Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A legal flaw, or how I could have stolen a small fortune

Every now and then, a news story comes along where I think I may actually have something useful to add to the debate. In this case, it is on the unsavoury topic of predatory relatives exploiting their nearest and dearest:
The number of adult children stealing from their elderly parents has shot up. In the first half of 2015, crown courts dealt with £2.1 million worth of cases of families stealing from one another - almost four times more than the same time last year. Fraud against elderly relatives made up 80% of it.
It turns out that some people, at least, have all the family feeling of scorpions or sand tiger sharks. 'Frustrated' by waiting for their aged relatives to shuffle off this mortal coil and pass on their inheritance, over-45s have been plundering the bank accounts entrusted to them.

Naturally checks exist to prevent this sort of thing, at least in the case where a family member has applied to take control of a dementia sufferer's finances as court-appointed Deputy when he or she no longer has the mental capacity to nominate a Power of Attorney.

Quite rightly, the Deputy must submit annual accounts for scrutiny; this involves a lengthy form on which all assets, income and expenditure must be accounted for to the last penny - no easy task for an amateur, especially when, with care home fees, savings and property sales (also the responsibility of the deputy), the sums can run into tens of thousands each way.

Incredible as it seems, there is a serious loophole in this system.When the person for whom the Deputy is acting dies, the court order immediately ceases to apply and there is no further contact. Meanwhile, the solicitor handling the estate is only interested in the account balances from the moment of death onwards. There is nowhere to submit the accounts for the final few months - all that careful bookkeeping impresses no-one - and nobody wants to know what the previous year's assets were.

As a Deputy, had I been so inclined - and had I previously been less open with other family members about the estate - I could easily have withdrawn money from the bank accounts in the months before my relative's death and given his solicitor a drastically reduced balance to distribute (although, after several years of care home fees, my 'cut' would have fallen very far short of the £100k threshold for the statistics above).

Admittedly, there might have been an outside chance of my relative living until the next year-end but the ultimate demise can often be predicted some weeks before - easily time enough to extract a large windfall from the bank rather than waiting to receive a fraction of the estate after probate.

I appreciate that this post lacks zing - it's difficult to be anything other than turgid when dealing with legal and financial technicalities - and that my audience is limited, but it seems to me worth pointing out that the current system is offering an open door to a Deputy who wishes to defraud other relatives or steal from a dying family member.


  1. Phew, yes. It alters at point of death, doesn't it? I'm going to have to explore this one.

  2. "the current system is offering an open door to a Deputy who wishes to defraud other relatives or steal from a dying family member."

    I know of a case where that happened. It is an open door.

  3. JH, I only discovered this anomaly when trying to find someone to whom I could give the accounts; I wonder how many more there are.

    AKH, I'm sorry you have had that experience - like Donne's bell, every small act of iniquity affects us all.