My mom moved in with me, so my sister put all of the contents of my mom and dad’s collectibles into two large storage containers in California. She took my mother to the storage units and showed her all of her belongings. She had my mother sign an agreement to have the storage fee deducted from her checking account each month. My sister told my mother that it was in her name now and no one else could get in.
I found out yesterday from the storage company my sister lied and nothing is in my mom’s name. She is living with me for the past 5 months and her savings are running out paying for in-home nursing care. We are in shock. What would be the least expensive way for my mom to get the things back from the storage unit or put back in her name? I am 66 and my mom is 87. I appreciate your time.
It may be that these belongings have more sentimental than actual value. But I understand that there is an important principle at stake. Your mother should have access to her own property. After all, each item represents her life.
Storage law varies from state to state, but from what you say the rental agreement is in your sister’s name, even if the stuff belongs to your mother. She didn’t sign over ownership and, given that your mother is paying the fees for this facility, it should not be difficult to convince the storage company that these belongings (a) belong to your mother and (b) your mother should have access to them.
But how do you approach this? You can go to the storage unit, point out that your mother is the one paying the rent and ask for a second set of keys. Then change the unit or change the locks. If your sister also owns the actual lock on the door, you may have to ask her for a second set of keys, and explain that your mother would like access to her things. You could do this on your mother’s behalf.
I’ve received some shocking letters over the years. In one, a son reportedly altered his mother’s will to change his sister’s inheritance from $110,000 to $10,000. In another letter, a woman said her mother-in-law stole $25,000 from her son’s bank account. In another, this mother racked up thousands of dollars in credit-card bills in her daughter’s name; her daughter only discovered it when she wanted to open up an account of her own.
In this case, it may be an honest mistake. Or it may not. But it’s best to approach this without rancor and assume the best of your sister, rather than assume the worst. If your sister and storage unit manager refuse to give your mother a second key — so you can either change the unit or the lock — then you should contact a lawyer and send the storage facility a letter requesting access to the unit your mother is paying for.
Medicaid, the means-tested program for low-income individuals, roughly pays for more than half of long-term care expenses. This is clearly a stressful time. There may be items of value in your mother’s storage unit, but they’re unlikely to go very far.
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