Q: My wealthy spinster aunt was bed-ridden for years before dying in September. She had live-in carers and set up LPAs appointing my cousin and I as joint attorneys to manage her financial affairs and health and welfare decisions. We were also joint beneficiaries of her Will. However, I worked abroad and only returned to the UK in February. Coronavirus and her vulnerability meant I could not visit, and she was too ill to speak on the phone.
My cousin dealt with the funeral and house sale. Now one of my aunt’s former carers has contacted me, claiming my cousin systematically stripped my aunt’s house of valuable antiques in the months before she died, even taking stone garden ornaments hundreds of years old. What should I do?
A: Unfortunately, COVID-19 isolation has increased the amount of elderly financial abuse taking place because it can happen more easily behind closed doors.
Despite the LPA giving your cousin legal entitlement to handle your aunt’s affairs, she also had an obligation to act in her best interests which is a statutory principle of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This includes not profiting from her position as an Attorney. Whilst your aunt was alive, the Office of the Public Guardian could have investigated the actions of your cousin if you had raised concerns with them, however, once your aunt died, the Public Guardian has no authority to investigate the actions of an attorney.
Enquiries will need to be made by the Executors of your aunt’s estate and questions raised to your cousin. If your concerns are proven it is possible to claim your full inheritance entitlement from the proceeds of the house sale and for the Executors to rebalance the division of the estate taking into account the value of the items inappropriately taken by your cousin.
You should see a solicitor who specialises in contentious probate claims as soon as possible.
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