Solicitors are generally trusted by the public to write their Wills and to administer their estate on behalf of their loved ones once they have died. However, unscrupulous lawyers keep hold of people’s inheritance indefinitely–profiting from interests earned at the bank, and even passing on the funds to their own friends and family instead.
In 2017 to 2018, the first year of the Legal Services Continuum (LSC) programme, Coplexia was alarmed to notice a firm of solicitors had large sums of client monies held in it client account for two to three decades, most of which it could not properly account for. Most of these pertained to probate files which ordinarily should have been dealt with within 12 months, but some of the funds had been received as far back as 1997.
Many of the beneficiaries had never been told about their entitlement, and those who knew they were entitled to inheritance where ignored until they had exhausted the complaints procedure and escalated the matter to the Legal Ombudsman.
What’s worse, the solicitor charged to administer the estate had neglected to work out the inheritance tax on many of the estates, resulting in fines and penalty charges from HMRC which the solicitor had paid using money held in his firm’s client account (instead of his own) without the knowledge of the estate’s Executor (the person legally responsible for administering the estate and ensuring the will of the deceased is honoured).
In several cases, the solicitor had either drafted or redrafted Wills to name himself in person as the Executor, rather than his firm, which had given him total control over the deceased’s entire estate. That control was used in the best interests of himself and his business partners, rather than the beneficiaries named in the Will. In most of the cases it seemed his intention was to hold on to large sums of money for as long as possible so that the ‘legal ownership’ of the estate would pass on to whoever became the Executor of his personal Will — effectively keeping hold of millions of other people’s money to invest or spend in whatever way he so chose after his retirement, and of course since genuine owners and beneficiaries where nowhere to be found, those investments would effectively become the inheritance of his own family.
For the best part of two years, the Coplexia Counsel and Commercial teams worked tirelessly to identify the rightful owners and beneficiaries of Wills to whom some £4,000,000 has been paid so far.
This has given us the best first-hand experience and expertise to devise innovative new ways of working, and the quality management systems that now govern how we manage the Wills, Probate & Estate Administration practices of Fairchild Greig Solicitors.
The team at Fairchild Greig now includes regulated solicitors with expertise in Wills, Estate Planning (including Tax, Trusts and Lasting Powers of Attorney) and Probate who work a growing team of law students and graduate to help keep costs down for our clients.
Our experts also help other law firms clean up any residual balances that may have accrued innocently, and to keep their own house in good order. This is especially important ahead of merger, acquisition, divestment, or outsourcing project, perhaps as an exist strategy for the firm’s owner to retire from practice through the Legal Services Continuum (LSC) programme which also ensures the end client’s interests are looked after seamlessly.