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Specialist private client solicitor, Katie Winslow, considers the issue of financial abuse of vulnerable people.
In some cases, a person experiencing mental health problems might be unable, even with help, to make decisions regarding their financial affairs. This is known as lacking capacity and it can quickly cause urgent financial problems if appropriate measures have not been put in place. Bills will still need to be paid and it may be necessary for a third party with appropriate authority to step in and take decisions on behalf of the person who cannot do so themselves.
In other cases, a person may still have capacity to make financial decisions for themselves but need a high level or support to do so, which can leave them vulnerable to unscrupulous “friends” or relatives.
In either case, properly given help with managing finances can be essential. However, there are sadly cases where what at first looks like “help” crosses the line and becomes financial abuse.
Someone who is acting under an Enduring or Lasting Power of Attorney, or as a court-appointed Deputy, must only ever make decisions that are in the best interests of the person whose affairs they are managing and they must always act within the authority that has been given to them.
Help and support is also sometimes given to a vulnerable person on a more informal basis, for example by adding a friend or relative to a joint bank account or granting access to online banking facilities. In these cases, the friend/relative must always act with the consent of the person who they are helping.
While support and suitable guidance given to a vulnerable person can be invaluable, there should never be any attempt -even with honest but misguided intentions - to bring about a financial decision that is not in their best interests.
Crossing these boundaries can cause a vulnerable person to become a victim of financial abuse. Financial abuse takes many forms. Taking money or other assets without consent is an obvious example. But it can also be more subtle, e.g. the drawing out of small amounts of cash supposedly to help with shopping, exertion of gradual pressure to make gifts under fear of care home fees or the withdrawal of help, or aggressive sales techniques that cause a vulnerable person to pay for unnecessary or overpriced services. Sometimes the person who is being abused might not even realise that something is wrong, but there is almost always something that can be done.
The team at Bell & Buxton has a vast range of experience in dealing with financial abuse cases. We can advise on steps to prevent financial abuse happening in the first place, through to stopping it if it does occur and taking action to recover assets where appropriate. We also advise regarding the recovery of assets in cases where financial abuse only comes to light after the alleged victim’s death. We’re very proud that as a result of our work we are finalists for the 2018 STEP Private Client Award for the Vulnerable Client Advisory Practice of the Year.
If you have concerns that you or someone else might be at risk of financial abuse then our experienced team will be happy to discuss things with you. We also advise people who are helping with another’s finances on where the limits of their authority lie, and when additional steps such as permission from the court are needed. Whatever your concern, it’s very rarely too early or too late to try to do something about it.