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You say “Investing”, I say “embezzling”, let’s call the whole thing off

 

Am beginning to be very fond of Judge Lush, who decided the JM and MJ case I recently blogged about.  This is another Court of Protection case.  The Court of Protection gets a hard time from people (including me), but I am massively in favour of the way this particular Judge is getting stuck into those people who end up being responsible for managing the affairs of someone lacking capacity and end up enriching themselves.

 

The Public Guardian v C 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2013/2965.html

 

Miss Buckley entered into an Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in which she appointed her niece, C, to be her sole attorney. Miss Buckley lives in a nursing home, for which the fees are just under £1000 per week.  The nursing home became concerned about what Miss Buckley was saying about the way C was managing her affairs and an investigation took place.

 

  1. The application was accompanied by a witness statement made on 22 October 2012 by Yun Ding, an investigation officer with the OPG, which can be summarised as follows:

(1) Miss Buckley’s house had been sold for £279,000 on 28 April 2011.

(2) Between 17 January 2011 and June 2012 the attorney had withdrawn £72,000 from Miss Buckley’s funds to set up a reptile breeding business. The attorney claimed that this was a short-term investment which would generate a 20% return over a two year period.

(3) The attorney admitted that she had used at least £7,650 of Miss Buckley’s capital for her own personal benefit.

(4) The attorney said she visited Miss Buckley once a week, but this was contradicted by the nursing home, who said that she had not visited her at all until 16 October 2012, when she appears to have obtained Miss Buckley’s signature on some unknown documentation.

(5) At one stage there had been daily cash withdrawals of £300 (the maximum amount) from Miss Buckley’s Nationwide Building Society account.

(6) The Special Investigation Department at the Nationwide had alerted Social Services in April 2012 and the matter was also referred to the police, who interviewed the attorney in July 2012.

(7) Miss Buckley’s estate may have incurred a total loss of approximately £150,000.

 

(The withdrawal of the maximum daily amount from the Nationwide is a bit of a telling indicator here)

 

It seems that a lot of this money was being ‘invested’ in a company which specialises in breeding reptiles  (“so… many…jokes. must resist jokes”)

14.On 13 December 2012 Yun Ding made a second witness statement, the primary purpose of which was to exhibit Dr Barker’s report and to update the court on the OPG’s investigation as required by the directions order of 23 October. She concluded the statement as follows:

“From the evidence gathered so far, I estimate that Miss Buckley has contributed at least £87,682.53 towards the reptile investment venture described by C. In the absence of any contrary evidence, the Public Guardian maintains that Miss Buckley’s finances may have been used to heavily subsidize what appears to be a reptile breeding business, without any formal guarantee or security or her share of the alleged investment returns. C also appears to have misappropriated £43,317.47 of her aunt’s estate without obtaining consent, contrary to what she had told the police. I have therefore re-referred this matter back to the police to conduct further enquiries

It certainly seems a distinct possibility that this ‘reptile’ company was C’s own business, or one in which she had a direct financial involvement in. The “investment” led the Judge to give some general principles on investing when doing so under an LPA.

The investment of funds by an attorney

20.There are two common misconceptions when it comes to investments. The first is that attorneys acting under an LPA can do whatever they like with the donors’ funds. And the second is that attorneys can do whatever the donors could – or would – have done personally, if they had the capacity to manage their property and financial affairs.

21.Managing your own money is one thing. Managing someone else’s money is an entirely different matter.

22.People who have the capacity to manage their own financial affairs are generally not accountable to anyone and don’t need to keep accounts or records of their income and expenditure. They can do whatever they like with their money, and this includes doing nothing at all. They can stash their cash under the mattress, if they wish and, of course, they are entitled to make unwise decisions.

23.None of these options are open to an attorney acting for an incapacitated donor, partly because of their fiduciary obligations and partly because an attorney is required to act in the donor’s best interests. The Mental Capacity Act 2005, section 1(5), states that, “an act done, or decision made, under this Act for or on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in his best interests.”

24.Mr Justice Lewison (as he then was) commented on this point in Re P (Statutory Will) [2009] EWHC 163 (Ch), [2009] COPLR Con Vol 906. At paragraph 42 he said:

“I would add that although the fact that P makes an unwise decision does not on its own give rise to any inference of incapacity (section 1 (4)), once the decision making power shifts to a third party (whether carer, deputy or the court) I cannot see that it would be a proper exercise for a third party decision maker consciously to make an unwise decision merely because P would have done so. A consciously unwise decision will rarely if ever be made in P’s best interests.”

25.Attorneys hold a fiduciary position, which imposes a number of duties on them. Like trustees and other fiduciaries, they must exercise such care and skill as is reasonable in the circumstances when investing the donor’s assets and this duty of care is even greater where attorneys hold themselves out as having specialist knowledge or experience.

 

 

31.Two of the most important factors when considering the suitability of investments are the donor’s age and life expectancy. Most donors are older people. Their average age is 80 years and 11 months and, in this respect Miss Buckley, who is 81½, is a typical LPA donor.

32.Short-term investment codes are generally more appropriate where an individual has an anticipated life expectancy of five years or less, and the guidance to court staff suggested that, “without clear medical evidence it would be prudent to consider a life expectancy of less than five years for new patients aged 80 or over.

 

 

And

  The second point is that, subject to a sensible de minimis exception, where the potential infringement is so minor that it would be disproportionate to make a formal application to the court, an application must be made to the court for an order under section 23 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in any of the following cases:

(a) gifts that exceed the limited scope of the authority conferred on attorneys by section 12 of the Mental Capacity Act;

(b) loans to the attorney or to members of the attorney’s family;

(c) any investment in the attorney’s own business;

(d) sales or purchases at an undervalue; and

(e) any other transactions in which there is a conflict between the interests of the donor and the interests of the attorney.

 

  The final point is one that has been made in the past, but needs to be repeated. Attorneys should be aware of the law regarding their role and responsibilities. Ignorance is no excuse. I am not suggesting that attorneys should be able to pass an examination on the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, but they should at least be familiar with the “information you must read” on the LPA itself and the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 Code of Practice. Section 42(4)(a) of the Act expressly stipulates that it is the duty of an attorney acting under an LPA to have regard to the code.

  Commenting on the conduct of an attorney in Re W (Enduring Power of Attorney) [2000] Ch 343, at page 350 Mr Jules Sher QC said:

“… she ought to have known the law if she was to take on the responsibility of such an important fiduciary position, particularly as one of the few things expressly stated in part of the power itself is the following sentence: “I also understand my limited power to use the donor’s property to benefit persons other than the donor.””

 

 

A person taking on that responsibility to manage the affairs of a vulnerable person has to make themselves familiar with the limits on those powers, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.

 

It is not, therefore a massive surprise that the Judge didn’t consider that C had been properly conducting affairs on behalf of Miss Buckley  (incidentally, I think it slightly unfair that the innocent Miss Buckley is named, whereas C gets a cloak of anonymity here). There’s some lovely judicial understatement here  “One can hardly describe a man who runs a reptile breeding business as someone who is qualified to give investment advice”

 

  I am satisfied that C has contravened her authority and has acted in a way that is not in Miss Buckley’s best interests.

  Even if one were to be generous and believe C and accept at face value her description of the way in which she has applied Miss Buckley’s funds as an ‘investment’, it was a highly unsuitable investment to make and she broke almost every rule in the book in making it.

  She did not obtain and consider proper advice from someone who is qualified to give investment advice. One can hardly describe a man who runs a reptile breeding business as someone who is qualified to give investment advice by his ability in and practical experience of financial and other matters relating to investment.

  The investment was very high risk. When investing funds on behalf of older people, the perceived wisdom is that the investments should be safe and that very little risk is acceptable as can be seen from the short-term investment tables set out above. Even when investing funds long-term on behalf of a younger person, a hazardous and speculative investment of this kind would have been inappropriate for anyone in a fiduciary position to make.

  The attorney invested in her own business, which was in breach of her fiduciary duty. Paragraph 7.60 of the Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice states that:

“A fiduciary duty means attorneys must not take advantage of their position. Nor should they put themselves in a position where their personal interests conflict with their duties. They also must not allow any other influences to affect the way in which they act as an attorney. Decisions should always benefit the donor, and not the attorney. Attorneys must not profit or get any personal benefit from their position, apart from receiving gifts where the Act allows it, whether or not it is at the donor’s expense.”

  The investment was also made in the attorney’s name. This was in breach of the guidance to attorneys given in paragraph 7.68 of the Code of Practice to keep the donor’s money and property separate. The attorneys’ admission in paragraph 16 of her witness statement – “I would like to state that I was not aware that the investment had to be made in her name and was concerned about signing on her behalf – is no excuse.

  C’s use of £43,317.47 (according to Yun Ding’s second statement) of Miss Buckley’s capital for her own personal benefit was way beyond the very limited authority to make gifts conferred on attorneys by section 12 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The attorney’s comments paragraphs 17 and 18 of her witness statement are no defence:

“I agree that my aunt lacks capacity to manage her own financial affairs and in my view she has become increasingly confused and is unable to understand the information relevant to deciding how to handle her finances or retain that information. … I admit that some of the money was used for my own benefit but only with my aunt’s permission.”

  As regards Miss Buckley’s capacity, I am satisfied that she is incapable of revoking the LPA herself. I accept the opinion of the Court of Protection Special Visitor, Dr Andrew Barker, who stated:

“She was unable to understand the nature and effects of an LPA to a sufficient degree or to choose an attorney, was not aware of her financial dealings and could not recall detail sufficiently well or concentrate long enough to weigh information in the balance to come to decisions about an attorney or to direct or instruct an attorney.”

 

 

This is what Miss Buckley’s friend Shirley said

“I am so worried that (Miss Buckley’s) money will get stolen and that she won’t be able to stay in the nursing home. I have been asked not to get in touch with C both by social services and by the police. I find this very difficult. I must have given two years of my full attention – selling her house for her – setting up the Nationwide to pay the (nursing home) monthly. Finding a decent retirement residence (from which she had to move for health reasons) then I found her the nursing home but it’s nearly £1000 per week. She cannot afford for her money to be taken. She needs every penny.”

 

Very very true. A shame that C could not see things in that light at all.  I hope that she and the reptiles are very happy together.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

5 responses

  1. Damn, just realised I could have done some Snake Oil / Snake Farm jokes… Please just assume they are in there somewhere

  2. It does seem that C was no better than a slimy reptile herself.

    But these two cases bring up rather serious concerns in modern times when so many people are only interested in money, through greed for the material, or because they lack it.

    It is difficult to guage whether if you have resources and are a doner of an LPA that the attorney will, should you become unable to conduct your own financial affairs, be tempted to deprive you of your assets. Although people tend to think they could not behave thus, research has shown around 2/3 of people would steal something from someone’s home, e.g. of a relative or friend, if they saw something they wanted.

    The problem with people financially taking advantage of elders is rather widespread in society, from tradesmen, salesmen to the children and grandchildren. In difficult economic times with employment being insecure I wonder how many will unthinkingly engage in this behaviour, (even the people that hold up a high moral ground persona in public have private behaviours that do not match). This and the fact that there are elements in society, (including government ministers), who support the notion of a right to inherit property from ones parents- this gives wrong messages.

    No one has the right to inherit nor should those with any resources be under pressure to think that they must ‘pass on’ money. Unless this is the basis of government thinking we will continue to see finacial abuses increase. There is also a need to separate families where resource sharing has been the norm throughout the relationship, as two way process, from those where this has never been the case. This is to be fair on those families with members that help each other in difficult times and pool resources.

    • very true Edna. I do hope some of these cases turn into criminal prosecutions, because the issue needs the oxygen of publicity that a criminal trial would create, in order to have that debate.

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