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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 be-frienders and his legacy – which should have provided for him for years – quickly disappeared. His mother would have been horrified.”

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.

People with a learning difficulties or mental health issues may find it hard to make friends so will readily accept relationships whenever offered.

Last year, charity Autism Today revealed that they found that 80 per cent of over 16’s with autism had been bullied or taken advantage of by a friend..

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. It means, by definition having someone you can trust to look after the money on behalf of your child. And you can assist the trustees with what`s known as a letter of wishes which can outline how the money should be used for, say, providing a house for the offspring or managing a controlled amount each month towards their living expenses.”

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.”