Elder financial abuse: how attorneys were able to use an elderly woman’s money to their own advantage
The importance of choosing a specialist lawyer to protect the interests of older and vulnerable clients has been highlighted after a care home resident lost more than £385,000 when her solicitor allowed her attorneys to sell her home.
Her solicitor failed to spot a conflict of interest in allowing the two attorneys, who were also his clients, to use the proceeds to buy five properties in which they gave themselves a 50% stake.
After an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Doncaster solicitor, Andrew John Chatterton, was referred to a specialist tribunal and fined £20,000, a penalty it stated ‘adequately reflected the seriousness of the misconduct’.
How should a solicitor safeguard an elderly client’s interests?
This sad case shows just how important it is, from the start, to appoint an effective solicitor as a safeguard for an older client who may be at risk of financial abuse.
Wards Solicitors’ highly experienced Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity lawyers are experts in older client law and most are members of the respected Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) which is dedicated to protecting the interests of older people.
- Explain clearly what the process of appointing a Lasting Power of Attorney entails.
- Draft documents which contain the appropriate safeguards to reduce the risk of abuse.
- Provide the relevant advice to the legally appointed deputy or attorney acting on behalf of the elderly client.
- Proceed extremely carefully before receiving and accepting instructions from vulnerable clients or third parties acting on their behalf.
- Act in the best interests of our elderly and vulnerable clients.
What happened in this vulnerable client case?
Andrew Chatterton, who’d been a solicitor since 1981, acted for both the elderly client and the two beneficiaries she’d appointed as Lasting Power of Attorneys.
He was told by her attorneys that the five properties purchased in 2015 and 2016 from the sale of her London home would be used to create rental income to finance her care home fees.
However, Mr Chatterton did not check his elderly client’s wishes with her before the sale went ahead or even that she was in a care home.
He then went on to act for the attorneys as they spent almost £700,000 of his elderly client’s money buying different properties including registering them as equal tenants in common.
How was this case contested?
The Office of the Public Guardian, after receiving an anonymous note saying the attorneys were living beyond their means, investigated and issued Court of Protection proceedings in 2019.
The attorneys were removed, the elderly woman died in late 2020 and after the deputy who was appointed in the former attorneys’ place complained, the SRA investigated.
Mr Chatterton claimed he had always believed the attorneys were doing their best for the elderly woman and that he had been deceived by one of them.
He did admit, though, that the property transactions he had helped with showed a ‘pattern of inadequate practice’ and that, with his experience, he should have notified the elderly woman about what was happening.
The SRA said: “To an extent, the respondent was the victim of the wrongdoing of the attorneys. On the other hand, the lack of probity on his part resulted in intervention by the Office of the Public Guardian, instruction of a deputy and contested Court of Protection proceedings all coming at significant cost and time.”
Get in touch
If you have concerns that the actions of an attorney are not in the best interests of the person they have been appointed to act for, it is important to seek specialist legal advice.
Wards Solicitors’ expert Contentious Trust and Probate team can explain your options and guide you through the processes involved.
The team is praised by the Legal 500 Guide for 2023 for its broad contentious trusts and probate practice with a particular emphasis on Inheritance Act and Court of Protection matters.
Our lawyers are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Law Society’s Probate Panel. All demand a high level of expertise and up to date knowledge from their members.
Head of the team, Elizabeth Fry, is highlighted as a key lawyer specialising in high value and multi-jurisdictional matters with four other members of the team also recommended.