Heather Bateman had to run the family finances after an accident left her husband in a coma, and thanks to the Court of Protection, three years of pain and misery followed.
Here are just a few examples of how the Court of Protection acted under the guise of “protecting” my husband:
On the day the letter arrived confirming I had been appointed as Michael’s Receiver, another letter arrived demanding instant payment of £460, it threw me into a state of shock. Later, I was told this bill should have arrived a month later. However, this was just the first of many fees to be paid to the Court of Protection. They include a commencement fee (£240) and an appointment fee (£315), an administration fee (ranging from £190 to £240), an account fee (£100), various transaction fees (ranging from £60 to £540) and a winding-up fee (£290). To deal with the forms and additional accounts, I needed the help of an accountant, whose fees also had to be paid. Over the course of two and a half years, more than £3,000 was used up on administration fees alone to the Court of Protection.
As Michael’s Receiver I now had access to our accounts. But I was dismayed by the restrictions on my spending. I could write as many cheques as necessary up to £500. But if I needed to access more than that at any one time, I had to get permission from the Court – even to pay our daughter’s university fees and accommodation. Similarly, when I needed building work done, I had to submit two estimates and justify my choice of builder; I then had to wait several weeks for the Court to give permission and release the funds.
The nerve-racking experience was exacerbated by the fact that each time I phoned the Court, I spoke to a different clerk. I had to explain my distressing situation anew and then wait at least two weeks for a reply. I visited Michael daily. The Court also sent a representative to visit him. I found it humiliating. I was dealing with doctors, nurses and carers on a daily basis yet I could not help feeling that I was the one being checked up on.
But the most distressing incident concerned a strip of land in front of our Norfolk cottage. Before the accident, the local council had approached us to build a public footpath on it. The work was carried out while Michael was in a coma. But when it came to finalising the deeds and paying the agreed compensation, my role as Receiver was apparently insufficient. I was informed that the only way forward was to make someone else a trustee to the deeds of the cottage. The costs were almost equal to Michael’s share of the compensation.
I was furious. If it weren’t for the footpath, we would not have been in Norfolk that day and Michael would not have been hit by a car and would not now be in a coma. We had gone there to discuss the council’s plans. Overwhelmed and intimidated by the Court, furious and exhausted, I eventually asked the council to keep the compensation money until Michael either died or recovered.
The Court of Protection, no doubt, has a part to play in the life of someone with no close family or friends, who is at the mercy of strangers. But in our case it was an interfering, terrifying body using legal forms and archaic language to protect itself at huge cost to us.
After almost three years, Michael died. When I eventually received probate, I cried with grief. A few months later, when I finally closed the Receiver’s account, and my independence and self-respect returned, I cried with joy. At last I was free.
Yet all this could have been avoided – if only I’d known how.
The “how” is a Lasting Power of Attorney (property).