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Powers of Attorney and Fraud

In October 2007 Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) were brought in to replace Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPAs).  EPAs were relatively simple documents which allowed an individual to appoint one or more others to act as Attorney.  As soon as it was signed by all parties it became legal and could be used immediately to control all financial assets.  Concerns were quite rightly raised that EPAs were very open to abuse by fraudsters who would either just forge the required signature, or get a frail or elderly relative to sign the document without really understanding it, and then clear out their bank accounts.

Lasting Powers of Attorney were created with several safeguards built into them. They cannot be used until they have been registered at the Office of the Public Guardian.  It is necessary to give notice to an independent person of your intention to register the document, and you must have a friend or a professional certify that you are mentally capable of understanding what an LPA entails.

However fraudsters are still able to take advantage, and only this week a woman from Barrow has been found guilty of using a Lasting Power of Attorney to £10,000 from her step mother.  The fraud was not discovered until after her step mother’s death.

The LPA was valid, the safeguards were in place, but she was still able to commit the fraud.  So what can be done?

From the perspective of the person granting the authority the most important thing is firstly choosing the correct person to be your Attorney.  All the while that you are capable of supervising your Attorney, you should stay vigilant and check their actions.  At the time of creating the LPA you may wish to put in some guidance to ensure that your Attorneys must submit annual accounts for audit to a professional, if you cannot supervise them yourself.  You may also wish to consider appointing more than one person as Attorneys to reduce the scope for hiding fraudulent transactions.

If you or anyone else believes that your attorney may be committing a fraud, or you have concerns about their actions, you can contact the Office of the Public Guardian.  This office has considerable powers to investigate Attorneys, cancel their appointment and even refer the matter to the police.

The worry about fraud should not prevent you creating an LPA, and the safeguards at the start of the process are very helpful.  But it must be remembered that they are very powerful documents and should be treated with care once created.  By working with a professional to create the LPA you can benefit from their experience and advice to ensure that you have considered all your options and provided the right level of guidance and restrictions in the LPA to ensure that there’s no room for anyone to take advantage of you.

Come and speak to a member of the team.

By Fiona Dodd