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Financial deputy receives High Court warning

The financial deputy of a 21 year-old with learning difficulties has been warned that regulators will come down on him “like a ton of bricks” if he fails to meet required standards.

In Re AJ, the woman in question lived with her father in Cardiff. Sitting at the Court of Protection, Senior Judge Lush explained:

Her parents married in 1989, separated in June 2012, and went through an extremely acrimonious divorce, which was made absolute on 18 December 2012.”

The following year the woman’s mother died of breast cancer.

The 21 year-old has been diagnosed with “developmental delay”, an obsessive preoccupation with her appearance, a heart condition and a drooping eyelid.

Her father was originally appointed her deputy for both financial affairs and personal welfare in 2011. Later, after her parents separated, they were jointly appointed deputies. Following her mother’s death, however, the arrangement changed again and a family friend joined the father as deputy.

Subsequently, however, the family came to the attention of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), which regulates the role of personal deputies. It applied to the Court for the pair to be discharged from their roles as deputies for property and financial affairs and replaced by an official deputy. The father would then be required to give the new official deputy a full account of his dealings and transactions, along with supporting documentation.

Concerns had been raised by an unnamed person about the father’s financial dealings, with suggestions that he may have misappropriated funds, including proceeds from the sale of a holiday cottage which had belonged the woman’s late mother. The latter had established a trust fund for her daughter before her death, stating that she did not want her ex-husband to have any access to this.

The father had failed to produce annual reports for the years 2011-2014.

Senior Judge Lush gave the OPG permission to proceed with the application, and the woman’s father was ordered to respond. He objected but he and the family were subsequently removed from their roles.

In May this year however, the father applied to the courts for a reconsideration of that decision and the OPG was ordered to respond with relevant documentation.

In his subsequent ruling, Senior Judge Lush reconsidered the father’s circumstances and ordered that he be reinstated as deputy. The decision to remove him had been partly based on the mistaken belief that he had failed to produce supporting documentation. He had in fact done so but this was misfiled. He provided an explanation for allegedly missing funds which the Judge deemed convincing, and the claim that he had misappropriated proceeds from the sale of the holiday cottage was found to be “unfounded and potentially malicious”.

The Judge also accepted the father’s claim that he had not produced the annual reports because he had not originally been instructed to do so and did not in any case have access to his daughter’s financial records. This information had most likely been passed from his deceased ex-wife to the trustees of her will, and the father had a “somewhat negative relationship” with the latter.

The appointment of an official deputy had been disproportionate, declared Senior Judge Lush, as the 21 year-old in reality had very little money.

He noted the difficult circumstances that lay behind the concerns expressed:

“I do not know who the whistle-blower or concern-raiser was in this case. However, I believe [the father’s] submission that, following her diagnosis of terminal cancer, [the mother’s] attitude towards him changed completely and that their relationship broke down rapidly. There was a sharp polarisation between friends who supported [the father] and those who supported [the mother], which was intensified by the brevity of [her] anticipated life expectancy, and I assume that the whistle-blower was one of her adherents.”

Senior Judge Lush concluded:

“Having been the subject of an extensive investigation by the OPG, [the father] should by now be fully aware of the obligations and duties of a deputy and the standards that are expected of him. He will also be aware that, in the event that he fails to live up to those expectations, the OPG will come down on him like a ton of bricks.”

Read the judgement here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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