• The number Powers of Attorney created are increasing across the UK, but they are not without risk, as the recent case of Frank Willett shows.
  • Mr Willet was convinced by a trusted neighbour, Colin Blake, to agree to an Enduring Power of Attorney, without the knowledge of Mr Willet’s family.
  • Mr Blake then used the Power of Attorney to siphon off money without the family knowing. This case highlights the importance of a well drafted Power of Attorney.

At a Glance:

Enduring powers of attorney have now been replaced with lasting powers of attorney and with many families now opting to draft Lasting Powers of Attorney for relatives a new case has highlighted the importance of seeking trusted, professional advice. Mr Frank Willett’s case was recently covered by the BBC after an Enduring Power of Attorney registered by a once trusted neighbour was used to siphon wealth from his estate without his family’s knowledge. The high-profile case featured in the press demonstrates the need to seek professional advice.

The Details:

The use of Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) is growing across the UK, as these useful documents can allow a family member or friend to take control of the financial and/or health and welfare decisions of a loved one who may have lost the capacity to handle such complex affairs themselves, perhaps as a result of a being diagnosed with a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease.

However, when setting up LPAs, loved ones need to tread very carefully and seek specialist advice from a trained solicitor, as hasty or ill-advised decisions can sometimes have a “devastating” impact on family relationships, as the recent case of a Mr Frank Willett illustrates.

A recent report by BBC News reveals how Mr Willett, a Dunkirk and Normandy war veteran who was diagnosed with dementia, was tragically exploited and subsequently “lost everything”.

The vulnerable Mr Willett and his daughter, Lesley Willett, found themselves locked in a long-running legal battle after the war veteran hastily appointed his neighbour Colin Blake as his attorney in 2003 – a decision made in part because Lesley lived in South Wales, hundreds of miles away from Mr Willett’s Yorkshire home.

Sadly, the once-trusted Mr Blake went behind the family’s back and withdrew large sums of money from Mr Willet’s bank account, slowly chipping away at his hard earned life savings.

Due to the fact that Mr Blake had power of attorney, his bank did not contact either Mr Willett or Ms Willett when these transactions took place – even when sums of up to £9,000 were withdrawn in a single transaction.

Tragically, Mr Willett and his daughter Lesley did not uncover the deception until much later, by which point the war hero – who had amassed substantial savings over the years – had effectively “lost everything”.

Lesley Willett attempted to challenge the power of attorney in Court, but experienced great difficulty trying to prove that Mr Blake was ‘unfit’ to be her father’s attorney.

In fact, it was not until early 2008 that Ms Willett was finally able to revoke the power of attorney for good.

Since the case drew to a close, much more stringent rules have been enforced regarding powers of attorney in the UK.  Since 2007 no more enduring powers of attorney can be made and the new LPAscan only be set up if a professional or non-family-member who has known the person making the LPA for at least two years is able to provide a certificate which confirms capacity and understanding.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) – which has also been set up in more recent years – has been granted certain powers to investigate complaints.

Despite this, however, the cautionary tale of Mr Willett highlights the importance of taking very careful measures before setting up lasting powers of attorney LPA, which should always be a decision made under the guidance and supervision of an experienced, specialist solicitor able to give appropriate advice in relation to your unique circumstances.