Grey matters ethical dilemma: Finding the will

Ashwin’s long-term client, Erica, has died and left him £5,000 in her will. Her daughters are contesting the will, saying she was vulnerable. What should he do?

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Ace Investment is a small finance business that provides many financial services for the local community, from everyday banking to asset management. Ashwin, the company’s investment manager, lives locally with his family. He has been at Ace Investment for just over fifteen years and will soon be retiring.

Erica had retired from her full-time job ten years ago and had been keeping herself busy working in the local shop, which she owned. She had been a client of Ashwin’s since he started with the company and over the years, they had developed a strong relationship. Erica had a diverse portfolio with Ace Investment, with many assets, including her home and shop.

One Tuesday morning, Ashwin received a call from Erica, who asked for an emergency appointment. In this meeting, which Erica attended alone, she explained to Ashwin how scared she was of what the future held for her because her health was deteriorating quickly. She became extremely emotional and Ashwin asked her how he could help support her through this. Erica told him she would like to update her will and get her financial affairs in order. She requested an update of her finances to share with her lawyer. Ashwin compiled the report and sent this across to her the next day.

Ashwin became concerned a few weeks later when he noticed that Erica had not been at the shop. He was heartbroken when he heard that Erica had passed away, as she seemed to be in relatively good health when he last spoke to her.

Erica's daughters say that Ashwin took advantage of their mother

A month later, Ashwin received notification from A-Z Legal that he was a beneficiary in Erica’s will. Ashwin was shocked to hear this, and after a further conversation with her lawyer and receiving the paperwork, he realised that Erica had gifted him £5,000. Ashwin had never been a beneficiary in a client’s will before and he did not know what to do or how to proceed. He did not mention anything to his colleagues that day but took the letter home to consider in detail.

Ashwin noted that while the will includes a provision to renounce the gift, he should not have to do so, as Erica specifically gifted him with the £5,000. He wondered whether he needed to notify his manager, and if it needed to be logged in the gifts and hospitality register, but as she had now passed away, should he need to complete it? Ashwin asked his friend for advice as he felt really conflicted and was due to retire soon, and his friend encouraged him to take the money in the will and "save it for a rainy day".

By the time Ashwin arrives at work the next day, he has decided to take the money Erica left him and to notify his firm, should anything need to be logged in the gifts and hospitality register. While he is walking to his office he sees two ladies sitting with his director. Ashwin is called into the director’s room after they leave.

The two ladies had introduced themselves to the director as Erica’s daughters, stating that Ashwin had taken advantage of their mother, who was a vulnerable person and increasingly more fragile in her later days. Ashwin had never met Erica’s daughters, but she had spoken of them fondly. He is saddened that they think he took advantage of her vulnerability.

Ashwin is left distraught after his meeting with the director, as he knows that he did not take advantage of Erica and she was not a vulnerable client at the time he spoke to her. He wonders whether her vulnerability heightened in the last few weeks. While she was legally capable of making financial decisions at their last meeting, she was emotional and stressed about her health. Ashwin wondered what more he could have done at the time, but was confident that she did not present herself as a vulnerable customer at the meeting.

His director has already mentioned that the daughters will be contesting him as a beneficiary in the will.

Readers were asked what Ashwin should do next (voting is now closed). The options were:

  1. Renounce his financial gift of £5,000 from Erica's will
  2. Proceed with granting Erica's wishes in her will and take the £5,000 that was gifted to him
  3. Speak to Erica’s daughters and assure them that she was not a vulnerable client when she came to see him.
  4. Proceed with legal action against the family if they don’t concede that he is entitled to the money.
This dilemma appears in the June 2021 edition of The Review magazine. The CISI's opinion and voting results will be published in the October 2021 edition
Published: 23 Apr 2021
  • Financial Planning
  • Wealth Management
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Risk
  • Integrity & Ethics
  • vulnerable customer
  • grey matters ethical dilemma
  • Covid-19
  • Code of Conduct

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