June 2024

Never, repeat NEVER, trust a solicitor with a will

It should have been simple. My mother, who died recently, left a very clear will. Moreover, given her dementia, one member of our family had Power of Attorney. But months after my mother’s death, the little money she had remains trapped in legal complexities meanwhile a whole host of parasites – solicitors, bankers, stockbrokers and suchlike – have been trying to siphon off my mother’s money into their own pockets by trying to charge massive fees for little to no work.

But our family is lucky. My mother made one of her children executor of her will. So she managed to avoid the deadly mistake many elderly, especially middle-class, people make – appointing a ‘trusted’ solicitor as executor. However, being involved in sorting out my mother’s will has opened my eyes to a possibly huge amount of deceit and crime, involving many millions of pounds each year, of which most people are probably blissfully unaware – even when they are the victims.

Just Google something like “solicitor stole from inheritance” or “solicitor stole from will” and you’ll get page after page of stories of crooked solicitors who have stolen hundreds of thousands of pounds when people have trusted them by appointing them as executors of their will.

Here’s one of many:

A crooked probate lawyer stole £210,000 by writing himself into his clients’ wills, charging inflating fees and convincing them to give him large cash ‘gifts’, a court heard.

Keith Webber, 67, gained the trust of four ‘elderly and vulnerable people’ – including his own sister-in-law – who made him sole executor of their wills and trusted him implicitly.

But he then used a variety of methods to steal their money, including exaggerating his fees and persuading them to sign over assets into his name, Bristol Crown Court heard.

Prosecutors claim that in one case he made himself the main beneficiary of a will, and in another continued taking his client’s money even after she had died. 

For one ploy he turned against his own family to empty his sister-in-law’s account, while on another he claimed to be in a relationship with his victim to avert suspicion, a jury was told.

In Britain we tend to avoid talking about three things with our families – money, sex and death. Let’s forget ‘sex’ for the moment. You can find out about that by buying my latest book FORGET THE FOREPLAY. Let’s just focus on ‘money’ and ‘death‘. As we tend not to discuss ‘money’ and ‘death’, most people won’t know exactly how much money (property, shares, premium bonds, savings etc) a deceased parent, relative or friend had. Nor will most people understand the complicated legal ins and outs of dealing with a will.  This creates wonderful opportunities for solicitors to enrich themselves at their clients’ expense.

There seem to be 3 main tricks solicitors use to loot their naive and trusting clients’ estates;

  • Massively overcharging on fees for work that may not even be done
  • Writing themselves into a will
  • Simply stealing money by transferring it into their own bank accounts confident that few if any of the designated heirs will have any idea how much was originally in a deceased person’s estate and therefore they won’t know if £50,000 or even £100,000 have gone AWOL

There are few British towns as middle class as Chichester. It’s the kind of place where many middle-class people retire. -It’s an attractive town with a lively arts and theatre scene and where property prices are quite reasonable. It’s also the kind of town where local solicitors are members of the main golf clubs, tennis clubs, Conservative club and other such middle-class institutions. And it’s by networking at these middle-class institutions that many local solicitors get work by tricking nice, middle-class people into trusting them with things like being executors for their wills.

So, to end today’s blog, here’s a nice story from Chichester. In this case, the crooked solicitors were exposed. But something like this is probably being repeated across the country many times each year and most ‘ever so respectable’ solicitors are probably getting away with their crimes:

A solicitor, a legal executive and an associate of a Selsey-based law firm have been convicted and sentenced to more than 14 years combined. The trio were found guilty of the embezzlement of almost £700,000 of client funds over a seven year period following a nine week trial at Southwark Crown Court, police said.

Emma Coates, 47, of no fixed abode, but formally of Selsey, was sentenced to six years after being found guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of position, according to police.

A spokesperson for Sussex Police said: “Between December 2008 and November 2011, when employed as a legal executive at CK Solicitors, Coates was responsible for making a series of transfers from the firm’s client accounts to her own”. Following an intervention by the Solicitor Regulatory Authority (SRA), CK Solicitors was closed in 2011. Coates went on to establish Coates & Co and was able to defraud clients and steal funds coming into her possession when acting as an executor for local Selsey residents – this came to light during 2014 when the investigation was passed to officers of the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit. “During the six year period it emerged that Coates used client money to fund a lavish lifestyle – spending £10,000 on a hot tub, purchasing a Range Rover and financing a holiday to Barbados for herself and a group of friends. She regularly attended horse races at both Cheltenham and Goodwood, and at least some of the client money was used to finance monthly mortgage payments on a series of properties bought by her.”

Simon Kenny, 60, of Tudor Avenue, St Leonards was sentenced to six years after being found guilty of two counts of fraud by abuse of his position, police said. The offences occurred between January 2007 and May 2011 while he was the principal solicitor at CK Solicitors as well as a district judge. Kenny was convicted in respect of transferring client money to cover the money they had drawn from the firm. A spokesperson from Sussex Police said: “The extent of Kenny’s deceit was exposed by the tragic death of the firm’s accountant, Robert Foskett, who realised that he had become unwittingly involved in the fraud – a realisation which troubled him so much that he ended up taking his own life, and naming Kenny in his suicide note”.

You have been warned!

2 comments to Never, repeat NEVER, trust a solicitor with a will

  • terry peters

    The Worst Ideological Enemy Of The US Is Now Europe..

    “In Western Europe, politically speaking, in the press and in universities, either you are on the “Left,” or you are a pariah. If you are a pariah, you are most likely to be prosecuted for “Islamophobia”, “racism”, discrimination or some other “trumped up” charge.”

    Help!! and we have to live in the God Forsaken place…

  • Chris

    If you have a ‘remaining’ aged parent (ap) do not rely on a POA for dealing with their finances before death. (They cease to be of effect after death)
    Provided ap is reasonably compos mentis get ap to allow you full access to their accounts (preferably online)immediately, then, when the time approaches, transfer it to your account. Alternatively just keep it all and transfer back what is necessary to pay bills. A finance POA ceases upon death so any money in accounts must then await a grant of representation. This can take a long time and even longer if there is an inheritance tax liability.Also the IT has to be paid before the grant is given.

    Also it may be worthwhile to get ap to transfer their house to you so that, again when the time comes or even before for care home fees, you will have full access to and control of the sale proceeds/estate agent/conveyancer. The house will not then be a sale out of probate which does require a solicitor. Provided there is no payment there is no stam duty on such a transfer.

    None of the above will change the position re care home fees (See ‘deprivation of capital’)Also it will not affect inheritance tax liability unless property is given away within HMRC 7 year guideline. However with the new £100k additional individual tax allowance for residences it may not be worth transfering a residence.It all depends on the house value.

    These simple measures will keep an executor/beneficiary in control and prevent solicitors hanging on to money or charging excessively.

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