show up unannounced. She talked to my mother about the legal guardianship, and my mother sort of understood and approved of it, so all went well.  But as can be seen from the dire warning of the old woman of the previous paragraph, some patients in nursing homes will vehemently resist the guardianship process, which can necessitate a trial by jury.  Three weeks later, my mother’s attorney ad litem showed up.  She is the attorney assigned by the court to represent my mother’s interests.  As with the court investigator, all went well.

Technically, I was my mother’s adversary.  Now, it only made sense that her attorney’s fees would be paid for by her.  But the $2,500 I paid my attorney was also paid for by my mother, thanks to my power of attorney.  In other words, my mother was forced to pay for the attorney of her adversary.  Strange, but apparently legal.  Then I had to put up a bond of about $500, against the possibility of malversation on my part.  No problem, Mom paid for that too.

While all this was going on, however, the Department of Defense got wind of my mother’s situation.  My mother’s Navy annuity is based on my father’s service.  Every year, she receives a Certificate of Eligibility form, asking about her marital status.  Apparently, if she were to remarry, she might no longer be eligible for the annuity.  If this seems like an intrusion into my mother’s private life, be reassured.  At the bottom of the page, it clearly states that “disclosure is voluntary.”  It also states, however, that “failure to provide information will result in suspension of annuity payments.”  At the time that my mother received this annual request for voluntary information about her marital status, she had recently fallen and broken her hand. Moreover, her dementia had progressed to the point that she would not have been able to sign even with a good hand.  Consequently, out of the expedience that comes with exhaustion, I just signed the dang thing with my power of attorney, and sent it in.

Now they knew.  And now they wanted me to become her representative payee.  For this purpose, I had to send in a doctor’s letter stating my mother’s incompetence, and I had to sign an application.  I couldn’t believe it.  Unlike the conditions required by the Office of Personnel Management, these requirements by the Department of Defense were simplicity itself.  Well, there was this one snag.  My signature had to be witnessed.  The employees at the nursing home could not witness my signature, but there were many patients there who were mentally sound, not to mention the visitors who were always about.  I asked a several different people if they would witness my signature, and they each looked at me as though I had asked them if I could sleep on their couch for the next two weeks.  So, I gave up on that, and went to a notary who witnessed it for free.

In any event, the day of the hearing finally arrived, five months after I started the process, and I was made the legal guardian of my mother’s estate and person.  I sent a certified copy to the Office of Personnel Management, along with their forms, and hopefully that will do it.  I thought maybe I could do the same with Social Security, but they want a doctor’s statement anyway, and I have to go to their office in person for an interview.

In the meantime, the Aid and Attendance benefit that I had applied for my mother, based on her wartime service as a Navy nurse, was finally approved, after 10 arduous months.  As part of the application for the benefit, I had sent in a doctor’s statement to the effect that my mother was totally incompetent.  Therefore, the Department of Veterans Affairs wants me to become her representative payee.  For this purpose, my legal guardianship document was as worthless as my power of attorney.  The Office of Personnel Management might regard my status as a court appointed fiduciary as being of significance, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has higher standards than that, by George.  What they require is my mother’s signature on a form appointing me as her representative payee.  In other words, they require that I be her representative payee, because they know she is incompetent; but her signature on a document, however incompetent she may be, is worth more than the court document that states that my mother is incapable of handling her affairs, which includes such things as signing documents.  My mother has since regained her ability to sign her name, but she has become uncooperative of late, so I am unable to get her to sign anything.  The VA says I can get her fingerprint on a document if she won’t sign, but it has to be witnessed.  I don’t want to go through the degrading process of having people rebuff me when I ask them to witness something, and I don’t want to drag my mother to the notary to have them witness it.

I don’t mean to end this essay with a cliffhanger, but I have gone on long enough, and how all this turns out will be revealed in my next essay, if I haven’t completely worn the reader out this time around.

Originally posted to disinterested spectator on Thu Jul 12, 2012 at 06:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by CareGiving Kos and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That A&A procedure is so wacky -- (12+ / 0-)

    they insist on getting the signature of the applicant when the application clearly indicates that he or she is demented and shouldn't be signing any legal documents.

    I think this is all past, right? If not, be aware there are mobile notaries, at least around here. Nursing home staff members usually aren't supposed to witness signatures, though I've managed to get some to when I knew it wouldn't matter or come back to bite the worker.

    I've like the series, by the way. Wish I'd seen it before my own experiences, but I'm sure you've helped readers.

  •  I appreciate your diaries so much (12+ / 0-)

    and I pass them on to my sisters. Our father is not yet in a nursing home (he lives with me) but his dementia is close to severe. Sometimes we have just signed his name, and sometimes he is able to sign.  We have struggled with these things and you help sort the bureaucracy.

    The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right. Mark Twain

    by BlueMississippi on Thu Jul 12, 2012 at 08:04:28 PM PDT

  •  My tour of duty as a caregiver ended... (10+ / 0-)

    ...a couple years ago, but I well remember this game.  It continued on after my mom's death.  Even though I was sole beneficiary of her will, being the last one standing, I still had to go through a "Declaration of Decent" hearing in order to establish that I really did inherit the lot her house had been on.  Yeesh.  After lawyers fees and court costs, I got almost nothing from the sale, other than being out from under the responsibility for mowing and refuse removal.

    Please feel free to HR me for my informative and argumentative nature. 'To know what is right and to do it are two different things.' - Chushingura, a tale of The Forty-Seven Ronin

    by rbird on Thu Jul 12, 2012 at 11:37:43 PM PDT

  •  Bless you and thank you for your series (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    weck, gladkov, ladybug53

    My journey is only beginning. I've just completed the "P.O. Box" stage with the help of an attorney to try and stop the grifters (I'm looking at you SARAHPAC, Jerome Corsi, Michele Bachmann, Friends of John Boehner, Friends of John McCain, John Bolton, Oliver North, etc. and all of the so-called "charities" that have zero charitable ratings. Interesting that fraudulent charities would be associated with the republican party don't you think?).

    I've also managed to get a few grifters to stop calling by telling them to remove "my" telephone number from their call list when I am able to answer her phone.

    They have scared her to death about "the threat facing our country" by (you name it) the Mexicans, The "Red" Chinese, the "Kenyan"......"You MUST send money NOW!" It is elder abuse and it is beyond shameful.

    My warmest wishes to all of us as we face these most difficult times caring for our loved ones. Thank you again.

    "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5:11

    by parsonsbeach on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 08:47:07 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this series, so need the help (4+ / 0-)

    God, I need help. I am afraid, angry, ashamed at my parents. I am an only child and live 2500 miles away. The health of both my parents has gotten much worse over the past 3 years, even though they are pretty young 68 and 71.
    My father has/has had cancer 5 times, one shoulder missing for a year (no rotor cuff), a broken ankle, chrinic liver disease, poor kidney function, out of control diabetes, hypotension that makes him fall and break bones.
    My mother has a whole number of health problems but also has dementia. She is quickly getting to the point she will need constant care.
    My father has spent more time at rest homes and hospitals this year than home. My mother stayed with her mother who is 94, fought with her. Then I had 2 different women come to stay with her at night, hugely expensive for nothing.
    I have begged, beseeched, threatened, cajoled them for years to go to assisted living. I have relatives, friends, every one of their doctors speak with them. I have said we could wind down their house over 2 years, so there is no huge stress. Have taken them to some great and lovely facilities.
    NOTHING WORKS. They will not do it, after 3 years of begging.
    What will happen is this: they will reach the point when my father has a serious stroke or is permanently disabled. Then I will have to find any place that is available even away from their town.
    Or worse: he dies, I have to take my mother to court to say she is incompetent, then fight to get some assets to but her in a facility. She will probably have to be physically removed from the home. Either that or I have to tell a woman with Alzheimers to rot because she will not go.
    No financial plan when he dies either. He tells me about all of their assets but it simply passes to her, they are afraid to give me power of attorney, although I have been nothing but honest with them my entire life. So a huge nightmare awaits.
    I am angry, bitter, sad, desperate about this whole thing. Wrote a diary about it in January/February if anyone is interested.

    •  I went and read your January diary (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gladkov

      It was heartbreaking. Sorry, I have no advice for you, only sympathy. I really don't see what options you have. Some commenters pointed out that it is the nature of free will and there is not much you can do to help them, much as you want to. It is a good advert for getting these powers long before they are needed, when the person is of sound mind. All you can do is muddle along day to day until whatever happens, happens. That's what we do. If we sent my dad to a nursing home, he would not understand why we sent him away. He is now a cheerful but bonkers old man, totally incontinent, with two heart conditions, failing kidneys, diabetes, and colon cancer. His personality is the opposite of what it used to be (mean), thank goodness.  The only thing he can do on his own is feed himself from a bowl. He cannot walk unaided and makes mess after mess. The rage I sometimes feel at the responsibility and work shocks me; I have to take a walk. You do have to take care of you. I hope you post a diary when you can.

      The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right. Mark Twain

      by BlueMississippi on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 03:21:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Sadly, same thing here mom would not (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gladkov

      leave her home until the hospital said she couldn't return home and sadly I asked her to help me sort out her things etc. prior to her condition worsening. It caused a lot of bitterness to have to be responsible for rummaging through and sorting through 50 years of belongings. All due to stubborness. Again, a life lesson but I feel your pain and sadly until the doctor declares your loved ones legally unfit to care for themselves you are at the mercy of that opinion sadly when too late and so much responsibility. Try to prepare as much as you can for this reality. I wish you the best, and will wish you surround your thoughts with positive and  not negative energy!

      "Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me." ~kay~

      by Kwamo on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 08:52:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good Grief (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlueMississippi

    My 100 year old father and 90 year old mother live with me.  My name is on their bank accounts and checks.  So far, I haven't had to write any, my mother can still do that, but it's good to know everything is set up if needed.  I have power of attorney for both of them.  I keep hoping my father's dementia takes him to a place where he just dies in his sleep.  Having to jump through all the hoops you are having to do is just too much.  You're mother is lucky to have you doing all of this for her.

    Shine like the humblest star.

    by ljm on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 03:41:28 PM PDT

    •  Do they have medical directives on file (0+ / 0-)

      with their docs if they have docs? That may not be the correct phrase, but you know what I mean. You may need it. Good luck and may your parents continue their long lives. One of my grandmothers died at 100 in hospital saying "I'm not ready to go!" She was a treasure and I miss her. I remember she took a walk and a nap every day until 98.

      The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right. Mark Twain

      by BlueMississippi on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 03:59:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Amazing journey (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for sharing, I had to reread, sounds like you are telling my story, as my mother is also a veteran same illness just same everything. Been to court, keeping a journal, been to hell and back with this terrible and cruel disease but I am giving seminars to help families transition their loved ones into different living situations. Something good has come out of it all. But a journey it has and continues to be! Thanks again!!

    "Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me." ~kay~

    by Kwamo on Fri Jul 13, 2012 at 08:45:45 PM PDT

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