Unfortunately, probate disputes are becoming increasingly common. Particularly claims which arise from the misuse of a deceased’s money prior to their death. Such claims generally relate to an elderly individual (perhaps with a degenerative condition) who relied upon someone for their care.
Who can bring a claim?
If the Personal Representatives (PRs) of the estate believe that someone has taken money from the deceased, either before or after death, they may bring a claim against that person on behalf of the estate. Alternatively, a beneficiary of an estate who believes that there is money missing from the estate can raise this issue to the PRs so that they can resolve it.
What do I need to be able to show?
Unfortunately, by their very nature, such claims can be difficult to pursue. This is simply because the best evidence of the suspected wrongdoing would have come from the deceased themselves.
A beneficiary to a deceased’s estate will very rarely have access to the deceased’s bank accounts. It will therefore be difficult to know what was spent from the deceased’s accounts prior to their death. However, PRs have a duty to keep accounts for the estate. These will show the funds available within the estate and record the use of funds from the estate (namely, the deceased’s bank accounts).
In order to pursue a claim, you would need to show that the deceased’s funds, were used on other purposes than for the deceased. In order to be able to do this, a forensic analysis of the deceased’s accounts will be required, along with corroborative evidence. For example, it may be possible to obtain receipts/invoices from companies/individuals identified within the bank accounts – such as companies who provide respite care or assisted living services.
To be successful in a claim, it is not simply enough to establish that funds have been used without the deceased’s authority. It has to be shown on the balance of probabilities (i.e. it is more likely than not) that those funds have been used for other purposes other than for the benefit of the deceased. To this end, the following may be tell-tale signs that funds have been misused:
1. Unusual items you would not have expected the deceased to have purchased;
2. A proliferation of cash withdrawals;
3. Large, unexplained transfers; or
4. Transfer of sums to the individual you expect to have misused sums.
How can I get this information?
A beneficiary can request that the PRs provide an account. An account means an explanation/details as to the use of the deceased’s estate/funds. If they do not, you can make and application to the Court, who may compel the PRs to do so. The account should then provide the evidence (if there is such evidence) that funds have been misused. The court can order that funds be repaid to the estate if the court deems it appropriate to do so.
Finally, if you believe that someone has improperly taken money from a deceased, this may be a criminal offence. It is worth considering reporting matters to the police, who can also investigate.
If you are dealing with the administration of an estate, and believe that someone has misused the deceased’s money, contact our specialist solicitors on 0113 244 9931.