Sibling Rivalry

Age and ill health bring many financial problems for families.

 

But one of the unnecessary strains is when siblings squabble over how their parent’s cash is being spent and alleged abuses of powers of attorney.

 

The scenarios where this is the case are easily imagined.

 

Typically, an elderly parent is in care, or being cared for at home and to some degree is incapacitated.

 

The children all play their roles to help things tick over, but inevitably it is one child or family member who takes on the majority of the burden.

 

They tend to be the one who visits most frequently, maintains the property and takes care of bills.

 

They may have sole power of attorney or they may be one of several to have such authority.

 

Sometimes there is a fear that a sibling or relative is spending the money unwisely.

 

The number of lasting powers of attorney (LPA) granted is growing very sharply – currently around 53,000 were registered in 2014/15, 10,000 higher than in 2012.

 

The attorney, as they are called, can be your spouse, partner, family member or friend.

 

It is up to you what the attorney can do - whether it is a specific task such as selling your home, or a general power without restrictions.

 

Michael Labrum, of Labrums Solicitors, said: “It is not just older people who suffer from general illness, dementia and alzheimer's.

 

“Losing capacity can happen quickly and people tend to ignore what is happening to them, which can cause big problems.

 

“Whether someone has lost their mental capacity is judged by their ability to remember important details, to assess their importance and to realise their impact, and also take into consideration what an ‘average reasonable person’ would do.

 

“Once a diagnosis has been made, you urgently need to make a valid will or change your current one - provided you understand the changes you are making and the implications of those changes.”

 

The numbers of complaints received by the Office of the Public Guardian is also growing.

 

It received more than 2,000 complaints about attorneys in 2014-15.

 

Most complaints are likely to have been brought by attorneys’ siblings. Of the complaints, 743 were fully investigated and 254 cases were submitted to the Court of Protection, an 11pc increase on the previous year, according to Nockolds partner Peter King.

 

That’s normally where the court is being asked to remove powers of attorney from individuals, or to freeze accounts, or to be shown statements and other spending records.

 

By the time a dispute reaches court relationships between siblings or others have usually broken down entirely.

 

One way for those setting up the powers of attorney to help prevent future feuding among their family is to incorporate guidelines into their documents.

 

These could require, for example, those exercising powers of attorney to circulate bank statements periodically to other family members.

 

Michael said: “I would recommend that people make an LPA when they write a will, and then it is done. It can always be amended, but it has been considered and documented should anything happen. You don’t need to worry about it then in the future.”