How much is your brother’s relationship to you worth?
You get some unsettling news. It appears that your brother, who you trusted to look after your elderly parent’s finances, may have been helping himself to a significant amount of unauthorized cash withdrawals from your parent’s account by misusing the power of attorney that was entrusted to him. You don’t have a full grasp of the amount, but let’s say that it is close to $200,000.
You are hurt, you are furious, you are betrayed.
You call your brother and demand the immediate return of the money. Your brother feigns innocence, and claims that he has no idea what you are talking about. Later, when confronted with the statements, he changes his story and says that your parent requested those funds, or gifted them to your brother. The bottom line is that your brother won’t come clean.
Of course, this only fuels your anger, and you decide to…
Let me stop you there, and let’s review the pickle that you find yourself in.
First, the obvious points:
- It looks like your brother succumbed to temptation, and sinned. He may be guilty of a serious breach of fiduciary duty, exploitation, civil theft, and that is just the starting point of potential causes of action against him;
- In addition to committing civil torts, he may also have committed a serious crime, depending on that state that you live in. For example, Florida has on its books: Florida Statutes §825.103-Exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult;
- He broke trust and your heart;
- He received an undue economic advantage at your expense;
- You feel like a fool for letting your brother commit this crime behind your back, and you rightfully want justice; and
- You have an obligation to protect your parent, and right this wrong.
Now, the not so obvious point of this post:
Ask yourself this question… knowing what you know today, if terrorists or a criminal captured your brother and demanded that you either pay $____ ransom for his release or they would kill him… how much would you be willing to pay for your brother’s release? If that ransom amount is equal to or greater than the amount he stole, I want you to think about whether or not you are willing to lose your brother if you chose to litigate over that amount….
Why should you ask yourself this question? Because, when family members sue each other over these issues, count on those family members never seeing, speaking, or hearing from each other ever again. Families become the victim when members sue each other. In these cases it usually takes a serious health scare, death, or other significant event to make previously litigious family members even consider talking to each other after they have been on the opposite ends of a court room against the other.
So, in this situation –ask yourself, is the amount he stole….worth a lost brother?
Now, recognize, in many cases you will have no choice but to sue your brother. For starters, injustice is injustice. It was your brother, and not you, who created this mess. Actions have consequences, and if he won’t repay then the court will need to make him repay. Also, sometimes the choice may be out of your hands, such as in cases where you are a fiduciary and could get sued by beneficiaries for not enforcing their rights.
Also, it’s not like if you turn the other cheek everything will go back to normal. Unless you are a highly forgiving person, the reality is that even if you don’t sue your brother you may still never have a relationship with him, due to his gross breach of trust. These are not the types of things people easily forget.
But, the fact remains, that if you sue — you will likely lose your brother. So, while you are deciding what to do, one of the questions you need to ask yourself as part of this process is whether the amount stolen is worth the potential loss of a sibling. Like I said, at the end of the day, you may have no choice. But, it is still a question worth asking, because unfortunately the sad truth is, Inheritance is poison.