It's hard to believe that someone would purposely starve a parent in order to collect the inheritance.  I recently read an Estate of Denial article called Slowly Starving Her Mother to Get the Inheritance. Unfortunately, elder abuse cases are not uncommon throughout the country.  Money is a powerful motivator and unfortunately, some people will stoop to the lowest of levels just to collect.

In the article, a woman was making medical decisions on behalf of her aging mother.   The woman, who had suffered from drug and alcohol problems, had very little income.  Her mother, however, had assets worth over $500,000.  When the woman moved in with her mother to act as the mother's caretaker, the woman began starving her mother.  As time went on, the mother became very ill and lost a significant amount of weight.  After a call from a concerned neighbor, Adult Protective Services got involved and insisted that the mother be moved to a care facility.  Finding the cheapest facility she could find, the woman dumped her mother at the facility with no clothes, and instructions to not give her mother any food or let her out of bed because she was dying.  She also instructed the care facility workers that no one was to talk to any of the mother's friends or relatives about her mother.  Unbelievably, the woman was actually trying to slowly kill her mother.

Thankfully, in this case there were people who cared enough to realize what was going on and get the mother some help.   Not surprisingly, mom wasn't dying after all.

How was this woman able to do these horrible things to her mother?  She was named as her mother's agent under a Healthcare Power of Attorney.  A Healthcare Power of Attorney permits an agent (in this case, the woman) to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the principal (here the mother) in the event the principal is unable to make his or her own decisions.  In this case, the mother was aging and did not have had the ability to make important decisions herself.  However, becoming unable to make one's own decisions can happen to anyone, not just an aging parent.  There could be an accident, or, in Terri Schiavo's case, a health emergency that leaves an otherwise healthy person incapacitated.

This mother's terrible ordeal brings to light to very important issues that everyone should consider:

  1. It is critical that you create a Healthcare Power of Attorney where YOU decide who will take care of you and make decisions on your behalf should you not be able to do so yourself.  YOU are the best judge of who will take the best care of you, and who will make decisions with your best interest in mind.  If you don't have an estate plan where you select your own agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, the court will pick someone for you.  That's what happened in Terri Schaivo's case.  Terri did not have a Healthcare Power of Attorney, so the court named a guardian who could make her healthcare decisions.  The guardian, Terri's husband, made medical decisions that Terri's parents did not agree with.  Terri's parents battled in court for years, claiming that Terri's husband was making healthcare decisions that Terri would not have wanted.  Unfortunately, since Terri did not have a Healthcare Power of Attorney, Terri had no say as to who would be making her medical decisions.
  2. You must be very careful who you pick to be your healthcare agent.  Like the daughter starving her mother to get at the inheritance, some people may not have your best interest in mind when making critical healthcare decisions.  While many people name a child as their healthcare agent, as seen here, that isn't always the best idea.  If the child has substance abuse or financial problems, can you really be sure they will look out for YOUR best interest?  If you're not 100% confident in the person you named as your healthcare agent, consider revising your Healthcare Power of Attorney to name a trusted friend or other relative.  You want to be completely sure that when needed, your healthcare agent will make the best decisions for YOU, since your life may very well be in their hands.