Wills & Executors
Consumer warning on wills : Don’t make your lawyer your executor as soaring cases of ‘will fraud’ show Law Society closes ranks on complaints
If you made your lawyer an executor in your will, think again. Anyone who has written a will, making their lawyer an executor, either in a sole or joint position with another, are being urged to take immediate action to change their choice of executors after leaked complaints details revealed a huge rise in serious fraud committed by solicitors and other professionals against dead clients affairs they are charged with managing.
Law Society of Scotland ‘regularly whitewashed complaints against solicitors acting as executors’. Figures revealed on fraud against wills reveal the Law Society of Scotland, the governing body of all Scottish solicitors, has blocked or dismissed up to 80% of complaints made against lawyers who have seriously mishandled the estates of their dead clients, and in many cases committed serious fraud with large sums of money simply going unaccounted for and families losing out on rightful inheritances from their loved ones.
The remaining 20% of complaints made against ‘crooked lawyers’ who have plundered the affairs of their one trusting, now deceased clients, usually end up in ‘slap on the wrist’ punishments with small fines or a weak reprimand, with the offending solicitor allowed to continue working, and only in the highest profile cases, do solicitors find themselves facing criminal charges, due to a policy of reluctance by the Crown Office to pursue members of the legal profession who actively, and it seems routinely commit crime.
A spokeswoman for one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today recommended that if a member of the public has written a will and appointed their solicitor or accountant as their executor, they should immediately reconsider their choice, preferably appointing someone closer to them by way of a relative, setting out clearly a set of instructions and a timeline by which an executor should handle the duties set out in writing in the will.
She said : “Given we are seeing an ever rising tide of fraud committed by professionals such as solicitors & accountants who are openly abusing their position as trusted executors of dead client’s estates, I would recommend that people take immediate steps to re-write their will, naming others more trustworthy as their executors.”
She continued : “Instead of appointing a lawyer you think you can trust as your executor, appoint someone closer to you such as a wife or another relative, ensuring there are clear written instructions on what they should do, how it should be done, exactly how much they can be paid for what they do if you feel they should be paid, and exactly how long it should take to wind up your affairs after death, passing on whatever it is you wish your family, friends, a charity etc to inherit, within a given length of time and with the minimum of fuss.”
A legal insider today backed up the timely advice on wills, saying : “I am a solicitor, and I have clients who have written their wills with my firm. However I have refused all requests to be executor on an estate, and I can tell you from my own experience dealing with other legal firms in the cases of a deceased estate, there is no way I would ever appoint another solicitor to be my executor. It is a stupid move in today’s society.”
He continued : “Yes, it may be inevitable that a solicitor is needed to work on some aspects of a deceased’s estate, but for goodness sake, don’t put a lawyer in the driving seat of executor because that will almost always put a will in the slow lane for years to come, and cause problems far beyond any imagination.”
“To prevent problems, people should take the simple step of making someone they really trust as their executor, and giving them strict instructions and time limits on how their affairs should be handled. This is very easy to achieve, if people would only use a little common sense in making sure whoever they choose to appoint as executor is locked into a certain agreement on what they can and cannot do.”
Scotsman reported on Law Society’s protection of Andrew Penman who ruined estate. For years its been well known in the legal profession that handling a will is almost like having a license to steal because at the end of the day you know the Law Society will back solicitors up 100% against any complaints over what went wrong. Readers will be familiar with my own past on this issue, where a crooked lawyer by the name of Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darlng Solicitors, Kelso teamed up with an accountant (and executor), Norman Howitt now of Borders accountants JRW Group, to ruin my late father’s estate, details of which can be read HERE here and HERE.
Many people, especially the elderly, can be lulled into a false sense of security by an oh-so-smart solicitor, making them believe believing their lawyer is always there to help them and will of course, act honestly after the client has died and do exactly what has been asked of them as an executor. Today however, some shocking examples of fraud committed by solicitors against their deceased client’s wishes can be exposed :
Solicitor ripped off dead client & family, paid huge interest to his own Bank. An elderly man recently deceased had left his home, possessions & sizeable investments to his wife & family in what he obviously thought was a simple straight forward will, making the mistake of appointing his solicitor as his executor. The first thing the solicitor did was open up three overdraft accounts with a local High Street bank which coincidentally, the solicitor also deals with on a business & personal basis. Over the three years the solicitor took to process his deceased client’s estate, the High Street Bank received a staggering £27,000 in interest alone on the overdraft accounts, despite there being no debts on the deceased’s estate. Documents also now reveal the solicitor negotiated some cheap personal finance from the same High Street bank to purchase a second home.
The widow of the deceased, upon being told the investments in the will had been cut in value by three quarters, made a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland after discovering through careful investigation her late husband’s investments had been changed around by the solicitor at his own discretion rather than being realised and handed over to the family as per the instructions contained in the will. Now the Law Society have backed the solicitor against the family, despite a £250,000 loss being incurred in the late husband’s investments, together with the loss of title deeds to the home in which the widow still lives, while it seems the solicitor has experienced a remarkable increase in his own personal wealth, along with 3 recent top of the range cars.
Solicitor & accountant ripped off client’s charitable donations via her will. The result of the charitable intentions of a deceased elderly nurse who bequeathed her substantial entire savings including her house, in total valued at over £2 million to charitable causes, has so far resulted in not one of her wishes being respected by the solicitor and a long time friend, an accountant, she made executors of her will.
Charities who were named in the initial will have, after two years, yet to receive a penny, while again, a local High Street Bank has received over £18,000 in interest on several overdraft accounts opened by the solicitor allegedly to pay debts on the estate which never existed. Meanwhile the solicitor has also bought himself a second house, as has the deceased’s’ long time friend’ the accountant, and the charities who were due to receive sums of money are now questioning whether they will receive anything, given a recent letter to one charity from the solicitor suggesting “there was little left in the estate to cover the charitable bequests” – this despite the fact the nurse had no debts whatsoever, and owned her own home.
The paralegal who brought this case to the attention of Law Society of Scotland has been sacked from solicitor’s law firm, and since there is no one to independently monitor how the solicitor and accountant, both acting as executor, have so fraudulently mishandled the estate of their client (and victim) nothing will probably be done against those who have so obviously plundered the estate of their dead client. Even the charities themselves are apparently reluctant to make a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, possibly because a fleet of solicitors wives and family relatives sit on one of the charities concerned.
Solicitor stole 400k from will, no action by Law Society. A solicitor named as executor in an estate of an elderly unmarried man who had no surviving family, dying three years ago, tore up the original will of his client, and replaced it with one he had created to cover up the fact that a whopping £400,000 has disappeared from his deceased client’s bank accounts.
The will, which left a substantial bequest to a care home managed by the deceased’s local authority, has also seen the usual huge payments of interest fees to a local High Street Bank, in one case alone of £14,000 of pure interest, the same bank handling the solicitor’s law firm accounts.
The local authority had questioned when the bequest was to be made over to them, after being told by the solicitor there was little left to pay out his client’s wishes. The Law Society are supposedly still looking into the case, with as yet no action against the solicitor concerned.
Solicitor acting as executor stole over £30,000 from children’s trust. A deceased soldier who appointed his lawyer as executor, leaving everything to his wife & children, has unwittingly placed his family in the position of having to endure sickening refusals by the legal profession to do anything to recover over £30,000 of investments which were placed in a trust by the deceased client, for his children. The solicitor, acting as executor, cashed in the trust and used it to pay off gambling debts which everyone including the Law Society is now trying cover up.
Even serving one’s country it seems, is no guarantee to not being ripped off after death by crooked lawyers out to line their own pockets, with the likes of the good old Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission sitting back and doing absolutely nothing.
Sadly, these are but a handful of cases brought to my attention recently where lawyers & accountants, mistakenly appointed as executors in wills by ever trusting clients, have ended up fleecing the funds entrusted to them, for their own personal gain. My own advice to anyone writing a will, or anyone who has written a will, is, if you have appointed a lawyer as your executor, go back and re-write your will immediately naming someone you really can trust to handle your affairs after death.
Please, also take the advice of consumer organisations to stipulate exactly how and who should respect your wishes after you die, ensuring you also place limits on, or forbid the use of overdraft accounts by solicitors which are ostensibly used by the legal profession to waste your money with High Street banks in bargaining to secure cheap personal finance for lawyers. Taking these steps and taking the time to carefully think through your final wishes will save your remaining family a lot of heartache and ensure what you want actually occurs, rather than allowing the legal profession and others to march off with what you may have wished to go to your loved ones.