To be a trustee or to act as an attorney of property is a very serious matter.
It means that you hold an office which is separate from your role as parent or loved one. If you abuse that office or that trust, you can be held civilly or even criminally liable for any money that is improperly taken.
Human nature is odd thing at times and we can justify almost anything:
• Yes, I paid for a trip to Florida with his money but we needed a break from all the caregiving.
• Yes, I paid down my mortgage with his money, but he lives with us and it is the least Dad can do for all we do for him.
There is an old saying that ethics are what you do when no one is looking. There is another saying that unless you would be happy to see your conduct on the front page of the Globe and Mail, don’t think of doing it.
If you are in charge of someone’s investments or income, be proactive. Avoid any surprises for everyone. Consider:
• When a court appoints you to be in charge of a person’s money, consider giving a copy of that court order to other family members so you are morally accountable to them as well. It is a public document and nothing prevents you from sharing it.
• When your parent gives you a power of attorney, ask that another family member be made a co-attorney so that two signatures are needed.
• Send quarterly financial updates to other family members.
• If you are caring for an elderly parent, discuss with the parent and siblings your need for monthly compensation for this and get authorizations from your (mentally competent) parent for these payments.
• If ever in doubt as to whether a payment is appropriate, you can always apply to the court for directions.
Finally, be honest with yourself. If after time you doubt that you would be a good trustee, admit it to yourself and others and take steps to remove yourself from that office. You do not want to be remembered as someone who took advantage of a loved one; no money is worth that.