My first case dealing with the financial abuse of an elderly woman began on a gut instinct. My client, Rose* and her husband had no children but a number of nieces and nephews who were very attentive to them. When Rose’s husband died and Rose was left as a widow she was hugely appreciative of her nephew who helped her move into residential care and visited her monthly bringing her chocolates and flowers. I received regular updates from this nephew as to how well she was doing. He asked me to register the Enduring Power of Attorney that I had made, appointing him to act. He informed me that sadly Rose had lost mental capacity to manage her own money.
When Rose died, the nephew contacted me to inform me, but made it plain that although her will appointed him and me as joint Executors, there was little for me to do. He was “perfectly capable” of dealing with the simple probate. His zest to get me out of the picture aroused my suspicion and I fought to remain as an Executor on the basis that I had promised Rose that I would deal with everything for her when they died.
Having obtained a Grant of Probate, I then obtained copy bank statements for the period of his attorney work. These revealed cash point withdrawals of £200 on a daily basis, usually from the same cash point in the city but also from Prague and other holiday destinations. Sure, Rose’s care home fees had been paid, but she most certainly had not travelled abroad or required that level of expenditure. I reported the matter to the Police and am pleased to say that the nephew was successfully prosecuted.
Most recently I helped an Executor who was suspicious, and last month that attorney was convicted of theft of £50,000 of her late uncle’s funds. Hard work and determination is required to secure such evidence to present to the police and then to persuade them to refer the matter to the CPS, but an Executor has that duty to the estate.
Since my first case above, I now receive referrals directly from local advocacy groups and other charities. I remain shocked and appalled at the level of this abuse. The criminal offence is under the Theft Act and known as Fraud by Abuse of Position. It can carry a prison sentence, but at the very least on a conviction, there will be a compensation order ordering the repayment to the deceased’s estate.
In some cases, the fraud or scam is by a stranger who became a “friend”. If you are suspicious and the victim is alive, then do not hesitate to report the suspicious activity to your local authority’s safeguarding unit, or the OPG to see if there is a valid Power of Attorney. It is easier to deal with such suspicions during the lifetime of the victim rather than afterwards in case the same person is also Executor of a will, perhaps made suspiciously.
Consider reporting large scale scams to an organization such as Friends Against Scams. But essentially, my advice is that the first step is to trust your gut instinct.
*Rose’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity
Partner at Giles Wilson LLP
Melinda began her legal career in Property and traditional Private Client work and then moved into mental health, becoming an accredited mental health tribunal solicitor and working on mental capacity. She completed an LLM in Mental Health Law in 2016, receiving a distinction for her dissertation entitled “Does the current legal framework adequately protect those at risk of financial abuse.” Melinda enjoys all aspects of Court of Protection work, be it statutory wills or welfare work. Melinda is the Private Client representative on the Law Society Council and was Highly commended as Solicitor of the Year in the Law Society Excellence Awards 2016.
Twitter is @MelindaGilesLaw | Email: Melinda@gileswilson.co.uk
Giles Wilson is a high-street practice with 3 offices in Essex and our work stretches through to London. Giles Wilson are proud to be listed in the Legal 500, and to have been Highly Commended in the Law Society Excellence Awards for their private client work. They deal with all aspects of law but with a particular emphasis on Private client including all forms of contentious issues from challenges to Wills to NHS continuing healthcare.