Avoiding Fraudulent Professional Trustees: Universal Wealth Preservation

It’s not always easy to know where to turn for advice when making plans for your financial future. There are all sorts of professionals on the market who have positioned themselves as experts in this area, but not all of them are who they say they are.

Though it’s not a common occurrence, we have unfortunately worked with a number of clients who’ve been caught out in the past by fraudulent professional trustees.

One of the highest profile incidences of this was in 2017, when a company trading as Universal Wealth Preservation was brought into the spotlight for fraudulent behaviour. The company had encouraged their clients to appoint them as professional trustees as part of the service they offered. Many of these clients later discovered that their trusts were being mismanaged.

Universal Wealth Preservation was run by Steven Peter Long, who was also associated with companies trading as Universal Asset Protection Ltd and Universal Trustees Ltd. The company entered into involuntarily liquidation in 2018 and, later that year, Mr Long was sentenced to a prison term. In more recent years, it has been reported that Mr Long has been trading again via a website called howtokeepitinthefamily.co.uk.

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What services do these companies offer?

Though Universal Wealth Preservation is one of the best known of these companies, it is not the only one. These kinds of companies often prey on older people who are worried about having to sell their family homes in the future in order to cover care home fees. This is a complicated legal area, and these companies often rely on this confusion to misdirect their clients into legal arrangements that aren’t as beneficial as they are being led to believe.

These companies generally operate by setting up trusts to hold the client’s homes, with the intention of protecting them. However, the companies usually require clients to appoint them as professional trustees, meaning that the ownership of the properties in question has to be transferred to them. The clients or their families will then not be able to sell the properties without the company’s authority, and often have to pay significant fees to be granted this permission. This can also cause added complication when it comes to administering an estate of someone who has died, and could result in higher tax bills.

Unfortunately, this is an area of the financial industry that is not well regulated. Unlike solicitors, some companies who provide these sorts of services do not have to have any qualifications or memberships of regulatory bodies. If you work with a solicitor and suffer a financial loss as a result of poor advice, the Solicitors Regulation Authority can step in as they have a compensation scheme to reimburse clients. Unregulated companies do not offer any kind of safety net like this.

What should you do if you have been affected?

If you have previously had dealings with Universal Wealth Preservation or a similar company, you may need professional support to help unravel any damage that has been caused. We recommend that you contact a specialist trusts and estates solicitor for personal advice on how to set about resolving the situation. This will likely include:

  • Making a new Will or Lasting Power of Attorney if any previous ones mention Universal Wealth Protection or a similar company.
  • Applying to the courts to have any professional trustees removed from a trust.
  • Contacting the Land Registry to determine who’s name your property is registered under.

Depending on the situation, you may also wish to explore whether you have any recourse to report the fraud or take legal action.

If you are a personal representative of an estate that has been affected by these issues, it’s likely that this will complicate the probate process. In these cases, we recommend contacting an experienced probate solicitor as soon as possible so they can advise you on the best possible next steps.

How can you avoid schemes like these in the future?

We understand the desire to want to protect your home and other financial assets. Companies and schemes that promise to help you do this can seem very attractive. Though there are many experienced professionals who offer genuine advice and support with with your best interests in mind, there are others who do not. This can make considering your options a real minefield.

If you do wish to make plans concerning financial or estate planning, we recommend choosing who you work with very carefully. Ideally, consider working with a solicitor or other regulated legal professional.

You could also look out for:

  • Whether the company is regulated or has signed up to any professional codes.
  • Whether the company has adequate insurance.
  • How long the company has been trading and what its background is.
  • Whether they are open about all the fees they charge and how their process works.
  • Whether they have a widely-available complaints procedure.
  • Who is registered with Companies House as the owner of the company.
  • Whether they have generally positive reviews online.

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