Q. My mother died last October in a nursing home. When she became unable to handle money or bills, my brother said he would handle this for her and he opened a bank account for her in his name. My mother had said that she had made a will sharing a small amount of money between my brother and myself. My brother now insists there is no money. What do I do? TO, England.
A. Your mother should have made out a Lasting Power of Attorney – LPA – as well as a will, says Gary Rycroft, a solicitor with Joseph A. Jones & Co in Lancaster. “An LPA is a way of appointing a named person or persons – called an Attorney – to make decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself,” he explains. “If your mum had made an LPA, there would have been a named person or persons in place to step in to take over in the event of her losing capacity. The brother here had no legal authority to open a bank account for the purpose of holding monies on behalf of mum. Her monies should have remained in her bank account to be used for her benefit by the named Attorney.” Where there is an LPA and the individual has lost mental capacity – which seems to be the case here – the Office of the Public Guardian supervises the actions of the Attorney and the OPG will investigate where improper action is suspected. It is surprising that your brother suggests that all your mother’s money has been spent on her care. “It is very unusual for there to be no money left on death. When mum went into a care home a financial assessment with the local authority should have been requested. If her capital was in excess of £23,250 (including the value of her house) then she would usually be expected to pay for her care in full, unless she qualified for NHS Continuing Care. If her capital was below £23,250, she should have been entitled to financial support from her local authority. If she had capital below £14,250, she would have been entitled to maximum support. When a care home resident dies there is often around £14,250 or thereabouts left over in terms of capital.” The situation now is difficult. “The executors of mum’s will have a legal duty to call in the assets of her estate and distribute the same to her beneficiaries. It may be here that the two brothers are the executors and beneficiaries. The brother who took control of mum’s finances should be asked to produce a full copy of statements for both her bank accounts and the account which he opened to deal with her money and provide an explanation for every deposit and withdrawal. There may be an innocent explanation, such as new clothes, hairdressing, chiropody, or equipment such as a reclining chair. If there is no reasonable explanation then on the face of it a fraud has been committed and it would be appropriate to report this to the police.” That would be a sad legacy for your mother. “It makes sense for every one of us to put in place a legal framework for decisions to be made on our behalf by individuals who can be trusted to act in our best interests rather than their own.” Gary Rycroft is featured along with The Independent’s Simon Calder in a new series of ‘Rip Off Britain’, which begins on BBC1 on 2 September.
Q. I wrote to Virgin Media in February requesting details of its charges, which are not provided in its monthly statements. It took five months and six letters to obtain. I requested this as there had been an increase in my charges of almost 15 per cent. After taking into account an extra service, Talk Mobile, for £2 a month, the increase in my charges was 11.7 per cent. Virgin Media levies a ‘payment handling charge’ of £5, because I will not pay by direct debit, which I feel is unjustified. Each month I obtain my bill online, print it out and pay by bank transfer. I do not believe that it costs Virgin Media £5 to handle this. I have now requested that all bills should be posted – which I will then pay by cheque. MS, Swansea.
A. Virgin Media responds that price increases were imposed at the beginning of April last year and then again in February this year. In addition, as you say, you added the Talk Mobile service to your service package. “As with any price change, we notify affected customers in advance,” adds a Talk Mobile spokeswoman. “Almost two months after the 2013 price change had come into effect, [the reader] contacted customer services. He was advised we could offer him an alternative package but this would re-contract him for 12 months. [The reader] declined this offer.” If you move to paying by cheque, the £5 charge per month still applies as it is imposed for not paying by direct debit. In addition, there is a £1.75 charge for posting statements. Virgin Media’s spokeswoman adds: “Our products and services offer the best value around, but we always contact customers two months ahead of any price changes in case they’d rather end their contract. There are all sorts of ways customers can save even more such as paying for a year’s phone line rental up front or using direct debit which is a simple and reliable way to make regular payments. We apologise for not responding to [the reader’s] questions within 28 days and have applied a £20 gesture of goodwill.” While we understand your unhappiness at being charged extra for not paying by direct debit, this has become normal practice by telecoms and other utility companies. Virgin Media tells us that you have decided not to request a paper bill given the extra charge.