My mother is Boruch Hashem elderly and basically of sound mind. However, sometimes her judgments are not rational. For example, sometimes the doctor will prescribe medicine for her but she won’t buy the medicine because she doesn’t want to spend the money. She needs the medicine and she isn’t poor but she doesn’t like to spend money. I am a signatory on her account and I take care of the banking for her. Therefore, I can use her money in the account to buy the drugs without telling her that she paid for the drugs. She will just think that I was nice to her and bought her the drugs, and she’ll take them. Am I allowed to do that or is that considered stealing because it is her money and she decided that she doesn’t want to spend her money on this? Furthermore, even if it is permitted, perhaps it is geneivas da’as because she will think that I paid for the drugs when, in fact, she paid for them herself?
The Gemara (Kesubos 67B) discusses your mother’s type of behavior. The Gemara’s case was where a person has money but doesn’t want to buy the food he needs. The Gemara says that we give him money and after he buys what he needs we ask him to pay it back. The Gemara asks that this will work once but next time he won’t accept our help since he already knows that he will have to repay the money. The Gemara replies that we only make his estate repay after his death. However, the Gemara concludes that this is only one opinion and the consensus is that if he wants to save his money we don’t have to help him.
The question which we have to ask is what the consensus opinion found wrong with the first opinion.
We can decide this question from a ruling of the Maharam of Rottenberg (Responsa, Prague 39). He was asked about a person who was taken into captivity by goyim who were willing to release him if he paid a ransom. However, he did not want to spend his money on ransom. The Maharam ruled that we pay the ransom and force him to repay once he is free. He writes that one of his sources is the Gemara which we cited. He says that the only reason the consensus opinion is against the first opinion is because the people would be repaid only after his death. However, ransom is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Therefore, we pay the ransom and make him repay right away. This is the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 252, 11) making it the authoritative approach.
Thus, we can derive that really the correct approach is to force a person to sustain himself. It is only that in normal circumstances we do not have an approach that enables us to do so, so we cannot implement this approach. However when we can follow this approach, we force a person to spend the money needed to sustain himself.
The question we have to now ask is whether this means that only beis din can force a person to sustain himself, or maybe anyone who is able to, may coerce the unwilling person?
We can decide this question from another ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ho’ezer 70, 8). A married person is obligated to provide food and other sustenance to his wife. The Shulchan Aruch rules that if a person went away and did not arrange to provide for his wife, beis din may sell his assets if necessary in order to sustain his wife. Additionally, anyone who owes money to the husband may give the money he owes to the wife and thereby pay back his debt. The Beis Shmuel (70, 27) rules further that anyone else who has access to the husband’s assets also may give them to the wife. The Shach (128, 8) agrees with the Ramo (128, 1) that this is true for any debts that a person has: any person who has access to the borrower’s assets may use them to pay the borrower’s debts.
Since we saw earlier that each person is responsible to sustain himself – just like a husband must support his wife – therefore, one who has access to a person’s assets – since the person “owes himself” money for his own sustenance – may use that money to pay for his sustenance. Therefore, you who have access to your mother’s assets, should use the money for your mother’s sustenance.
We should further mention that even though the above rulings were explicitly about food and about redeeming from captivity, one can derive that the same is true for medical needs. A source for this is the Gemoro (Kesubos 52B) that rules explicitly that a husband must provide for his wife’s medical needs because these are included in the responsibility to feed and to redeem his wife from captivity. Therefore, any rulings we have concerning food and releasing from captivity apply equally to providing for one’s medical needs. Therefore, you should utilize the access you have to your mother’s assets to provide all her medical needs. Of course, you should not let her know because then she may thwart your plans. This is similar to what the Gemara says when we don’t have access to the assets of someone who doesn’t want to use his money to sustain himself.
Your second question is that perhaps this is prohibited due to geneivas da’as. It is true that this is geneivas da’as because she will think you are being nice to her in that you are willing to pay her expenses from your own pocket, when actually she is paying her own expenses. We see in the Gemara (Chulin 94A) that an action that creates a false impression of friendship or honor is forbidden because of geneivas da’as. For example, the Gemara writes that one may not pressure someone to be his guest if he knows in advance that the person will not agree.
However, this case is different because one may and should use geneivas da’as in order to force a person to do what he is supposed to do. We see this both in general as well as in this particular case.
We see it in this particular case from the Gemara we cited at the outset because if we provide sustenance and recover the money after his death we are also doing an action of geneivas da’as since he thinks we gave him a present when in fact it was only a loan. We find this in general when a person does not do what he should do from the Gemara (Yevomos 106A) that rules that if a person insists on performing yibum when he is supposed to do chalitzo we promise him money to do chalitzo and in the end we don’t pay him. Thus, we violated geneivas da’as in order to coerce the brother-in-law to act properly. Similarly, you should do something which is geneivas da’as in order to coerce your mother to sustain herself properly.
In conclusion: Not only are you allowed to use your mother’s money but you should use your mother’s money to provide for her medical needs. Just one word of caution is in order. You must always verify with a doctor that this is truly a medical need.