Last month, Age UK called for the health & social services and financial sectors to work together more closely after stats revealed that an estimated 130,000 people over the age of 65 have suffered some form of financial abuse. Those with Alzheimer’s or reduced cognitive function are considered particularly vulnerable. This is a difficult subject to discuss openly and as a result is often swept under the rug, but with the average age in the UK steadily increasing, it’s one that should be discussed early so you know how to best protect yourself and your assets.
One of the best-known cases of financial abuse of the vulnerable occurred in the United States in 2006, when Brooke Astor, a philanthropist, socialite and descendant of America’s first multi-millionaire, John Jacob Astor, was financially exploited by her son. Anthony Marshall took advantage of his mother’s mental incapacity, allowing her to live in squalor whilst he benefitted from plundering her $198 million estate.
While this might seem like an exceptional case, documented cases of similar types of abuse on a smaller scale and closer to home are frequent. Earlier this year a mother and daughter who stole £23,000 from an 83-year-old woman with Alzheimer's whilst acting as ‘informal carers’ were sent to jail for 12 months and 18 months respectively. With the number of people with Dementia set to rise to 1 million by 2021, the need to raise awareness of this is becoming increasingly prevalent.
In their study on the topic of financial abuse, Age UK went on to reveal that there are a number of warning signs to look out for that could indicate that an older person might be suffering from financial abuse. These included:
● Sudden changes in banking habits or living conditions
● Sale of possessions
● The inability to pay bills
● Large cash withdrawals from account or savings
If you’re worried about someone you care for but aren’t sure what you can do to help, we suggest watching our short video within our protecting the vulnerable page. It explains how Social Services should be your first point of call, but also how a solicitor is able to investigate matters and – if necessary – take preventative and/or restorative legal action.
Whether or not you are concerned that someone you know may be suffering from financial exploitation, there are a number of legally binding options that can be taken to alleviate the risk of financial abuse and protect your, or your loved one’s, assets.
Lasting Power of Attorney
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) involves giving another person (an attorney) the power to make decisions about your welfare when you can no longer make those decisions yourself. An LPA for Property and Finance gives the attorney the power over many financial matters including paying bills, collecting income/benefits, access to bank accounts and selling a home on behalf of the person with dementia.
It’s important that the LPA be set up as early as possible so you are able to give your full consent. When setting up an LPA for Property and Finance, the attorney you elect must keep accounts and ensure their own money is kept separate from yours. To give you extra protection, you can request details of how much money is being spent and your income. If you lose mental capacity, these details can be sent to a trusted third party, such as a solicitor or family member.
A Statutory Will
Another option is a Statutory Will. This is granted by the Court of Protection on behalf of a mentally incapacitated person. In legal terms, it is the same as normal will and administered in the same fashion. You can apply for this when the person isn’t able to understand what making or changing a will means, how much money/property they own, or how making or changing a will might affect the people they know. Someone who has lost the mental capacity to manage their finances may still have the ability to make a will, a solicitor should be able to advise you on this.
The peace of mind that these options can offer to the person suffering with the disease, and their family and friends, is invaluable. If you find yourself in need of guidance regarding any these options, you may wish to speak to myself or one of our talented experts, such as Carol Etherington. Our team has a wealth of experience in this area and have recently been nominated for Excellence in Private Client Practice at the Law Society Excellence Awards 2016.
Find out more about how Giles Wilson Solicitors Protect the Vulnerable. Call us on 01702 477 106 to arrange a free 30-minute consultation at our offices in Leigh-on-Sea or Rochford if you are seeking legal advice in this capacity.