Even apparently straightforward matters can become horribly complicated if they are not handled correctly. One case that springs to mind in this regard involved an entirely simple will in which an elderly bachelor left everything to his favourite cousin. Before she could collect her inheritance, the cousin died. She was a widowed mother and left everything to her only son. There were no other dependants and nobody had any moral claim to either estate. What could possibly go wrong?
Things got off to a bad start. The solicitors who were instructed to administer the estate were told that another firm held the will. They duly wrote to the other firm, but the letter was a little cryptic and did not ask a direct question about the existence of a will. The other firm answered the question that they were asked, but did not disclose the will. Due to lack of progress the matter was then given to another firm, who also wrote to the original solicitors but again failed to make it sufficiently clear that they were looking for a will. When no will was provided, they concluded that the bachelor had died intestate and proceeded to administer his estate accordingly.
The main asset was a house, which was empty. To make matters worse, somebody broke in and managed to live there undisturbed for several years. He then offered to buy the property. Rather than launching a possession action to evict him, the administrators agreed to sell to the squatter. They agreed a discounted price – partly to reflect the fact that the house was occupied by a squatter!
However, this was not the low point: things deteriorated further. The administrators found only three intestacy beneficiaries (there were several more) and, when one of them died, they distributed the estate to the other two.
After a brief telephone conversation with the original solicitors, the will was promptly provided and the cousin’s son set about recovering the estate. One of the beneficiaries to whom money had been distributed incorrectly had already died, and his next of kin claimed that all the money had been spent. The other beneficiary died during the course of proceedings, having returned the unspent portion of the money he had been given. Eventually, the rest of the money was recovered from the administrators’ solicitors’ insurers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If you or someone you know is in a similar situation, timely expert advice on the issues is essential to avoid expensive mistakes. Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, call me on 01962 679806 for an assessment of the matter and advice on how best to deal with it.