Dying millionaire cheated out of fortune by heartless carer
A WOMAN took advantage of a dying man in her care by manipulating him into signing over almost half his fortune to her, a judge has ruled.
In 2014, retired London banker Marcel Chu, 73, bequeathed 40 per cent of his £1 million ($1.8 million) estate to his carer, Donna Henderson, and her children.
Mr Chu had previously drawn up a different will in 2008, which divided his assets between his immediate family and a close friend, with no mention of Mrs Henderson.
But Mr Chu, a former banker, made a second, "deathbed will" on May 9, 2014 - two days before his death.
Mr Chu's relatives challenged the new document, claiming Mrs Henderson "took control of his life and excluded his siblings" during his last year.
Last month, Judge Nigel Price ruled the second will invalid - and ordered Mrs Henderson to pay staggering legal fees of more than $155,000.
According to The Sun, the decision was reached after a handwriting expert found the signature on the will did not belong to Mr Chu.
The judge also ruled the dying man did not have the "mental capacity" to make a new, binding will.
The court heard Mr Chu had always had "a relatively close relationship" with brothers Allen and Stanley Chu and sister Eva Young, and that his first will left them each a 26 per cent share of his wealth, while a nephew was bequeathed 14 per cent and a close friend 7 per cent.
But Mr Chu, who lived with a rare auto-immune condition known as Morvan's syndrome "which caused memory loss and confusion", needed around-the-clock assistance as his health worsened during his last year of life, so Mrs Henderson was hired to care for him.
"She took control of his life and excluded his siblings from further involvement with him," Judge Price said, according to The Sun.
The court also heard Mr Chu may have been "delirious" from a fever when the new will was written, and that he was also suffering from internal bleeding, septicaemia and diabetes.
Richard Dew, a lawyer representing Mr Chu's siblings, argued: "The will has not been proven to have been executed by Mr Chu ... Marcel almost certainly lacked the capacity to execute it on May 9, 2014 and it is clear that he did not know and approve of the will."
Mrs Henderson admitted she organised the drawing up of the new will and that she had even guided her client's hand as he signed it - although she claimed to have only "assisted" him, and that he consented to signing over his fortune to her.
But the judge said there was a "distinction" between leading and steadying the hand, and that the original will remained valid.
"Although one might have expected a small, or even significant, legacy to be left to a carer, the wholesale change in the will in favour of Mrs Henderson is surprising in all the circumstances," the judge said.
"Marcel's close family appear to have been kept out of the picture in relation to the writing of the new will and the time of the final illness.
"Emails show the seriousness of the situation was being played down.
"One infers that was to keep them out and prevent them from taking any steps in relation to the new will."
Sydney barrister Bridie Nolan said Mr Chu's story raised the issue of financial elder abuse - a problem which was unfortunately quite common.
"If this were to happen to an elderly person in NSW, beneficiaries of a former testamentary instrument, like a previous will, could challenge the new will on both these grounds," she said.
"If persons are concerned about this happening to them, one course would be to donate to someone you trust an enduring power of attorney, which takes effect when once the person donating the power loses capacity.
"The Powers of Attorney Act 2003 in NSW makes it clear on what the donee of an enduring power of attorney can do, especially with respect to gifts."
Ms Nolan said a donor of an enduring power of attorney could be "very specific about what can be done in execution of the power".
"But enduring powers of attorney have their own share of problems," she said. "As they only come into effect when the donor loses capacity, their execution can go unmonitored. They are most commonly given by parents to the children, who may not understand properly the relationship that they create, which can leave them open to misuse and abuse.
"There are remedies available to an elderly person if the power is abused, including criminal penalties. Unfortunately, as with most things in life, it very much comes down to the good nature and trustworthiness of those with whom you surround yourself."