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Management Of Elderly Or Vulnerable Clients’ Property: What To Do During The Winter Months

The Elderly & Vulnerable Team at Irwin Mitchell often assist clients with the management of their property and finances as their Attorney (under a Property & Financial Affairs Power of Attorney) or as a Deputy (where the client lacks capacity to deal with their affairs themselves).  When acting as Attorney we work with the client (the donor) by taking their instructions, helping them make their own decisions as much as possible and when making any decisions for them, these are in their best interests. 

When approaching the winter months, as Attorneys we will consider what to do when managing a client’s property, whether they are living in the property or may have moved into a care home, leaving their property unoccupied.

Is the property secure?

This may sound obvious, however it is very important to ensure the property is well secured, with all doors and windows locked with the key kept safe, either with the Attorney or Deputy, if nearby.  It may be that the Attorney or Deputy are not local to the property, so it may be preferable that the keys are held by a trusted friend or relative, or local Estate Agent, if the property is to be marketed for sale.

Is the correct home insurance in place?

An Attorney or Deputy has a duty to act in the best interests of the donor, so must consider the client’s home insurance cover. Therefore appropriate insurance must be in place and this is one of the first things an Attorney or Deputy will consider.  If the property is empty, we must ensure that the policy remains valid. The Attorney or Deputy could be criticised for not doing so if there was later an issue with the property and the insurance company refused to pay out as they were not made aware of the change of circumstances.

Unoccupied properties

Most insurance policies only allow for a property to be unoccupied for 30 days, otherwise the policy becomes void.  Where a building and contents insurance policy is in existence, we will contact the broker or provider and ask them to note that the property is unoccupied.  There will then be restrictions/endorsements added to the policy until the policy expires, which need to be complied with to ensure that the policy remains valid.  After the expiry of that policy, it is typically necessary to take out a specific unoccupied insurance policy for the unoccupied property, and with this there will be new requirements to meet in order to prepare the property for winter. For example, it may be a requirement to drain the property of water and to switch off the water at the mains in order to prevent the water pipes from freezing and potentially bursting. Another example, if the property benefits from central heating, might be that the property is heated continuously but at a low temperature of 12-15C (53-59F).  Often failure to adhere to these conditions will invalidate the home insurance policy. The insurer will then not pay out any claims if the property is subject to any damage during the winter period which is typically from November to March.

Therefore, the first thing to look at when arranging the new policy is to review the policy documents thoroughly and arrange the necessary maintenance of the property so that you (as Attorney/Deputy) and the donor’s property, are protected.

Why do insurers treat unoccupied properties differently?

If a property is unoccupied, it is exposed to more risks which would often be dealt with more quickly by someone living at the property. Whether there are minor issues, such as leaks or damp, which may develop into much more serious issues when nobody is around to discover them, or more severe threats such as burglaries, vandalism or squatters. Home insurers therefore treat unoccupied properties with more caution, due to the increased risk in insuring these homes. This increased risk usually results in higher insurance premiums to pay and less choice in insurance providers. The additional premium can be paid from the estate. However if the funds are not available at the time, the premium needs to be paid by the Attorney or Deputy and then be reimbursed from the estate in due course.  It is essential that insurance remains in place at all times during ownership.

I am an Attorney or Deputy, should I visit the unoccupied property?

It is in the interests of the Attorney or Deputy to visit the property, or if you are not able to do so then you should arrange for the property to be visited by a trusted neighbour, friend, relative or a contractor. This is because it ensures the insurance requirements are complied with and it demonstrates that you are fulfilling your duty in protecting the donor’s property. It ensures any issues with the property are likely to be spotted early and dealt with promptly, which can result in fewer problems down the line.  It is often a requirement of the insurers for the property to be regularly visited and a record kept.

Is there boiler/plumbing cover?

The Attorney or Deputy should check if there is boiler, plumbing or electrical cover as this is not always covered in the home insurance.

How do I maintain the property during winter?

Whether you have drained down the property of water or kept the central heating running, it will be a good idea to keep the property in good condition, especially if the property is to be sold (if the donor is in a care  home and will not be returning home and perhaps the proceeds of sale will be required to pay for care fees). A clean and well maintained property will often garner more interest at auction and may result in higher asking prices.

Utility bills

As Attorney or Deputy, we also keep an eye on the increasing energy prices and check if there is a better tariff available for our clients.

How we can help

If you are struggling as an Attorney or Deputy in managing finances or to maintain a property and would like some advice on the home insurance, maintenance or visitation of the property, then please contact us here, we would be happy to assist you.