Deputies deposed for 'looting' are refused a share of aunt's estate
The case first came to the Court of Protection last year, when the Public Guardian brought to its attention the number and value of gifts made by the two women from Mrs Meek's funds to themselves, their families, some friends and several charities. The original order had authorised the deputies to make 'reasonable' gifts to any charity likely to be agreeable to Mrs Meek, and on customary occasions to friends or relations. But the women, Janet Miller and Margaret Johnson, who were Mrs Meek's nieces, had made gifts totalling GBP171,000. The Public Guardian considered these gifts excessive.
The two women applied for retrospective approval of the gifts, and also asked the court to agree their claims for GBP46,000 of deputyship expenses incurred since being appointed deputies in August 2010. These expenses included the purchase of brand-new cars.
The judge, Denzil Lush, criticised the two for treating their deputyship as a 'licence to loot', and revoked their deputyships (Re GM 2013 COP 290).
There remained the further matter of Mrs Meek's estate. She did not have testamentary capacity and a statutory will was required. The remaining cash was valued at GBP114,575, and soon to be heavily depleted by legal costs, which totalled GBP65,000 for the newly-appointed deputy and the Official Solicitor alone. However, the two ex-deputies were also liable to reimburse Mrs Meek's estate for GBP250,000, the sum they had taken in unauthorised gifts and expenses.
They duly applied to the court to be named as her beneficiaries under the statutory will, which would naturally have reduced their net liability to her estate. Both put their entitlement to half of the estate. Their position, as described by the court, was that they did not consider they had done anything wrong and their failings were due to a misunderstanding of paperwork, and an inability to address matters of fine detail.
The matter came before Judge Hodge of the Court of Protection last month.
Hodge refused to include the two former deputies in the statutory will. 'I have no doubt', he said, 'that Mrs Meek would have been appalled by their behaviour had she been able to know and appreciate its nature; and that once she had broken with any friend or relative she would not brook any rapprochement'.
Moreover he called in the former deputies' GBP275,000 security bond in full to make good the loss to Mrs Meek's estate – all of which will now go to charity.
In a final gesture, Hodge authorised the naming of the two ex-deputies (and Mrs Meek) in his judgment. He was able to do this because Mrs Meek died soon after the hearing and before the report was published. He said the knowledge that a defaulting deputy would be exposed to the full glare of publicity might deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
'This robust decision will serve as a useful reminder of a deputy’s stringent financial obligations, the limits of their authority, and the drastic consequences which will visit them if they abuse their powers', said David Rees TEP and Ruth Hughes of Five Stone Buildings, which appeared on behalf of the professional deputy and Official Solicitor.
- Five Stone Buildings (commentary)
- Five Stone Buildings (judgment, PDF file)
- Mental Health Law (initial hearing of April 2013, PDF file)
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