My son has been divorced almost two years. He is a very quiet man, has had some mental problems in the past and has retired from work.
The court has forced the sale of his property and frozen his bank account, leaving him with only limited money to live on.
And now, because he is absent without an address to contact, his ex-wife’s solicitors have written to his sisters threatening to give his money (from property) to charity!!
Surely this cannot be done as I’m thinking he will eventually get in touch. From a worried mum.
Lawyer’s threat: My son is missing, and his ex-wife’s solicitor wants to give away his share of their property sale to charity (Stock image)
Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replies: I am very sorry to hear about this situation and it is no wonder you are worried about your son, and anxious to protect his interests in his absence.
You understandably want to find him. We recently asked the head of a trade body for private investigators how they might track down a missing person – albeit in very different circumstances from this – and you might find his explanation helpful.
It includes information on the methods a professional will use to trace someone, and what it is likely to cost.
Since there is an important legal aspect to your question, we also asked a law firm to explain whether your former daughter-in-law’s solicitors can give his money to charity, and what your options are to help your son.
Katherine Marshall, partner in the family team and Suzanne Leggott, private client partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, reply:
This is clearly a very complex situation and it must be distressing to feel like critical matters regarding your son’s finances are being decided when he is not around and cannot have his say.
There are several different strands at play here, including his frozen bank account and how the proceeds from the sale of his property are to be distributed.
However, these are all tied together by the fact that your son is absent without any contact address and funds cannot be distributed without his instructions.
In any case, the first thing which both you and your daughters should aim to do is to track your son down and make contact with him, by whatever means possible.
Using a private investigator could be an option, but this is likely to incur a significant cost and there may be more manageable means to achieving this such as social media campaigns or contacting the police, embassies and hospitals in other countries.
Katherine Marshall, pictured left, and Suzanne Leggott, right: ‘The threat about sending the money to charity is worrying, although you should take heart in knowing that this will be very difficult to achieve’
You mention that your son is now retired from work; if this is the case, he may well be collecting a state pension. The Department for Work and Pensions offers a letter forwarding service which could be used to ask your son to make contact with the solicitors about the house proceeds.
It is not possible for an individual to access this service, but it may be worthwhile asking your son’s former wife’s solicitors if they have explored this avenue. Alternatively, a charity such as Citizens Advice could work with the DWP to explore possibilities with letter forwarding.
Other methods for making contact with your son include liaising with the benefits agency, if applicable, engaging with a company which offers to find will beneficiaries, on a ‘no find, no fee’ basis, or contacting a solicitor he may have used in the past, who could provide contact details.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
It appears that there may be some underlying issues affecting your son’s situation here.
Divorce can be an extremely traumatic situation and especially if your son has had a history of mental health concerns, it may be that he requires specialist support to help him through this situation.
This is something that his former wife’s solicitors should certainly be aware of and they should have adequate safeguarding procedures in place to deal with the situation in an appropriate manner.
Under the code of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), all solicitors must provide proper standards of care to vulnerable clients.
If your son’s former wife’s legal team knew that her former husband had a history of mental health concerns, this should have been shown in their approach, including being tactful in their communication and responding to his individual situation and characteristics in a sensitive manner.
Not knowing your son’s whereabouts and at the same time receiving letters from his former wife’s solicitors is bound to be stressful.
However, the letters are nothing to be alarmed about and it is likely that the solicitors are simply retracing their steps to his last-known addresses in an effort to contact your son, rather than specifically targeting your daughters.
In any case, a simple reply stating that you are trying your hardest to locate your son would suffice in the short term.
The threat about sending the money to charity is worrying, although you should take heart in knowing that this will be very difficult to achieve.
Only with the approval of the SRA can solicitors donate client funds over £500 to charity.
If your son’s former wife’s solicitors are looking to secure this permission, it will be a very long-winded process and there are numerous hoops to jump through before money can be donated.
They will need to show the SRA evidence of an exhaustive search for your son, such as attempts to find him through DWP searches, using tracing agents, posting newspaper adverts and conducting internet searches, for example.
There is a possibility that this has been arranged, but more information about the particular agreements made during the divorce proceedings and the steps taken by the solicitors to find your son would be needed to establish that.
People cope with divorce in different ways and there is a possibility that your son just doesn’t feel he can address the issues facing him.
If you find him and establish that this is the case, he may wish to appoint an attorney to manage them in his place.
This could potentially be you or your daughters, or all of you combined. However, locating your son is paramount and this is a conversation for further down the line.
Seeking legal advice yourselves in the immediate term is likely to be of limited help. Resolving the whole situation hangs on making contact with your son and urging him to either begin to settle his affairs himself, or appoint another individual to manage them on his behalf.
In either circumstance, your son will then benefit from recovering his share of the proceeds of the house sale.
If, unfortunately, your son cannot be found, you may need to consider taking steps to show that he has died so that the money can be distributed in accordance with his will. If he does not have a will, this would be in in accordance with the intestacy process.