Inheriting ‘something’ from your parents as the norm is a modern phenomena for the middle classes. For those under the age of 30, the expectation is that the ‘something’ will be substantial. It may pay off the mortgage, it may nullify years of excessive spending on credit cards, it may deliver a house that you could never, with your modern spending patterns and expectation of ‘have it all now’, have afforded had not your parents the decency to drop dead.
Those of us of an older generation were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves the new owner of the complete works of Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Royal Horticultural Society’s book of pruning……in my aunt’s case, she managed to leave a six figure sum to a donkey charity, and although I had the chance to alter that will via the Court of Protection whilst she was still alive, I chose not to – it had been her wish, even though I could see the argument that the outcome was not the one she had contemplated, it was still her wish, and despite the fact that she was in no physical state to argue with me, I would not have gone against her wishes.
The High Court today has been considering the situation of a lady slightly younger than me – and that is pertinent when it comes to ‘expectations’.
She had fallen out with her Father, didn’t speak to him for some seven years or more. During that time he both fell sick – physically, not mentally – and grew close to a lady who was a secretary at his firm of solicitors. It is not unknown that those of advanced age – he was in his sixties then – find a late blossoming love life. The lady concerned was ten years younger, so no spring chicken herself.
He described her as ‘an embodiment of compassion, kindness and courtesy’ especially as he struggled to recover his vitality after suffering a stroke. He helped her financially – we do not know for what reason – with substantial sums, amounting to over half a million pounds, over a period of years. He was of substantial means.
She, seeing him coming towards the end of his life, urged him to contact his daughters again, and arranged a rapprochement. In doing so she laid herself open for what happened next.
The daughters, duly summoned, found that he was not living in the manner that THEY thought he should be. He was perfectly happy.
They applied to the Court of Protection for an order allowing them to control his financial affairs – and on examining his bank statements, discovered that their inheritance would be some £500,000 less than it would have been had they been around to care for their father after his stroke.
They have now applied to the high court for an order that would force their father’s lady friend to repay every penny that their father had given her.
Their father is not completely unable to express his wishes, and Mr Justice Henderson said:
“Nobody disputes that it is his fervent desire that Mrs D should be able to keep the very substantial sums which he gave to her, and that he is appalled at the prospect of legal proceedings being taken in his name to recover them.”
However, now that the daughter has obtained a Court of Protection order, it is not up to the father to decide whether this court action should proceed or not – he has no further rights, his daughter is in charge of his affairs.
Father must sit and watch his lady friend dragged through the high court with all the insinuations that will be made that he ‘was not of sound mind’ when he gave her so much money.
The daughter will argue that the return of the money would allow her father to live out his remaining years in the style which she thinks he should.
It is a most unedifying battle, and one that would have been avoided had the Father made out a Lasting Power of Attorney and avoided the possibility of his daughters gaining control of his life at a late stage.
It also perfectly illustrates the battle of the generations – is Dad’s money his to spend as he wishes, or is it actually the children’s inheritance to be protected for them?