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The great British inheritance robbery?

(Monday/Tuesday blog)

I suspect that millions of pounds a year are being stolen from vulnerable pensioners and that most people in Britain don’t know this is happening.

So, in a change of style from my usual blogs, in this one I’ll tell you about my dear mother

My mother

My mother died a couple of years ago at the age of 90, shortly after suffering a serious stroke. Up till about the age of 83, my mother was probably like many older people – increasingly grumpy, selfish and obsessed about money. But when she started to get early-stage dementia, my mother’s behaviour started to change for the worse:

  • No friends – She began to get bored and to feel she hadn’t any friends. In fact, as her behaviour became ever more irrational, she increased her own isolation by pushing the few friends she had away. When invited to drinks she sometimes refused to talk to anyone and sat in silence. Or else, she would suddenly stand up and give some ludicrously irrational reason why she had to leave
  • Ignored by her family – She also increasingly felt she was being ignored by her own children. This wasn’t true. My brother lives in Australia and would phone every week. My sister would visit a couple of times a week and my wife spent 3 days a week with my mother in London taking her out and ensuring she wasn’t trapped in her flat despite her worsening mobility problems. Moreover, whenever we took my mother out, usually for lunch and shopping, she would do everything she could to ruin the day for everyone by always complaining about the restaurant or the food or the service or anything else she could think of. I don’t have the space here to tell you how my mother behaved in shops the day that they were obliged by law to charge customers for plastic bags.
  • No money – The third cause of my mother’s increasing depression was her conviction that she didn’t have any money. This was untrue. Her second husband left her a generous pension and she lived in a large 3-bedroom South-west London flat, owned by the children of her second husband, but where she could live rent-free till she either moved to a care home or died.

Anyway, despite never having done a day’s work in her life, my mother had a pretty easy time in her old age. But she couldn’t see this and became increasingly bitter and angry at the way the world was treating her.

Enter the predator

My mother’s self-enforced isolation made her vulnerable to anyone looking to exploit her – to a financial predator. The predator may be a social worker, a carer, a care home manager, a neighbour, a doctor (Harold Shipman?), a lawyer, a financial adviser or even a charity. In my mother’s case, the financial predator was the manageress of the block of flats where my mother lived. (For legal reasons, I should state that this is my interpretation of events and motives and I may well have been totally mistaken)

The predator (in this case the estate manageress) used a three-level approach to ingratiate herself with my mother

  • Encouraging self-pity – whereas our family and my mother’s friends would try to cheer her up, the predator took an opposite approach agreeing with my mother about how badly the world was treating her and reinforcing her irrational self-pity
  • Bad-mouthing our family – the predator also embarked on a campaign of trying to turn my mother against her own family by being continually ‘surprised’ that we weren’t visiting my mother often enough and suggesting that we were selfish and uncaring. On one occasion, the predator even tried to stop my wife visiting by telling my wife that there was no need for her to visit at all as the predator was quite capable of looking after my mother
  • Her own ‘sad’ life story – the third element of the predator’s approach was to continuously tell my mother about what a difficult life the predator had. But despite all her problems (including, of course, money difficulties) the predator had such a good heart that she also cared for a handicapped relative

By the way, the predator mistakenly believed my mother owned her rather valuable London flat and therefore had lots of money to leave when she departed this earth.

The end

In the end, my mother’s health declined to such an extent that we had to move her out of the London flat and down to the town where my sister lived so that we could put in a sufficient support network for her. But I’m reasonably convinced that, if the predator had had just a bit more time, she could have succeeded in persuading my mother to rewrite her will in her favour – thus disinheriting us three children. Though, I should remind you that, as my mother didn’t own the flat where she lived, there was actually precious little to be inherited. But the predator didn’t know that.

I suspect that stories like this are happening in thousands of British homes every year and most people are unaware this is happening. Moreover, I also suspect that in too many cases, the predator gets the will changed and gets the money.

Who really knows?

(readers can leave comments by clicking on the headline)

7 comments to The great British inheritance robbery?

  • A Thorpe

    This is only a small part of the problem with the elderly and the UK seems to be one of the worst countries for dealing with it. One factor is that families no longer stay together because of movement for jobs and perhaps marriage. My mother came from a large family but they all married and stayed within a five mile radius of their place of birth and they all helped my grandparent. My generation has moved for jobs and this makes providing family support for the elderly more difficult.

    But many elderly now have conditions that are difficult to care for and I blame the NHS for this. They are obsessed with extending life span with no regard for the quality of life. The pharmaceutical business is probably as much to blame. It makes profit from encouraging poor health. All this is mainly funded through tax and we have no control over it and expect endless funds when we have a health problem. State health care is a disaster and needs to be privatised so that we can decide our priorities.

    We now have the problem of unsustainable care costs for the elderly and lack of people willing to provide care and abuse in care homes. The younger generations don’t want to have their lives disrupted by having to care for their parents, which has been the traditional way. Nobody is saving for old age either through pensions or personal savings. The state is expected to pay. Those who have provided have to use their money, but the state provides for those who have failed to save by taking even more money in tax from the savers,

    The state is the cause of all our problems as it takes over more and more control of our lives.

  • twi5ted

    The elderly seem to still have trust in the media. My 87 year old mum who lives on her own, with care visits which she mostly entirely funds, watches a lot of TV and reads the Sunday times. Her world is very influenced by this media and hence she has a dreadful view of the world although luckily she is able to discuss this with my brother and I. Any isolated pensioner seeing the world through the BBC lens would have a completely false view of reality.

  • William Boreham

    My sister has got the early stages of dementia, for instance, when I phone up the day after I’ve visited her, she has forgotten all about it. And with my lousy circulation, I’m an obvious candidate for vascular dementia. It beats me why one earth we cannot sign a declaration, while we are sound of mind, that, for instance, if we no longer recognise friends and relatives, have no longer any interest in anything and sit staring into space all the time, why we cannot be painlessly put to sleep. Some countries do allow similar arrangements and I’m reading a book right now, written by a famous brain surgeon, who mentions the subject as his farther went down with same affliction causing chaos ín the family: “There is no evidence that the moral fabric if those societies that permit euthanasia is being damaged by the availability of this form of euthanasia, or that elderly parents are being bullied into suicide by greedy children. But even if that occasionally happens, might it still not be the price worth paying to allow far greater numbers of other people a choice in how they die?”

  • Stillreading

    There are three types of financial predator in fact. The first, those you write about, predate on susceptible old people. My father fell under the influence of one such, a close family member who managed to convince my father that my sister and I, both at that time divorced women earning our livings in demanding full-time professions, were neglecting him. Unknown to us, this person managed to extort thousands of pounds from our father, who was a widower suffering from vascular dementia. Only after he had died and we, as Executors of his will, were able to investigate his estate did we learn what had been going on. We sought legal advice and were able to prevent the predator inheriting the substantial proportion of his residual estate – consisting of a rather run-down bungalow – which he had willed to her. The way in which older people can protect themselves from the possibility of this ever happening to them is to put in place, while they are still capable and of sound mind, an Enduring Power of Attorney, nominating as trustees either a solicitor or family members who can absolutely be trusted, so that if or when signs of dementia appear, the Trustees can take appropriate action to prevent extortion and exploitation. I have done this, appointing as Trustees my children, whom I know I can trust absolutely. The second class of predator is of course the criminal con artist, who telephones a vulnerable or naïve old person, persuading him or her that he is an under-cover policeman, and persuades the subject to go to their bank, withdraw thousands of pounds and put it in an envelope, then hand it to a “courier”. I am regularly incredulous at the manner in which apparently sane-sounding men and women can fall for this and when they do, they get little or no support from the Bank whose staff have unquestioningly handed over thousands of pounds in cash. Third but certainly not least in the Predator category is the legalized, Regulator-approved, often house-hold named, financial institution. We hear almost weekly that the Chief Executive and Directors of yet another “Financial Institution, Regulated by the FCA” have scarpered with investors’ lifetime savings. I speak from personal and painful experience about this legalized theft, having lost over half my retirement income to Equitable Life, the Regulator-approved Life Assurance Company. Some readers may recall the TV adverts some 20 years ago, “It’s an Equitable Life, Henry!” designed to draw in yet more investors, when in fact Equitable’s Auditors and the Government Regulators knew perfectly well that there was no cash in the kitty and that a Ponzi scheme was in operation. Experience and observation have made me a total cynic. Caveat emptor – never fall for the kindly “friend” or long-lost relative who emerges from the family woodwork when they scent property and frailty, never, ever speak even one word to anyone at all who rings purporting to be a bank wanting your bank details or the police ringing about fraudulent activity on your account. And never trust any financial institution which says it can offer you interest rates or investment returns which are too good to be true, regardless of how much Regulatory approval they may appear to have. Remember – we oldies are at the bottom of the food chain and have to ensure that we eat rather than are eaten.

  • Stillreading

    How I agree with William Boreham on the right to choose when and how to die! My over-riding dread as I grow older is losing my physical or mental competence or both and having to endure months or even years in a long-drawn-out process of relentless decay, in some ghastly un”care” home, at the cost of currently around £5,000 per month, having food shoved in one end and its inevitable results dealt with at the other. I WANT my four children to inherit my estate, not some profit-obsessed care home chain to capitalise on it. I WANT to die with dignity and when I consider it to be the right time. As contemporaries and I frequently comment, if anyone were to keep an animal alive in a state comparable to that endured by many old people – in pain but unable to articulate where, or in pain and very aware that the end is inevitable anyway as with terminal cancer or MND or MS, or demented and tormented by irremediable confusion – that person would be prosecuted for cruelty. The fact is that no one – family, the State via the NHS or Social Care – will be able indefinitely to keep us all alive by artificial means, decades beyond the life span intended by nature. When my time comes, I want to gather my family together, tell them how wonderful they’ve all been, direct them to have a party celebrate my life not lament my death, then I want to be put to sleep, like a family’s old, well loved dog. No burial either – my remains are going to medical research!

  • leila

    Blow the medical research! I shall have 2 tattoos around my neck, chest level One states ‘do not resuscitate’ the second ‘NO organ donation’ I admire Stuart Broad’s step mom who took an overdose when diagnosed with a terminal disease so as not to jeopardise his cricket career.Apparently a good dose of street cocaine/ heroin is effective.

  • William Boreham

    Nothing to do with the subject featured, but this unfortunately truthful item dropped into my e-mail tray today:

    “C’est la premiere fois dans toute l’histoire de l’humanité qu’un peuple nourrit, loge, soigne & éduque les envahisseurs qui cherchent à détruire sa culture, ses valeurs et à le tuer.”

    “This is the 1st time in the History of Mankind that a Nation is feeding, housing, caring for and educating the Invaders who seek to destroy its Culture, its Values, and to kill that same Nation.”

    Philippe de VILLIERS

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