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Did you go to a Universal Wealth Preservation ‘Keep it in the Family’ seminar?

The number of people contacting solicitors like ourselves with concerns about Universal Wealth Preservation (UWP) has continued to grow - and it is estimated that as many as 8,000 people could have set up trusts with the now discredited company and its related firms.

This unregulated company, which ran seminars locally in the South West, encouraged clients to transfer the ownership of assets including their homes and savings into trusts set up by UWP to supposedly protect themselves against possible future care home fees and inheritance tax.

Clients concerned about management of these trusts have experienced huge problems contacting UWP, with no response to phone calls, emails and letters, and in many cases have been unable to ascertain the whereabouts of their assets or retrieve original wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney held in secure storage.

Earlier this year, the business premises of an associated company, Universal Asset Protection, went into compulsory liquidation and two people connected to the company have been arrested and subsequently released as inquiries into the matter continue.

Growing concerns

The Society of Estate and Trust Practitioners (STEP), the professional association for practitioners specialising in family inheritance and succession planning, has received an unprecedented number of enquiries about Universal Tax Solutions, Universal Wealth Preservation, Universal Asset Protection and Universal Trustees.

In addition:

  • This month, STEP permanently excluded director Mr Steven Long as a member following a disciplinary investigation in which he was found to have breached its Code of Professional Conduct in relation to areas including integrity, courtesy, honesty, handling of client property and duty of care;
  • Police in the East of England alone are investigating 100 reports of fraudulent activity relating to the Universal group of companies;
  • Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, said at least 140 clients of Universal Wealth had contacted it about missing money.

"My heart stopped"

One victim's son recently explained to a regional BBC news programme how his father, now in a care home with dementia, handed over his house and £75,000 of his savings to UWP several years ago.

"There was never a statement from a bank, only a paper record - never anything to say that the money had been invested," said Martin Leech. "When I called the number on the documents, it wasn't connected. My heart stopped and I thought 'what on earth do I do now?"

Specialist, independent help

Wards Solicitors' specialist trust advisers, Mary Harty and Catherine Cowan, have both taken a lot of calls from worried people and are currently assisting a number of former UWP clients.

Companies under the Universal group umbrella, there are around 13 related firms, offered packages of documents which usually included Wills and letters of wishes, Lasting Powers of Attorney, wealth preservation and family trusts with letters of wishes.

It is the trusts which are the most problematic to untangle and it is vital to take independent legal advice. Moves can then begin to remove UWP, or an associated company, as the trustees and give back the individual concerned control of their assets and home.

Although the police are now investigating UWP, it seems that the first some clients hear of a problem is when someone contacts them out of the blue offering to sort out the issue with the UWP trustees for a fee.

It is thought that at least two of these companies have been set up by former UWP staff members so care should be taken when deciding on the next course of action and independent legal advice sought.

Please contact Wards Solicitors specialist trust advisers, Mary Harty and Catherine Cowan, for more help and information. STEP also has advice on its website about what to do if you have been affected by UWP.