Thousands of parents of children with special needs could be innocently exposing their sons and daughters to so-called mate crime – by leaving them money in their will.

“Parents may think they are doing the right thing by leaving their children money and assets in their will”, says leading wills and probate law specialist Michael Smoult of Gorvins Solicitors.

“But if they are unable to manage their money, perhaps because of mental health or learning issues, it leaves them open to others taking advantage of their vulnerability. It’s ironic, but in these situations, leaving someone like this money is actually the worst thing a parent can do.”

Mr Smoult added that his firm had seen a 63 per cent increase in the number of cases involving vulnerable children who had been victims of mate crime after being left money in their parents` will.

“We had one case in which a widow passed away suddenly, leaving her money equally between her children – including a son who had a learning disability. This amounted to tens of thousands of pounds. But because her son was unable to manage his money correctly, he became very popular with so-called befrienders, and his legacy – which should have provided for him for years – quickly disappeared. His mother would have been horrified.”

Legal Solutions and Alternatives for Protecting Vulnerable Beneficiaries

There is no statutory definition of mate crime in UK law. In general, it refers to the deliberate befriending of vulnerable people in order to take advantage of them.

Instead of leaving money or assets in a will, Michael Smoult advises putting them in an appropriate trust to protect a vulnerable or disabled child. “A trust is a legal entity to protect money. It protects the money so that it is not owned by the disabled child but is managed by chosen trustees for the benefit of the disabled child…”

He added that trust also means a vulnerable relative should retain any means-tested benefits.

“Parents want to protect their children after they’ve gone – but simply leaving them the money, can ironically be one way of ensuring they lose it through mate crime.”

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