The elderly man entrusted a South Coast lawyer with carrying out legal services on his behalf. After identifying the elderly man’s wealth, it is alleged that the lawyer had herself appointed as his power of attorney and sole beneficiary of his estate. It is also alleged that she entered into an agreement with his carer to defraud the elderly man, including withdrawal of large amounts of money from his account and the purchase of a property for the lawyer. Police have charged both women for fraud, and the Law Society is currently investigating the matter.
Subject to the above allegations being proven, this is a very sad case of financial elder abuse. From our experience, we are finding that abuse is perpetrated by someone who is in a position of trust. In this particular case, both women have a fiduciary relationship with the elderly man (an ethical and legal relationship of trust). In these relationships, there is a commitment to act in the other person’s best interest – in this case, the elderly man.
Adopting the case’s factual circumstances, it can be alleged that both women used their positions – and in respect to the lawyer, a violation of her appointment as a power of attorney – to benefit themselves and breach the duty owed to the elderly man. Not only are there criminal sanctions that can be imposed for this behaviour, but there can also be civil and equitable ramifications. If found guilty of the offence, it is also likely to result in the South Coast lawyer’s suspension/debarring.
To avoid these kinds of issues, people must consider appointing an attorney or attorneys known to them and trusted. Conditions can also be placed on the appointment to protect the interest of the principal – including the appointment of more than one attorney for transactions involving significant value. From a family and friend perspective, we recommend maintaining contact and a close relationship with the person, which can help identify any suspicious behaviour should it arise.
To discuss any concerns you may have for a loved one, or if you wish to obtain estate planning documents for peace of mind, please contact our Estates and Elder Law team on 02 4929 3995 to speak to one of our experts.