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May 28, 2012

Lawyer Plundered His Ailing Aunts' £400,000 Estate (UK)

Lawyer plundered his ailing aunts' £400,000 estate by changing their wills and 'decimating' their bank accounts
•    Both women disliked him and wanted their money to go to his niece and nephew, a court heard
•    Judge overturns the two wills saying there was doubt over whether the women were able to agree to the changes
By James Tozer
17 May 2012
A solicitor plundered the estate of his elderly aunts and changed their wills when they were in hospital, a court heard yesterday.
Michael Harris took advantage of the poor health of Hannah Harris and Rosette Harris Emmanuel to claim a third of their £400,000 estate.
He is also accused of using the power of attorney the two women granted him to empty their bank accounts.
Both disliked him and wanted all their money to go to his niece and nephew.
Yesterday a judge at the High Court in London overturned both new wills, saying there was considerable doubt that either woman had the capacity to agree to the changes.
But the court heard that the siblings, Sara Cushway and Sebastian Elliot, are unlikely to receive any money because their uncle decimated the estate and is now bankrupt.
Instead, they will have to apply to a fund which compensates victims of dishonest solicitors.
The elderly sisters – both former nurses living together in Southsea, Hampshire – were in hospital in failing health in January 2006 when Harris drafted the new wills.
Rosette died of cancer just two weeks later at the age of 84, while her sister, who was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, died a year later at 91.
Their great-niece and great-nephew challenged the wills as well as Harris’s alleged frittering away of their two-thirds share.
Their barrister, Thomas Dumont, said the siblings had been very close to their great-aunts and both the women – especially Hannah – disliked Harris.
He claimed that after obtaining power of attorney over the two women Harris immediately removed £15,000 from each of their bank accounts.
‘He thereafter further bled his aunts and their two estates, by raising dishonest invoices, which he kept secret from them, from the beneficiaries of their estates, and from the claimants in this action,’ Mr Dumont added. ‘In my 30 years of practice I’ve seen some pretty remarkable behaviour, but this is at the top of the echelon.’
Harris, 75, is understood to have tried to use his aunts’ assets to prop up his Southsea practice.
He had challenged the claim of his niece and nephew but now ‘consented to judgment in the actions against him’, the judge, Mr Justice Henderson, said.
In overturning both wills, the judge pointed out that by the time they were drafted the elderly sisters were unable to read.

Abridged
SOURCE:      The Daily Mail
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