Questions Of Cash: Refund on your kids' dodgy ring tone fees

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The Independent Online

*** My son has received several text messages from a company he has never contacted, telling him that the ring tones he has ordered are ready. He did not order these, or want them, or download them, yet O2 deducted £3 from his pre-pay card. In total, he has now lost £15. O2 says it is not its responsibility. My daughter has now had the same experience and lost £9. What can we do? PC, Newcastle.

*** My son has received several text messages from a company he has never contacted, telling him that the ring tones he has ordered are ready. He did not order these, or want them, or download them, yet O2 deducted £3 from his pre-pay card. In total, he has now lost £15. O2 says it is not its responsibility. My daughter has now had the same experience and lost £9. What can we do? PC, Newcastle.

*** This is a bit of a mystery. O2 denies that it was wrong to deduct the charges and suggests that your son and daughter probably ordered the ring tones and then forgot. Icstis, the regulator for premium-rate phone services, does not regulate ring tones. Telemob, which supplied the ring tones, did not respond to our request for an explanation. But despite all this, O2 has repaid £20 each to your son and daughter, more than covering the cost of the charges.

*** I have power of attorney for my father, who has Parkinson's disease and has sold his house to move into a care home. He must invest the £134,000 proceeds to pay for his care for as long as possible. His income from the state pension, invalidity benefit and a small private pension comes to £900 a month, and the fees are currently £1,925 monthly. One IFA recommends my father purchase a £100,000 annuity, giving an annual payment of £10,950. Another IFA advises leaving the bulk in a building society account and investing the remainder in bonds. Both these options seem to eat into his capital too quickly. GH, Hove.

*** "This advice is so scary you can see why the Financial Services Authority regulated long-term care advice from last October," says specialist adviser Philip Spiers, of the Nursing Homes Fees Agency. We put your father's situation to both Spiers and Paul McDevitt, a certified financial planner at the accountant Grant Thornton.

First, you should investigate whether your father is receiving his maximum permitted state support. Spiers suggests that if your father is not in receipt of disability living allowance at the higher rate or attendance allowance at £60.60 a week, he should apply for this.

You should ensure he receives a registered nursing care contribution from the NHS if the care home is a nursing home; this can be worth up to £129 a week.

He should make sure he received the 12-week property disregard funding from social services while his house was for sale. If not, he should claim retrospectively; this is worth about £3,000.

Paul McDevittt adds that while Parkinson's may not be grounds for qualifying for free nursing care, you should seek a comprehensive medical report from his GP to present to the local authority. There are often associated medical complications which may enable him to boost his entitled state benefits.

Spiers suggests that placing all the funds on deposit is likely to lead to rapid capital erosion, given that someone with Parkinson's may still have a reasonable life expectancy. And an immediate need care fee payment plan is much cheaper than a standard annuity. The cost of a plan is difficult to assess without the details of your father's illness, but you may need to spend about £70,000 to purchase one. This leaves £50,000 for investment - perhaps in commercial-property-based bonds - and £14,000 on deposit for emergencies.

McDevitt also suggests using a mix of investments and care plan options. It is dangerous to seek specialist advice from a non-specialist adviser. Take detailed specialist advice.

*** My mother-in-law is 94, in a nursing home, frail and "shutting down". My wife and I hold joint power of attorney. My wife and her sister are executors for the will, but my mother-in-law has total resources of only about £14,000. Her will is clear and concise, and it divides her assets equally between my wife and her sister, after small bequests to her grandchildren. When she dies, must I go through formal probate using a solicitor, or can I simply distribute the money and close the accounts? KL, Harrow.

*** Stephen Pallister, tax and trusts partner at the solicitor Charles Russell, says: "As soon as your mother-in-law passes away, all her assets will be frozen and the power of attorney will no longer be valid. You and your wife will have no power or authority to distribute the money or to close the accounts.

"The bank may pay out the money to you without a grant of probate, if the balance on the accounts is below a certain figure. This depends on the bank's own policies. If the bank insists on a grant of probate, you will have to apply to the probate registry in the usual manner."

Alison Davies, who is also at Charles Russell, adds: "If you decide not to employ a solicitor, you can make a personal application for a grant of probate. You will be required to complete various forms and return them to the probate registry with a cheque for the sum of £90.

"You must attend an appointment for interview at one of the district probate registries, where you will sign a form of oath and swear that the information is true.

"Once you have received the grant of probate from the probate registry, you can send it to the various institutions holding the deceased's funds, so that the funds can be released for distribution."

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