Tag Archives: Financial Abuse

Widow Who Forges Will to Get £1m Fortune May Still Inherit All

It has been reported recently that a former legal secretary, Dawn Smith, forged a Will to benefit from the entire estate of her wealthy 61 year old husband Harvey.

Smith, 47, married her husband 3 years before his death. It appears that she forged his Will, faking the signatures of her husband and witnesses. The forged Will excluded her husband’s two adult daughters from his previous marriage and made herself and her son from another relationship the sole beneficiaries of his £1 million estate.

After her husband’s death in 2012 she initially told his family that she didn’t believe that he had a Will but she later produced the paperwork leaving his £500,000 house in Darlington to her, together with a pension worth £420,000.  She has since remarried a Turkish waiter.

The deception was uncovered when a partner at the Darlington firm of solicitors, Hewitts where Dawn Smith had worked, thought it suspicious that Harvey’s adult daughters were overlooked whilst Dawn’s son was included.  Police were alerted and a handwriting expert concluded that the deceased’s signature was a forgery.

The case raises the intriguing question now as to what will happen to Harvey Smith’s estate?  Marriage revokes a Will – so any Will that he had made before his marriage to Dawn is no longer valid.  If there had been no Will the estate would have passed to Dawn under the intestacy rules.

It seems likely that she decided to forge the Will because, after their marriage, her husband made a new Will in which bequests were left to his daughters as well as to her and she wanted to avoid them being beneficiaries.  If that was the case then the forged Will is obviously invalid and the previous Will would take effect.

But, that would mean that Dawn Smith would still benefit from her late husband’s estate despite being a convicted fraudster.  The situation is even worse had he made no Will after his marriage (or if any such Will had been destroyed by Dawn Smith) because everything would then pass to her under the intestacy rules – again, despite her conviction.

Partner and contentious probate specialist, Sarah Young of Ridley & Hall Solicitors, comments:-

“Rather shockingly the legal rule of forfeiture does not help Harvey Smith’s daughters in this particular case.

The forfeiture rule applies to prevent a beneficiary from receiving benefit under a Will if he has unlawfully killed the testator (the maker of the Will) or unlawfully ‘aided, abetted, counselled or procured’ his death.  It does not extend to other crimes.  The rule also applies to intestacy.  Without knowing more of the facts of the case one can only speculate about the final outcome in this case – but it seems likely that the widow here will receive some financial benefit despite her conviction for fraud.”

Sarah Young is concerned about the wider implications in financial abuse cases:

“The same principle applies to perpetrators of financial abuse. Say, for example, someone faces criminal proceedings for having stolen money from a vulnerable elderly person. If they have been left money in a valid Will (or if they would inherit anyway under the intestacy rules) they are still be entitled to inherit their bequest after their victim dies.  As a matter of public policy this must be wrong!”

Financial abuse, particularly of the elderly, is on the rise.  The charity Action on Elder Abuse has reported a 150% increase in reports of financial abuse to their helpline in the last year; 680 calls to their helpline in 2013 showed that transactions involving £24m were reported as having been either stolen, defrauded or coerced.

Sarah Young warns:

“This is a crime that is most often perpetrated by family members and of course, they will often benefit under a Will or intestacy. For that reason, in my opinion, the forfeiture rule should be changed to prevent individuals who have been convicted of an offence of fraud from benefiting from a Will or an intestacy of their victim.”

Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley & Hall Legal Limited and specialises in Will disputes, cases involving missing people and the Court of Protection. Sarah offers practical, friendly and cost effective advice.  She understands the sensitive nature of cases which often involve disputes between families and has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.

For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley and Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.

Financial Abuse and the Care Act 2014 – Does Anyone Care?

On 14th May 2014 the Care Act received royal assent.  The Act is designed to reform the law relating to care and support for adults (and the law relating to support for carers).  It also makes provision for safeguarding adults from abuse or neglect.  But does the Act go far enough to protect those at risk of abuse and in particular financial abuse?

Financial abuse can be described as “types of mistreatment where someone forcibly controls another person’s money and/or financial assets”.  It is the second most prevalent type of mistreatment after neglect.  Older people, particularly those with dementia, are at greatest risk of financial abuse.

In 2011 an enquiry into mistreatment of elderly people revealed that there were almost one in four cases of abuse reported (around 23,000.00) were of financial abuse.  It is likely that that figure is actually much higher as many cases are unreported.  The charity Action on Elder Abuse is deeply concerned about the extent of abuse and neglect uncovered in hospitals and care homes recently and considers that current systems and law have been insufficient to deter abuse and that too often those few perpetrators who reach the courts receive sentences that the public consider too lenient.  They are seeking a new criminal charge of elder/adult abuse to cover circumstances where an adult uses their relationship or position to cause or allow an older person or dependent adult to suffer unnecessary physical pain, mental suffering, injures their health, or steals, defrauds or embezzles their money or property.

The charity is concerned that the adult safeguarding clauses in the Act are insufficient to ensure the protection of people who are subject to abuse.

One of the difficulties of financial abuse in particular is that in many cases the abuse is carried out by a son or a daughter who take the view that they are simply getting their inheritance in advance, or attorneys appointed under a power of attorney – the very person appointed to a position of trust.  The temptation to take money and to say “well it’s what they would have wanted me to have” for example alongside an ignorance of what the legal duties and responsibilities of an attorney are, can lead to gross abuses of trust.

Sarah Young, Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors says: “It can be difficult to spot the signs of financial abuse – or if wrong doing is suspected, to prove it.  In many cases the facts do not become apparent until after the victim’s death; I often get enquiries about this and, depending on the amounts, it is possible to do something about it”.

Awareness of the potential signs of financial abuse can help to limit or prevent this unpleasant crime:

• Signatures that do not resemble the older person’s normal handwriting – or a signature when the person is too unwell to be able to write.
• Sudden changes in bank accounts or unexplained large withdrawals.
• The sudden and unexplained transfer of assets to someone else.
• Deliberate isolation of an older person from friends and family, resulting in the care giver alone having total control.
• Change of ownership of a property.
• The purchase of items that the person does not require.
• Numerous unpaid bills or overdue rent when someone else is supposed to be paying the bills – or apparent lack of amenities that the older person should be able to afford.

Sarah Young adds “The law relating to social care has largely remained unchanged for 40 years and the new Care Act will repeal many pieces of outdated legislation and bring social care law into one single modern piece of law.  Whether it will effectively safeguard vulnerable adults from financial abuse remains to be seen”.

Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley and Hall solicitors. She specialises in will disputes. Sarah has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.

Sarah Young, Specialist in Financial Abuse cases

For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley and Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.