Attorneys have an enormous amount of power over a person’s affairs. They usually have access to the person’s bank accounts and are able to make life-changing decisions on their behalf. Sadly, financial abuse of elderly and vulnerable people is on the rise and the abuser is frequently a family member who has been given Power of Attorney.
These are examples of things which might raise suspicions that the attorney’s powers are not being used properly.
1. Failure to keep the donor’s money separate from their own.
An attorney is under a duty to use the donor’s money for the benefit of the donor. In order to do this, they need to be able to clearly identify the money that belongs to the donor.
If the donor’s money is being mixed with the attorney’s money in a single bank account, at the very least it makes the job more difficult and at worst could be evidence that the attorney is using the money for their own benefit.
2. The attorney becomes secretive about the donor’s finances.
Concerns should be raised if an attorney changes the bank account details so that he or she is the only one with access to it, when previously other attorneys had access.
If an attorney refuses or is unable to explain withdrawals or payments made from the donor’s bank accounts, again this is highly suspicious.
3. The attorney is in financial difficulties.
Financial difficulties can make a liar out of anyone and vulnerable people are easy pickings for people who need an additional supply of cash. Many people in this position succumb to the temptation to use the donor’s money to shore up their own finances. This is a clear breach of an attorney’s duty to use the donor’s money to benefit the donor. It is worth pointing out that anyone who has been declared bankrupt is ineligible to act as an attorney for property and finance.
4. Loan or credit card applications taken out in the donor’s name.
This raises concerns that the attorneys are applying for loans or credit cards for their own personal financial gain. This behaviour is particularly concerning in cases where the donor did not take out loans or credit cards before they lost capacity. Look for letters from banks or credit card companies addressed to the donor.
5. High risk investments or investments in an attorney’s business.
Any investments must be in the donor’s best interests and must not benefit the attorney.
An investment in the attorney’s own business would be a serious concern, as would any high risk or speculative investment. An attorney should be primarily concerned with preserving the donor’s finances.
6. Excessive gifts.
Attorneys are allowed to make gifts to people related to or connected with the donor, including themselves. However these gifts should only be on customary occasions such as Christmas and birthdays and the value of the gifts should be in keeping with the gifts that the donor gave when they had capacity.
For example, if the donor habitually gave gifts around the value of £20 to their relatives at Christmas, the attorneys making gifts of £1000 is persuasive evidence of financial abuse.
7. Failure to pay the donor’s expenses or general lack of money made available to the donor.
The purpose of the LPA is to allow the attorneys to actively manage the donor’s finances. If the donor is regularly receiving reminders or final demands for utility bills when the money is there to pay them, this demonstrates that the attorneys are not managing their finances very well.
Similarly, attorneys must not “hoard” the donor’s money with the aim of preserving their estate. Just like everyone else, the donor has the right to enjoy the standard of living that their funds allow. Worn-out clothes need replacing, food and toiletries must be purchased, and so on. Attorneys should always make the donor’s money available for these purposes.
8. Moving the donor into care without notice to anyone or discussion with anyone else.
Before taking the big step of moving the donor into care, the law requires that the donor’s needs are properly assessed and that their wishes are taken into account as far as possible when choosing a home for them.
If no process is followed before moving a person into a home, this is evidence that the attorney is not really acting in the donor’s best interests. This is especially the case when the accommodation proves to be unsuitable for the donor, or the donor is able to afford a better care home than where they have been placed.
If you suspect that a person’s affairs are being mismanaged by their attorneys, it is important to take careful notes of the facts and dates so that these are to hand for the authorities to investigate. It is advisable to act as soon as you become suspicious. Any delay could simply prolong the abuse that the donor is being subjected to and abuse becomes harder to investigate and prove the more time that elapses.