At Paramount we think business should be more than transactional. We believe in building long-term relationships with our Clients and getting to know the person behind the screen. The nature of our job means we are given a unique insight into how hard our Clients work and the impact they have on the lives of others. As such, our Private Client Team decided to do a deep-dive into the role of Professional Deputies, to find out what this role really entails and to shine a light on some of the amazing unsung work that Deputies do. First up, we would like you to meet Helen Forster;
Helen Forster: Deputy, Director and Dream Maker
When I began working at Paramount, I was not overly familiar with the role of a Professional Deputy. I was aware there was a duty to manage a person’s affairs; to pay bills, deal with banking, shopping and generally help keep a person’s life ticking over. I’ll admit, I even assumed it may be a little mundane, over-seeing the day-to-day banality of someone else’s life. I don’t think anyone has ever made a thrilling legal drama about doing someone’s tax return, it just somehow doesn’t have the same grabbing power as CSI!
What happens however when life is, for the most part, reduced down to the ordinary. When the mundane and routine is all we have. Over the past two years, during a time when the whole world paused, the business of living was reduced to daily walks, weekly shopping trips, staying at home, working from home, making banana bread and staying at home some more. The vulnerable members of our society have never been more isolated. For many of us, a shopping trip became the highlight of our weekend (I will always think fondly of my 2020 birthday treat – I was allowed to go and do the ‘big food shop’ in Tesco’s)!
It seems to me, in many cases, the role of a Deputy has been a life-line to some and a connection to the outside world. We at Paramount thought it would be great to speak to some of our own clients, to shine a light on the type of work that Deputies do, what kind of experiences they have and what has drawn them to this type of work.
I met with Helen on a chilly winter afternoon back in December. When I say ‘met’, I mean virtually of course, she in her office in Wetherby and I huddled in a big cardigan at my dining room table, both with a mug of something warm. It’s not quite the same as meeting someone in person, but I have to say that Helen’s exuberance and energy for her career translates even through a screen on a laptop.
I asked Helen to start at the beginning and tell me how she ended up working in Private Client law and as a Deputy. Like most trainee Solicitors, Helen informs me she was thrown in at the deep end with her training contract. Working for a firm that dabbled a little in everything, Helen had a well-rounded legal background. One day she found herself in the daunting position of teaching herself to prepare her first Court of Protection Application due to needing to progress a matter for a client and having no senior with Court of Protection experience. Helen rolled her sleeves up and got to work teaching herself (this is not hard to believe if you have met her) and before long she became the expert ‘go-to’ person in the firm for Court of Protection matters.
From there, Helen found her passion in Private Client work and being a voice for vulnerable people, ensuring they receive what they are entitled to. A move to a firm that specialised in panel Deputyship work was where Helen gained most of her on the job experience, working under a Deputy, who Helen affectionately told me was the best in her field. What she did not know about Private Client law, was simply not worth knowing. Working in this role was clearly an eye-opening experience for Helen, possibly not just down to the work and clients, she once witnessed the said Deputy dictate an entire Will into a banana instead of a Dictaphone!
Helen has now made a credible reputation for herself as a Professional Deputy and expert in Private Client matters. She enthusiastically told me of her love of teaching and lecturing in this subject area, and she now lectures and trains throughout the country for institutions such as regional Law Society’s and MBL Seminars Ltd. Additionally, Helen teaches evening Adult Learning classes to offer insight to individuals into how legal documents are drafted and potential pitfalls to watch out for.
Given this insight into Helen’s passion for Private Client work, her clear in-depth knowledge and desire to continue to build on her reputation, it is no surprise that Helen’s next step was to open her own firm and she is now the proud Director of HTF Legal Ltd. Within her own firm Helen is working on growing her caseload and offers services in all areas of Private Client law such as Wills, Probate, COP, Inheritance Tax, LPA’s and Trusts. Helen manages numerous Deputyships at any one time and we chatted a little about how varied each matter can be.
On a day-to-day basis Helen can be found doing anything from securing funding contributions from the local authority for her client, liaising with teams of professionals involved in an individual’s 24-hour care, meeting with investment managers and analysing performance of funds, to ordering a tumble dryer or enquiring if Dominos offer accounts for regular customers!
My favourite example of a day-in-the life of Helen had to be her telling me she found herself researching the costs of and associated with owning a micro-pig one day, which was the dream pet of one of her clients. If things weren’t quite bizarre enough, she later found herself ordering the micro-pig some sun cream, designed for sensitive skin (there has to be a joke in there somewhere!).
On a more serious note, I also asked Helen what one of her most significant and memorable matters has been to deal with. She told me of a young gentleman she was appointed Deputy for, who sustained catastrophic injuries in an RTA. His injuries meant he would always require care and support to do the things we all take for granted on a daily basis. The drastic change in circumstance not only stripped the client of his physical wellbeing but also his mental wellbeing. He suffered with severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
Once Helen was appointed Deputy for Property and Affairs, she was able to manage his budget, which allowed him to employ a therapy team and progress his rehabilitation, he was supported to purchase his own property, close by to family, a property which is fully adapted to meet his needs, with a fantastic care team and even his own pet cats. As a result of the vast improvements this client has seen in his physical and mental state, with the right care, support and therapies in place, he has now begun creating his own video blogs to inspire others in similar situations. He has gone from someone with a bleak outlook of the future to looking forward with positivity and purpose and the desire to help others.
When Helen told me of this matter, I could physically see a change in her stance and her face light up. The immense amount of satisfaction and pride Helen finds in her work is evident. One of the last questions I’d scribbled on my notepad to ask Helen was what other type of career she thought she would do in another lifetime. However, I think the answer was self-evident; there never was another option. Helen quite confidently told me she thinks she was destined for this career path. To help people, make a difference to people’s lives and work for vulnerable people who otherwise would not have a voice.
Suddenly the role of a Deputy does not seem so mundane at all. It’s impressive. I’m sure at times it’s downright difficult, having to fight for someone else’s rights and shouldering so much responsibility. This is not a 9-5 office job and it is certainly not as easy as paying a few bills. The management of another person’s life requires not only compassion and empathy but also some guts, the ability to say no and the ability to juggle a lot of plates. It takes someone who is organised, driven, dedicated and passionately committed to being of service to others. I also hear a strong knowledge in effective sun cream for micro-pigs is advantageous!