Financial elder abuse is often associated with scams carried out by professional fraudsters, but it can also occur in a marriage or intimate relationship. Sarah Evans of Coodes Solicitors’ Family team outlines steps you can take if you suspect you or a loved one is at risk.
Over the last few years, there has been much awareness-raising of scams and cons targeting elderly people. Sadly, however, the perpetrators of financial elder abuse can sometimes be the people closest to the victims. I have recently supported a number of elderly clients who have suffered financial abuse from their spouses or partners.
In each of these cases, my client had considerable savings or other assets that were depleted and debts that were run up by a spouse or partner. Some had signed over assets, including property or land, without being fully aware of it. Many of my clients were also vulnerable because of having capacity issues, at times as a result of dementia. In each case, the situation had become very serious before it was recognised and my legal expertise was sought.
If you suspect you are being financially abused by a spouse or partner – or if you are concerned about a friend or relative – what can you do? It can be a real challenge to prove that someone is being financially abused and the facts of these situations can also be difficult to untangle. Of course, it can also be difficult for most of us to face the distressing fact that we are being abused by someone who we love and trust.
The good news is that, if you do think financial abuse is taking place, there are a number of practical steps an experienced lawyer can take to protect you.
Applying for a freezing order to protect your assets
If you are concerned that someone is going to dispose of your assets, a lawyer can help you apply for an injunction, which is sometimes called a freezing order. You can instruct a lawyer yourself, or a litigation friend, who can be a family member, can help with this on your behalf. A freezing order, or freezing injunction, is a court order to stop an individual from disposing of, or dissipating assets, for example a bank account, property, shares or investments. The court will only agree to a freezing order in very specific cases, so this would need expert handling by an experienced lawyer who will need to put forward a very strong case.
Putting in place an Avoidance of Disposition Order or ‘add back’
If a spouse or partner has already disposed of an asset, for example by transferring all of the money in a savings account to a third party or selling land, it is, generally speaking, too late for a freezing order. In this instance, it may be worth considering applying to the court for a Section 37 Avoidance of Disposition Order. In order to be successful you have to demonstrate that the asset in question was disposed of in order to defeat your legitimate claim to it. If an avoidance of disposition order is granted, it will be as though the transfer had never taken place and can be included in your settlement.
An alternative option is to consider an argument for “add back”. This means that if, for example, a partner has spent £100,000 in a “wanton or reckless” manner, that £100,000 can be “added back” in the pot and considered when the court decides the overall financial split. Examples of wanton or reckless spending includes the purchase of luxury items, gambling, or excessive gifts to other family members or friends.
Both of these options can be complicated and the expertise of a specialist lawyer should be sought at an early stage.
Applying for a Matrimonial Home Rights Notice
If your family home is owned by your husband or wife and you are concerned that it will be sold, you have the option of putting in place a Matrimonial Home Rights Notice. This alerts potential buyers to the fact that you have an interest in the property. If you think this might be relevant to you, discuss it with a Family lawyer who can then advise you on whether or not it is a good option in your situation.
Claiming an interest on your land
If you and your former spouse or civil partner owned land, which is under threat, you may be able to protect it with a unilateral notice: pending land action. Similar to a Matrimonial Home Rights Notice, this will inform potential buyers that there is a third party with an interest in the land.
Getting support from Adult Social Services
In many of these cases that I have dealt with, I have involved Adult Social Services. This is because these situations often bring to light care needs for the individual involved. A good lawyer, with experience in supporting elderly clients, will recognise these needs and should be able to advise on getting a care package in place.
Involving the police
Many cases of this type involve criminal acts of fraud. If you suspect you have been a victim of fraud we would advise you to contact the police who will investigate the matter and decide whether charges can be brought.
For more information or advice on divorce or any Family matters, including those relating to financial elder abuse, contact Sarah Evans at Coodes Solicitors on 01579 347600 or email@example.com