The Moneyist: My mom gave my sister $20,000 for her stem-cell treatment, I want her to deduct it from her inheritance

Dear Moneyist,

I live in California and I am the executor of my mother’s will. She is 82 and still working part-time designing and planting gardens. My sister told my mother last month that she needed $20,000 for stem-cell treatments for sickle cell anemia, a medical condition we all were unaware of.

Responding to my sister’s hysterical call, my mother closed a bank account and mailed my sister a check for the full amount, which is nearly 20% of my mother’s life savings. Needless to say, I’m furious, as this seems like a dubious request for money.

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There is no paper trail, only a verbal agreement for my sister to pay back my mother. I truly believe my sister thinks it will be deducted from whatever she’s entitled to upon my mother’s death. However, with an estate this small, I need the money for my mother’s care and I don’t think there will be any inheritance for anyone.

I want to compose a simple letter to add to my mother’s will that says if the money isn’t repaid, then I have the authority to deduct the full amount from any inheritance my sister is entitled to. And if there are any repayments, it is to my discretion to deduct what I think is fair from her portion.

How can I find a legal document or the verbiage to compose a simple letter that would stand up in court if my sister ever challenges my role/duties as executor?

Patricia

Dear Patricia,

The request for $20,000 may have come as a surprise, but many insurance companies are cautious about covering such treatments. Some insurance companies describe stem-cell treatment (or “hematopoietic cell transplantation”) as “experimental and investigational due to insufficient evidence in the peer-reviewed literature.” That’s another way of saying “no dice.” So it’s possible that if she does have this disease, and let’s assume she does, she had trouble getting this treatment covered by her insurance provider. Your mother was clearly under great pressure to help her out.

That said, I like your solution. As members of the Facebook Group for this column pointed out, there are instructions online for adding a codicil to a will. For an issue concerning $20,000, I would caution against doing it yourself. An elder care or estate attorney would do this for you for a couple of hundred dollars and, given the risk that your sister may dispute this after your mother is gone, it’s worth getting it done properly and reduce any margin for error. I would also be transparent and notify your sister of your decision to avoid any surprises later.

Also see: My sister took care of our mother for 10 years — shouldn’t she be entitled to her house?

In the meantime, talk to your mother about how this came about and tell her that you understand why she gave your sister this money. But remind her that she can always come to you for help or advice, and caution her against giving any more of her money away, especially given the potential costs of care as she get older. California is one of the most expensive states in the country for both long-term and adult day care. This is all the more reason why you should discuss such unexpected expenses as a family. You may all have to pitch in to help your mother later on.

In the meantime, talk to your sister and ask what you can do to help. And ask to see the receipts.

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