When an elderly man who had suffered a stroke befriended a woman to whom he gave his entire life savings of more than £500,000, opposition from his family was inevitable.
The man’s family claimed that the woman had exercised ‘undue influence’ over the man during the period of sixteen months during which he made fifteen transfers totalling £549,000 to her and her two children.
The case was brought by the man’s daughters, one of whom was his deputy (the name given to a person appointed to look after someone’s affairs by the Court of Protection). The claimants sought to have the gifts set aside (i.e. made repayable) on the ground that their father lacked mental capacity when they were made. He vehemently opposed the action and was consistent in claiming that the gifts were made of his own free will.
It is a principle of British law that a person cannot take action in the name of someone else unless that person lacks the ability to do so, so the preliminary issue to be decided was whether the man had sufficient mental capacity to bring the action himself.
In a lengthy decision, the Court ruled that he did not.
The decision was taken after the examination of a large amount of evidence based on reports from a number of experts specialising in the field of geriatric psychology and psychiatry. Despite this, the judge stated that he reached the decision without ‘any pleasure’. He ruled that the matter should go to trial, which, he observed, was likely to be ‘a painful and damaging experience for all concerned’ and he urged the parties to reach a negotiated settlement.
The dispute was eventually settled out of court after the man’s death. That however, was not the end of the matter, because a further dispute then arose over the legal costs incurred, which by this time were tens of thousands of pounds. This required yet another hearing in court to resolve.
The case shows the danger of letting things drag on in the hope that ‘everything will be OK’ in situations involving the loss of mental capacity. Failing to take action at the right time can prove to be expensive and the cause of unnecessary acrimony.
If you are concerned about the ability of a relative to look after their own affairs, or that they are coming under the mental control of someone who is acting in their own self-interest, contact us for advice.