Monday, August 16, 2010

R.I.P. OFF : Lack of independent regulation reveals solicitors, accountants & will writers should not be trusted on wills, final wishes & bequests

Will fraud bkWill fraud by solicitors, will-writers & accountants prove many professions cannot be trusted with consumers final wishes. A CONCERTED CAMPAIGN by solicitors & other financial professionals to retain market dominance in the multi billion pound will writing & will handling business in the UK has been brought back into focus in the past two weeks after allegations were made by solicitors against ‘cowboy’ will-writing private companies offering the same poor, often extortionately costing & woefully under regulated services for will-writing & will handling as many people have already experienced from the legal profession, who currently dominate the will writing & will handling market.

Put simply, solicitors, accountants, will-writers and all their colleagues who are in the will writing & will handling business, should not be trusted by members of the public to handle wills, final wishes & bequests. All are as bad as each other, and all are as poorly regulated as each other. Not one to mend another – trust one over the other, and you are sure to be ripped off, either by the solicitor, the accountant, the bank, or the will-writer.

Sure, there are many professional bodies who openly & publicly guarantee their so-called professional members will never rip off your will, will never rip off your remaining family, will never ruin your final wishes & take what you leave behind for themselves, but the sad truth is all these guarantees are hollow, as hollow as a rotted tree with no innards. I covered this issue in more detail in November 2009, here : Consumer warning on wills : Don't make your lawyer your executor as soaring cases of 'will fraud' show Law Society closes ranks on complaints

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanRipping off the dead - Guarantees from the Law Society of Scotland of professionalism of their solicitors on handling wills are worthless as the media reports time & again. Trust a lawyer to handle your will, and you may well get one of the many Andrew Penmans running around, more of which you can read about here : Solicitors who rip off dead clients : How Borders solicitor Andrew Penman ruined an executry estate Trust an accountant as your executor, and you may well get one of the many Norman Howitts running around, more of which you can read about here : Accountants who rip off wills & abuse their positions as Executors : How Borders accountant Norman Howitt ruined a will and a family

Last week, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners - the international professional body for workers in the trust industry and the (often overlapping) field of estate administration whose members are mainly solicitors, barristers, attorneys, accountants, trust officers and trust administrators as well as banking and insurance professionals in the trust field, issued a press release claiming that a Survey Reveals Incompetence and Dishonesty of “Cowboy” Will Writers. The Press Release from STEP, bearing in mind their membership includes solicitors, accountants & bankers, reads as follows :

Interim results from a survey published today by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), reveal the scale of the threat posed to the consumer from cowboys in the will writing market. The survey found that 75% of STEP members have encountered cases of “incompetence or dishonesty in the will writing market in the last 12 months”, and prompted STEP to again call for better consumer protection. Two thirds of respondents reported coming across hidden fees which were not outlined in the stated price for a will, and 63% had direct experience of cases where will writing companies had gone out of business and disappeared with their clients’ wills. Just over one third had encountered cases where incompetence had led to significant additional tax bills.

Chief Executive David Harvey said: “This research shows how widespread cowboy will writers have become and it is clear those who charge a fee for writing a will should now be regulated. They must have an appropriate qualification, and they must have proper indemnity insurance. Soon the consumer will be protected by new regulation in Scotland and this benefit needs to be extended to cover the rest of the UK."

Examples of malpractice included a company which approached young mothers in shopping malls, telling them their children would be taken into care after they died if they failed to make a will. One consumer was charged £12,000 up-front for executor services only for their family to find the firm involved had gone out of business not long after, disappearing with their wills and money. In June the Legal Services Board launched a review of the threat posed to consumers in England & Wales by unprofessional will writers and is currently seeking evidence of consumer harm. The Scottish Parliament is currently going through the process of regulating non-lawyer will writers through the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill.

Certainly an interesting Press Release from STEP, but it hardly tells the real story of what is going on in the UK will industry, where solicitors dominate the market. Notably, STEP use an example where one consumer was charged £12,000 up-front for executor services yet the Scottish legal profession can beat that hands down, where, to quote one example, Edinburgh law firm Turcan Connell charged fees of more than £16,000 to administer an estate with net assets of under £14,000 – and the Law Society then rejected a complaint from the deceased client’s widow, Dr Kate Forrest.

Legal bill wipes out net assets - The Herald January 02 2007The Herald newspaper reported : “[Dr] Forrest complained that the firm had told her only that it would charge £200 an hour, had entered into unnecessary work, and had failed to give her estimates, or issue itemised bills, despite repeated requests. She claims the firm then gave an undertaking to halt the charges, in a meeting with witnesses at the firm's office, but this did not materialise. When the Law Society examined the complaint, it ruled that the meeting could not be taken into account as the firm had no record of it, and it accepted an explanation by managing partner Douglas Connell that the complaint had been based entirely on a "misunderstanding". The £16,000 in charges had the effect of more than wiping out any assets in the estate, which had gross assets of £69,574 but debts of £55,731.”

Hardly a glowing recommendation for regulation by the Law Society of Scotland of solicitors handling wills, rather it proves deceased clients will be ripped off by any professional, with no recourse for their remaining family while the solicitor gets away with it – the perfect, ultimate, R.I.P. OFF.

BBC Panorama investigation on wills - no longer existsBBC Panorama report into corruption in the will writing industry omitted problems of solicitors ripping off dead clients. Coincidentally, the BBC’s Panorama programme ran a report on the wills industry, highlighting various rip offs by will-writing companies. The programme bizarrely implied while will-writing companies were quite obviously ripping off consumers to the tune of thousands of pounds, the situation was very different if a solicitor handled a will – something many victims of solicitors mishandling wills all across the UK could easily dispute. Curiously the BBC Panorama programme on this issue is now no longer available, although readers can still view a summarised text version of the report carried out by Panorama journalist Vivian White, here : Call for tighter will-writing laws as consumers duped

The new regulation in Scotland which STEP are referring to in their Press Release, relates to amendments contained in the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which may well end up seeing the Law Society of Scotland regulate non-lawyer will writers. I reporter on the Scottish plans for regulation of non-lawyer will writers, here : Scottish Government plan to regulate non-lawyer 'will writers' may see Law Society regulate all complaints against mishandled wills, legal business

Consumers should be in no doubt the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is turning into one of the biggest rip offs of consumer choice of legal services in Scotland, a far cry from the intentions of the Which? super complaint and the Office of Fair Trading’s report into lawyers dominance of Scotland’s legal services marketplace.

Since the Law Society of Scotland (dubbed by some as the 'World's worst regulator') cant even regulate their own member solicitors when it comes to defrauding deceased clients, wills, executry estates & beneficiaries, I doubt the Law Society is going to be very effective in regulating anyone else who is involved in the rip off will writing & handling industry, unless of course, the Law Society simply use their regulatory powers as an excuse to wipe out the competition, ensuring everyone has to use a lawyer to write or handle a will.

This advice may be hard to swallow, but take it from one who has witnessed, investigated and been a victim of solicitors ripping off the dead – trust no lawyer, accountant, will writer, or any other so-called professional when it comes to your will & final testament, and never appoint one as your executor … its the sure fire road to perdition ….

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

good one pete - if people dont listen after reading this then they deserved to be ripped off !

Anonymous said...

That BBC Panorama programme doesnt work now.Did they pull it after realising they'd been suckered into it by lawyers ?

Anonymous said...

What Turcan Connell did to Kate Forrest was an absolute disgrace.
The Law Society covered up for TC all the way I can assure your readers!

Anonymous said...

I saw Panorama last Monday so I know what you are talking about.
If I remember correctly the reporter interviewed a solicitor and claimed on camera solicitors do not charge an annual fee for storage of a client's will.
This is certainly incorrect as it is accepted standard practice in the profession to charge a client an annual fee for holding related papers including their will.

Anonymous said...

"Put simply, solicitors, accountants, will-writers and all their colleagues who are in the will writing & will handling business, should not be trusted by members of the public to handle wills, final wishes & bequests. All are as bad as each other, and all are as poorly regulated as each other. Not one to mend another – trust one over the other, and you are sure to be ripped off, either by the solicitor, the accountant, the bank, or the will-writer."

Pretty much sums it all up and personally I think I will spend the lot before popping off to stop this shower of robbers getting it!

Anonymous said...

The beeb seem to have a short memory about solicitors stealing from wills - and considering all those regulations Yelland is quoted on didn't stop Karus then there's no hope for any lawyer being caught ripping off a will who is regulated by the Law Society

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/8291294.stm


Former lawyer jailed for stealing

A former lawyer who embezzled over £400,000 from a dead woman's estate to pay off his own debts, has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Michael Karus, 48, earlier pleaded guilty to embezzling £413,052 while acting as the executor of the estate of Edith Hampton, who died in 2003.

The former teacher left the cash to her cousin's daughter, June Pirie.

But before Mrs Pirie even knew about the fortune, Karus had already used it to settle debts in his own law firms.

Sheriff Derrick McIntyre sitting in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday told Karus: "This was a grave breach of trust.

"You were formerly a solicitor, having been suspended by the Law Society in 2002.

"In my view the public are entitled to expect people like you, acting in a position of trust, to display the utmost integrity. You have clearly failed to do so in this case."

Not only did Michael Karus abuse his power as Ms Hampton's lawyer, but he also broke her trust and was able to profit considerably from his deception
Det Sgt Alan Dickie
Lothian and Borders Police

Karus put £115,000 into Edinburgh Metropolitan Properties, of which he was a director, £82,000 to Karus & Co pension fund, £60,000 to a judicial factor to clear the law firm's debts and between £3000 and £5000 for his credit card debts.

Karus told HM Customs and Excise and Mrs Pirie, when he met her at Miss Hampton's funeral, that all the proceeds of the estate had gone to Cancer Research.

The charity had made numerous attempts to communicate with Karus.

Defence counsel, Ian Duguid QC, said Karus had been in the middle of an acrimonious divorce and his mother was suffering from dementia.

His personal difficulties had "clouded his judgement".

Sentencing Karus, Sheriff McIntyre said his starting point was five years, but he would reduce that by six months as the guilty plea had saved a lengthy trial.

'Extremely pleased'

Furthermore, he said, because Karus had lodged £500,000 with the court to cover the embezzled sum which in due course would go to Miss Hampton's beneficiary, Mrs Pirie, he would reduce the sentence by a further 12 months to three-and-a-half years.

Lothian and Borders Police said it was are "extremely pleased" with the sentence.

Det Sgt Alan Dickie, of Lothian and Borders police, said: "Not only did Michael Karus abuse his power as Ms Hampton's lawyer, but he also broke her trust and was able to profit considerably from his deception.

"Following extensive enquiries by the specialist fraud unit, we were able to build up a significant body of evidence against Mr Karus and were confident the courts would find in favour of that evidence."

Philip Yelland, director of regulation at the Law Society, said: "Honesty is paramount in solicitors' dealings with their clients. Mr Karus has clearly breached this fundamental principle of being a solicitor."

"Once the society has official notice of his sentence from the courts, we will be able to raise a formal complaint against him to allow us to prosecute Mr Karus before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal."

Anonymous said...

What the BBC didnt report on in the Panorama programme on wills :

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8059211.stm

Solicitor gives back SOME OF THE stolen money

Hospices from Essex and Suffolk will get back some of the money stolen from them by a solicitor.

Money had been willed to the hospices by Ellen Grout from Hertfordshire.

Philip Totenhofer, 62, from Essex was jailed for three years on Tuesday after admitting six charges of theft at Chelmsford Crown Court.

A judge ruled that the St Helena Hospice in Colchester and the St Elizabeth Hospice in Ipswich will each receive £36,000.

Ellen Grout, who died in 1998 aged 82, originally left her estate to her son Ted but he died before her.

As a result she employed Totenhofer to make the bequests to different charities including the RNLI in Poole in Dorset and the McMillan Cancer Nurses.

Each will receive £17,000 back after having a total of £41,051 stolen from them.

Judge Anthony Goldstaub QC made a confiscation order under the proceeds of the crime provisions and gave Totenhofer six months to re-pay £106,000 or he will face a further 18 months in jail.

Anonymous said...

The BBC also forgot this one :

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/863746.stm

Embezzling solicitor jailed

A solicitor who was struck off after embezzling more than £63,000 has been jailed for five and a half years.

Donald Pirie, 41, took money from clients for more than three years to keep his debt-ridden practice in Cowdenbeath going.

He also cheated his parents out of money.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard that, at the same time, Pirie was indulging in his taste for expensive cars by driving around in a Jaguar.

At Pirie's trial last month, the court heard evidence from one victim, a woman who hobbled into court on crutches.

She told how she lost her money when she tried to sue her former boss after an accident at work.

Parental loans

Another witness, a devout Christian, handed Pirie money from his aunt's will to stop it falling into the hands of his runaway lesbian wife.

The embezzlement charges covered a period from June 1993 and November 1996, the year in which he was barred from being a solicitor.

Advocate depute Stephen Woolman QC, prosecuting, said the firm was always in the red, despite injections of capital such as loans of first £23,000 then £7,000 from Pirie's parents.

Pirie, with two children from a failed marriage and another child from a later relationship, studied law at Dundee University and became a solicitor in 1982.

He said that when he was no longer able to work as a lawyer he turned to the motor trade, putting prospective buyers in touch with cars for sale.

Lord Penrose sentenced Pirie to five and a half years in jail describing the offences as serious breaches of professional trust.

Anonymous said...

Another one the BBC could have reported in Panorama! How safe is YOUR will with a lawyer ??? Answer NOT SAFE AT ALL !!!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4252682.stm

Lawyer jailed for embezzling cash

A solicitor who embezzled more than £100,000 from his Glasgow law firm has been jailed for two years.

Calum Blyth, 34, admitted taking the money from the firm's accounts over two-and-a-half years in the late 1990s.

Judge Lord McPhail told the High Court in Edinburgh that cases of embezzling by solicitors damaged public confidence in the legal profession.

The judge said Blyth was effectively using the clients' account as his "firm's overdraft".

He had been the cash room partner at the Glasgow law firm, which has since been wound up, and had responsibility for financial matters within it.

Blyth earlier admitted embezzling the money between 1 December in 1996 and 9 April in 1999 at Blyths Solicitors, in St Vincent Street, Glasgow.

Stuck off

Lord Macphail said: "This court has consistently taken the view that the public is entitled to expect that the criminal law will do what it can to punish solicitors who abuse that trust and to deter others."

The judge explained that he took into account that none of the firm's clients suffered any financial loss and that Blyth cooperated with the Law Society of Scotland.

He added: "You have been struck off the Roll of Solicitors and will never be able to practice as a solicitor again, with all that means in the shape of disgrace and hardship for you."

He told Blyth, now of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, that he would have jailed him for three years if he had been convicted after a trial.

Money repaid

But the judge said he would reduce the sentence to take into account Blyth's guilty plea and co-operation with the authorities.

Defence counsel Paul McBride said Blyth was a first offender and that the money embezzled was paid back in a short period of time.

Blyth returned to the UK from the US, where he had been living, to face criminal charges.

Mr McBride said Blyth was suffering from a serious depressive disorder and there were concerns that he was a "significant suicide risk".

Lord Macphail rejected a plea to allow Blyth to avoid a prison sentence but said the concerns over his welfare would be conveyed to the prison authorities.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting as always Peter and looks like you turned the solicitors campaign to retain will writing exclusivity firmly on the head.

Keep up the good work.The country needs you !

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the OFt are not taken in by the bbc's Panorama bollocks :

http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/oft-seeking-costs-analysis-over-will-regulation

OFT seeking costs analysis over will regulation

Wednesday 11 August 2010 by Rachel Rothwell

The Office of Fair Trading is not opposed to will-writing becoming a reserved activity, but is seeking a costs benefit assessment before there is any extension of regulation in the field, it has told the Legal Services Board.

Speaking at a recent LSB seminar on the regulation of will writing, OFT representative Mark Pratt said there should be an analysis of what problems exist in the will-writing market, what is causing them, how effective current regulation is and how this can be improved.

The research should also examine what positive and negative effects reserving the will-writing market would have, he said.

Pratt noted that the Scottish government is introducing a regulatory framework for non-lawyer will-writers. In its consultation response to the new regime, the OFT said that such regulation was likely to be ‘disproportionate’ without evidence that, among other things, there is currently consumer detriment from will-writers who are not members of professional bodies.

The LSB is currently examining whether will-writing should become a reserved activity that may only be conducted by qualified professionals.

Anonymous said...

@18:55

What do you expect for the billions the BBC extorts from license payers ?

FACTUALLY ACCURATE CONSUMER PROGRAMMING ?

NOT A CHANCE !

Anonymous said...

The law should be changed to allow people to do their entire will themselves with no need of any scum leech bastard lawyer or the like to make money from a death as well as having to pay the bloody government lots of taxes !

Anonymous said...

I read the Panorama page and yes there are many errors in their investigations.I dont doubt for one minute will writers need to be regulated but there is an appalling bias in favour of solicitors in their coverage.

Anonymous said...

18:55

Anyone would have to be a complete nutter to take consumer advice from the BBC - they are the biggest rip off going with their license fee crap!

not a coincidence said...

The journalist sat in front of a lawyer and gave him an easy time at taxpayers expense.
Funny how the STEP mob issued the press release the same day.Even a child could tell that was arranged!

Anonymous said...

I remember Fergus Ewing appearing so chuffed in Panorama last week about his idea to regulate will writers in Scotland but he forgot to tell everyone the Law Society are going to be their regulator if no one else applies to do it.

Anonymous said...

Is the BBC too close to the Law Society for their viewers good?

Anonymous said...

BNP on Question Time, due to Nick Griffin's right to be heard. Why do Panoram not do a programme of crooked will writers, especially crooked lawyers.

How impartial is the BBC? Wake up broadcasters, lawyers are the most crooked bastards in society.

Anonymous said...

I emailed the Panaorama team after the programme.

I informed the programme makers of the monopoly control which the disgraced insurance provider Marsh exerts over Scotland's legal profession, and the absurdity of the clear impression given by the programme that the Scottish system was worthy of imitation.

I received an automated reply which addressed none of these facts.

Anonymous said...

I just watched the Panorama episode via your blog link and it now works !

I agree the episode is way off reality considering what you've exposed about lawyers and wills.Maybe you should do a show for them since you are the expert !

Anonymous said...

I certainly wouldnt appoint a lawyer or accountant as my executor after reading your own experiences but who does that leave people with being able to trust ?

Should it be necessary at all to appoint someone like a lawyer as an executor ?

Anonymous said...

Its back online now

The solicitor mentions the compensation fund and his insurance then the reporter says "its only solicitors who offer this protection" yet by what happened to you and obviously what happened to Mrs Forrest in the Herald story you quoted the insurnance/compensation fund is a dead loss.

Lazy journalism - they should do a programme about how lawyers rip off wills too but as its the BBC I'm sure they never bother correcting their inaccuracies for the sake of honesty!

Anonymous said...

You need a lawyer to sue the crooked lawyer who steals inheritance, both are insured by Royal Sun Alliance, result bye bye inheritance, your money is gone, I have not seen the programme but Panorama will not tell the public this.

Self regulation and a corrupt indemnity insurance provider, no clients money is safe.

Anonymous said...

I've read your piece.If the Law Society are going to regulate everyone in the Legal Services Bill it is totally unfair arrangement.They will use their favour for their own members to find fault with anyone competing with their solicitors for business.

Anonymous said...

The BBC will never do a programme on crooked lawyers, why?

Because the BBC has also relied on the same disgraced insurance provider as the Law Societies of Scotland AND England, namely, Marsh.

In the BBC's case for Marsh's provision of employer liability insurance - a fact the BBC refused to reveal until instructed by the FOI Commissioner to comply with the request for this information.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Cherbi.

I am having a lot of trouble with a will being handled by
Campbell Cathcart solicitors,3 Lynedoch Place
Glasgow.

One of the solicitors is an executor of a will which I would like you to write about.How can I contact you to send on the papers ?

Anonymous said...

Watched the Panorama link.
It felt like an advertisement for the legal profession considering what I've read here in the comments and in Google this evening.
If people want advice on how to deal with lawyers or legal matters I would suggest they come here first !

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments & emails on this article.

Firstly I note the Panorama report on will writers is now viewable ... I would encourage all readers to watch it and come to their own conclusions based on the evidence I have reported, and the evidence reported by the BBC ...

I would reinforce what I have written in terms of advice ... trust no one in a position of business when it comes to handling your will .. at the end of the day they will ultimately do what is best for themselves, and despite claims to the contrary, there is little or no recourse for your loved ones or beneficiaries to recover what you have left them ... my own experience, and the experience of thousands of people over the years in the same predicament is a testimony to that.

# Anonymous @ 16 August 2010 22:22

I completely agree with your comment.

# Anonymous @ 17 August 2010 14:44

It is not necessary to appoint a solicitor or other so-called 'professional' as an executor. Anyone can be an executor ... just make sure you can trust them ... and word their duties precisely so they must adhere to your exact wishes and timescales for winding up an estate ...

# Anonymous @ 17 August 2010 17:03

Yes .. your comment is a good summary of what is actually going on ...

# Anonymous @ 17 August 2010 20:47

The name of the law firm is a familiar one - someone has already approached me regarding their conduct in an executry estate. Please post your contact details in a comment marked "Do Not Publish" or you can contact lawcomplaints@gmail.com and send whatever material relating to your predicament you wish to be considered for an investigation.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't trust Fergus Ewing to regulate anything - he's a lawyer first and foremost !

Anonymous said...

A system that facilitates legal theft is sick indeed. No clients inheritance is safe because self regulation ensures lawyers are safe no matter what they do. A green light to augment law firms balance sheets. Some justice system.

Anonymous said...

Will (no pun intended) we get away with it? We self regulate, you bet we will.

Anonymous said...

Power without control is dangerous. God help you people with your wills because will writers, accountants, lawyers, are state protected thieves. Have you ever noticed decision makers regarding finance are all above the law. They put their colleagues in the receipt of complaints department to ensure theft is legal and the complaints system is a cover up bureaucracy, where no one is guilty.

Anonymous said...

Do the Law Society and Accountants control the BBC? Keeping victims of these people out of court, that is what the BBC should be reporting.

With the shit the BBC broadcasts I am getting rid of my TV.

Anonymous said...

Mr Cherbi what you are reporting on is a network of criminals protected by a bent system where colleagues protect eath other. This bent system is encouraged by politicians, and journalists some of whome are gutless. Your blog is really A diary of Corruption in Scotland, no wonder the Law Society are furious but I think you are 100% correct in what you are doing, please up the pressure.

As for the BBC, useless, do a program on ending self regulation to protect the vast majority of your licence payers, not the corrupt filth who self regulate.

Anonymous said...

Peter you said "trust no one in a position of business when it comes to handling your will .. at the end of the day they will ultimately do what is best for themselves, and despite claims to the contrary, there is little or no recourse for your loved ones or beneficiaries to recover what you have left them ... my own experience, and the experience of thousands of people over the years in the same predicament is a testimony to that".

IGNORE THIS ADVICE AT YOUR PERIL, LEGAL THEFT IS ALIVE AND KICKING AND YOU THE VICTIM HAVE NO RIGHTS, THE RIGHTLESS THAT IS WHAT YOU ALL ARE.

Anonymous said...

Self regulation and criminality are two sides of the same coin. Those protected by this corrupt ideology can do what they want, and they want us to believe we have a fair justice system, bullshit. Those with the right to steal and cover everything up exploit the rightless and the latter will remain rightless to protect legal thieves. You can steal and avoid prosecution if you are a member of the self regulating establishment.

Anonymous said...

I am happy to confirm all solicitors I know who store wills for their clients charge an annual fee.Some clients take their wills away with them after being written but the vast majority leave it with the solicitor.