As a forensic accountant specialising in fraud and crime I am seeing more cases involving carers or relations stealing from vulnerable persons. There are two main problems arising from circumstances involving taking responsibility for the finances of elderly relations:
- The expectations of other family members not involved in the care
- The difficulty in proving theft
The Reluctance To Care For Vulnerable Persons
I often see the case where it is left to one sibling to care for an elderly relative. This is often a daughter, whereas a son feels he cannot care for his parents. Some family members may have emigrated abroad, leaving it to the remaining family to care. Whatever the case, it often falls disproportionately to one member of the family to care with other members remaining at arms length.
It is sad to see the family who have not shouldered much of the responsibility for caring cluster round the will following the death of the vulnerable person. At this stage there are often expectations of an inheritance. When the estate seems too little, the finger is pointed at the family member having financial responsibility for the deceased.
They ask where has the money gone? They might complain to the police who then investigate.
Most People Do Not Keep Good Records
If you obtain power of attorney you can manage someone’s finances. However, you may continue to receive instructions from the vulnerable person. They may ask you for cash when living in a nursing home so that they can pay for incidentals. If living at home they might ask you to do their shopping, or to make other payments on their behalf.
As an accountant, I am painfully aware that failing to keep contemporaneous records of your spending leads to uncertainty. If you miss a few weeks record keeping, you cannot recall where the money was going. This is especially true if you had been withdrawing cash to pay for items.
Having power of attorney means you should keep better records than you do for your own personal finances! You never know when someone might question your spending. If a vulnerable person says to you “take £100 for yourself every week”, who is going to believe this?
The Difficulty In Proving Theft
On the other hand, it is very difficult to prove beyond resonable doubt that a carer has stolen money. If the vulnerable person dies, who is to say that they did not offer you £100 a week for your trouble? I have seen examples where an elderly parent has asked for their child to buy a new car big enough to take their wheel chair. Another example is an elderly relative funding a house extension so that they can move in and live downstairs. Both of these examples were cited in cases brought by disgruntled relatives expecting a bigger share of inheritance.
Therefore, the care of a vulnerable person is fraught with financial difficulties, and often leads to the need for forensic accounting services. I have assisted the police in supporting their cases against persons stealing from victims, and defended victims accused by their family of steaing their inheritance. I have also acted as a single joint expert for both parties, for example acted as an independant expert for two brothers. One had cared for his parents whilst the other had gone to live in America. The estranged brother had no idea how expensive a care home could be!