Penny-wise fools can end up broke without proper help

THOSE with knowledge of literature will know of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Father of English literature who wrote in old English when most writers used Latin or French.

His cautionary tales from the 17th century have been translated into modern English - saucy, funny, and just plain crude, really.

Today's column is a cautionary tale too. It's not about naughty nuns, but fools being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Here is a man who came to see me about how he might defraud his trustee in bankruptcy.

His know-all mate, who loudly, and often, criticises professional people such as accountants and lawyers as rip-off merchants and useless, has recommended this guy see me for advice. Why me?

It seems this mate of his is somehow convinced that I am such a soft touch that I'd be willing to go to jail for having aided and abetted serious fraud.

And of course, because mates are mates, I'd likely be willing to do it for a six-pack!

Here's the scenario. This guy is a bankrupt former builder.

He has received a delayed payment from a family estate with which he has repaid debts to a couple of mates who lent him dough after he was bankrupted.

Of course, without telling his trustee, who has got wind of it and wants to know the ins and outs.

Now his father has also left him a large sum and lo and behold he has also won a lot of money in a lottery.

He is bankrupted and owing creditors. He assures me they falsified their claims!

Now he's screaming blue murder because he's going to have to repay these "crooked" creditors.

Of course his learned mate has told him that liquidators are bigger rip-off merchants than accountants and lawyers, saying the creditors will get nothing anyway!

So what would have happened if this man had sought professional advice in the first place and handed over some professional fees?

Firstly, if he'd consulted an accountant with my experience in the building game, he'd have avoided bankruptcy in the first place.

For years I've watched project builders spend today what they hope to earn tomorrow.

Showing people like them how to manage cash flow and how to price to ensure profit costs professional fees, of course.

But wait - there's more.

What was this guy doing in the notoriously fickle building game operating as a sole trader, anyway?

In this case, it would have cost a few grand to save thousands and bankruptcy!

Then there's the father's will.

When he looked like going bust he should have gone to the old man with his adult son and solicitor in tow and had them set up a testamentary trust with the son as trustee.

If he'd paid a grand or so to the solicitor, his inheritance would have been safe!

But the stupidest part in all this story is this guy going out and buying lottery tickets in his own name - while bankrupt.

A 20-minute consult with a solicitor, accountant or financial planner, costing a hundred bucks, and a bit of consideration to his trusted son - and the winnings would have been all his when discharged from bankruptcy.

So here's a guy who is going to lose a lot of money to his "crooked" creditors and "rip-off" trustee because he was too silly to spend a few bob on professional advice to bullet proof himself.

By the way, that mate who hates solicitors so much does so because a firm which rightly charged him fees failed to enforce an invalid home-made contract.

There's something to be learnt there too!

Bob Lamont is director of Corporate Accountants situated at the Night Owl centre. He can be contacted on

Topics:  accountant bankruptcy business fraud good business opinion

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