Devastating Impact Of Elder Attorney Abuse

The continuing threat to the older population when appointing an attorney whom they trust to look after them is ever-growing,

Over the past year, there has been an influx in the number of people, in trusted positions, exploiting the people they should be protecting from financial harm.

The Government carried out almost 50% more investigations concerning abuse complaints regarding lasting powers of attorney (LPA) in 2018.

In total, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) received 5,245 claims that attorneys were abusing their donor’s finances last year – this is more claims of abuse than the OPG has ever had to deal with.

In the past year, there have been numerous cases of donor abuse, whereby not only did the attorney abuse their position and treat the donor’s wealth as their own but charities also potentially lost out on legacy gifts too. In one case well-known charities lost £25,000 after an attorney exploited its position. Another attorney was on trial for acting dishonestly as he was accused of fraudulently stealing a donor’s son inheritance.

With the Office for National Statistics ‘Overview of the UK Population: July 2017’ reporting the UK population is getting older with 18% aged 65 and over and 2.4% aged 85 and over, along with mental incapacity – has meant financial abuse of this vulnerable group is on the increase.

Furthermore, modern lifestyles have led to an increase in blended families and second marriages, which can also cause additional conflict when attorneys are chosen.

A recent report claimed that people over 45-years-old are reluctant to create a lasting power of attorney because they do not trust their younger relatives to act as their attorney.

When a donor is taken advantage of by a family member or friend it can have a huge emotional and physical impact on them – and often donors do not report the exploitation because they are unwilling or scared to make the complaint or are totally unaware that they are being abused financially.

When a donor has planned to bequeath part (or all) of their estate to charity, being exploited by their attorney is devastating for those charities named in Wills. UK charities are increasingly reliant on legacy bequeaths as they are a lifeline to their causes.

In the past year, legacy gifts have exceeded £3 billion, with the UK public becoming more varied with their choice of charity when leaving a legacy gift – with the rise of charities benefiting from legacy income in 2018. Nearly 30,000 charities were named in UK Wills last year, while nearly 3,000 charities were being named for the first time.

Professionals in the industry offer their views on attorney abuse in the sector and whether they are seeing a rise in exploitation.

Matthew Lagden, CEO of The Institute of Legacy Management said:

“Gifts in supporters Wills now account for slightly over £3bn each year, and many charities rely on this income to support their vital work.

“The ILM is very concerned about anything that potentially reduces this income, particularly when it involves theft from elderly and vulnerable people.

“Our members are reporting more and more cases where there is theft or suspected theft from an elderly person under a Lasting Power of Attorney.”

Ruth Pyatt, Director at Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and solicitor at Steeles Law, says:

“In England and Wales, the number of investigations into the abuse of LPAs has been rising since their introduction in 2007. In Scotland, the number of investigations has been increasing year on year too, but at a slower rate. The rise may be attributed to the UK’s increasingly ageing population, the increasing rates of dementia diagnoses and with most legal documents now being made online, the system can be open to abuse.

“This week, a Westminster think tank published a paper recommending that there be more oversight of the power of attorney system partly because digital fraud is the fastest growing type of fraud against vulnerable people.

“LPAs are very powerful documents, with potential for attorneys to abuse the power given to them. It is important that you carefully consider the powers you are giving when preparing your LPAs and incorporate safeguards where possible to limit any potential abuse.

“At Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) we advise that there’s no better time than the present to make an LPA. Creating an LPA without expert advice could leave individuals susceptible to financial abuse. Involving a solicitor in the process of creating and registering an LPA ensures that the donor’s best interests have been accounted for. It also ensures that a donor has considered all options and if necessary, included protection clauses.”

Rob Abell, Owner of Will Planning Solutions said:

“I set up a lot of LPAs and elderly donors always have a view, right or wrong, on who they trust to appoint. Our job is to try and spot issues, see clients on their own etc., I would imagine those who are abusing are very good liars, they can fool their parent & us. LPAs were meant to be an improvement on EPAs but that has clearly shown not to be the case. You go from LPAs to COP deputyships, one extreme to the other. The OPG really needs to introduce some half-way measure controls, whatever they choose will undoubtedly be onerous and add in a layer of cost. Almost a case of one or two rotten apples spoiling the whole barrel.

Boot on the other foot, those elderly clients who get LPAs in place, really need to involve their attorneys early on with their finances. My father got scammed late last year by £29,000, when we found out we diverted his incoming calls to our home phone, found a shocking number of rubbish calls, we recorded the numbers & they were all different. No chance of tracing the offenders, it transpired that he had agreed to someone entering his property on 6 occasions to fiddle/repair his computer & get a blank cheque out of him on every occasion. He never mentioned anything of this to us. The bank have washed their hands of it, and the Police haven’t even bothered despite reporting it to Action Fraud (or is it Non-Action Fraud?). When I get a copy of the complaint paperwork it is going to the Banking Ombudsman. I guess the point I am trying to make is that money is the route of all evil & even if family act fraudulently, at least it is probably just an advance on their inheritance, bad but not the end of the World?”

Are you seeing a rise in elderly people being exploited by their attorneys? Do you think more people should make LPAs before reaching later life?