In a warning to the elderly that even close family members cannot always be trusted with money, the High Court has stepped in to protect a 78-year-old dementia sufferer from the depredations of her two sons who misused their power over her assets.
The frail ex-primary school teacher had been resident in a private care home for several years. She had granted lasting powers of attorney to her sons, who had rented out her home in her absence. Alarm bells were rung when the managers of the care home pointed out that her fees were substantially in arrears.
The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) investigated and applied to the Court under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to strip the sons of their powers of attorney. One of the sons, an independent financial adviser, had admitted intermingling his mother’s funds with his own and those of his company.
He explained that he had ‘structured’ her affairs in a way which would minimise the incidence of Inheritance Tax on her death. However, the Court noted that he had failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for payments made from his mother’s funds totalling more than £150,000. He had also run up almost £1,000 on his mother’s account at a restaurant, although she had never accompanied him there.
His actions were, ‘by any standards’, serious breaches of the fiduciary duty he owed his mother. The other son had also benefitted personally from his mother’s funds and had failed to respond satisfactorily to the OPG’s application. The Court revoked both sons’ powers of attorney and opened the way for a professional deputy to replace them at the helm of their mother’s affairs.