Is it okay to keep my mother’s secret from my sister?

Dear Annie: My 96-year-old mother has two children: me and my older sibling, “Jennifer.” Our mother’s trust originally had Jennifer as trustee, but she moved to the West Coast, about 2,000 miles away. A year and a half before Jennifer moved, she tried to steal some small, expensive jewelry from our mother. She was caught standing near our mother’s jewelry box and putting these items in her bra.

During the last six months before Jennifer moved, she completely stopped helping and seeing our mother other than talking to her on the phone, even though she lived only twenty minutes away. Jennifer stopped offering to help with grocery shopping and taking our mother on errands and to doctor’s appointments. Jennifer took advantage of our mother’s vacant home by storing dozens of personal items there without my mother’s permission. She also threw away some personal items that my mother had in that same house, without my mother’s permission.

Naturally, Jennifer’s actions made my mother extremely angry, and since Jennifer was moving so far away, it made no sense to have her stay as trustee. It would be virtually impossible for her to fulfill her duties as trustee, which includes the responsibility of the power of attorney.

Then I asked my mother to tell Jennifer about the change in the trust. I also offered to tell her, in case my mother would rather I did. She said she didn’t want me to tell Jennifer. She said she would tell Jennifer when she was “damn good and ready” because my sister did a lot of things to my mother without telling or asking her.

It’s been four years now and my sister is unaware that she is no longer the trustee. In the trust we split everything 50/50, and I have all the right documents to prove that I am now a trustee. In my opinion, a person can change his trust and not reveal it to anyone if he or she wishes.

I haven’t really spoken to or seen Jennifer since she moved, except for the occasional Christmas card. My mother hears from my sister every few weeks on a phone call, and I get the impression that my mother is afraid that if she told my sister about the change in trustees, my sister would be upset and stop all communication and her once a year, two hour visit.

Should I take it upon myself to inform Jennifer or simply respect my mother’s wishes and inform Jennifer of my mother’s passing? I don’t expect my mother to tell Jennifer after all this time.

– To tell or not

Best to Tell or Not: You shouldn’t tell your sister. It would only cause unnecessary conflict between the two of you and between your sister and mother. Your mother was fair and split things 50/50, so there’s no need to argue.

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