Elderly people who depend on others for companionship and care are vulnerable to exploitation, and that is why it is so vital that they have access to independent legal advice. In a case on point, a judge came to the aid of a widow whose daughter and son-in-law misappropriated her money and procured the transfer of her home into their names.
The woman was in her seventies and in poor physical and mental health when the couple moved in with her a few months after she was widowed. Within about two years of their arrival, all the money she had inherited from her husband had been spent. The couple also replaced her as registered owners of her home.
After proceedings were launched on the woman’s behalf, it was argued that her money had been spent without her knowledge or consent and that she had been browbeaten into agreeing to the property transfer. The couple insisted that she had concurred in all the expenditure and that the transfer was her idea.
In upholding the woman’s claim, the judge found that her daughter had exercised a significant degree of control over her life, isolating her from her friends and other members of the family. The daughter was in financial difficulties and had spent £36,500 of her mother’s money on herself or her family by making use of her credit card without her consent.
The woman’s increasing confusion, and her lack of confidence and social engagement, meant that she was in a vulnerable state when her daughter told her to execute the property transfer. She was reliant on her daughter for care and was not in a position to resist her ascendency.
Although she had signed the transfer in the presence of a solicitor, the judge found that her decision was not based upon full, free and informed thought. Her daughter was in the room at the time; she was dependent on her for a lift home and she had been given no space to think. In the circumstances, the judge found that the transfer had been procured by the daughter’s undue influence.
The mother’s home had since been sold and the proceeds used to purchase a new property. The son-in-law was living in that property alone following his separation from the daughter. However, the judge’s ruling opened the way for the woman to enforce her claim against the new property. The daughter and son-in-law were also ordered to reimburse her in respect of all the misappropriated funds.