Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where There’s A Will There’s A Crook : OFT say choose your will writing service wisely, consider costs, avoid making a solicitor your executor

will photo stockSurveys reveal consumers frequently make poor choices in will writers & executors. EVERY ONE of us should ensure our assets & financial affairs are put in order after we die, however the dangers of writing a will with an unscrupulous professional such as a crooked lawyer or an overcharging bank are well known to many families & relatives across Scotland who, after the death of their loved ones, have ended up being forced to deal with complicated complaints procedures put in place by biased self regulators such as the Law Society of Scotland or some rather dubious Ombudsman with little or no powers to put right the inevitable financial disaster for the beneficiaries, while the solicitor or bank pockets the remains of the will.

oft2OFT say consumers should not be led to appoint a professional solicitor as an executor. Today, the will writing services of the banks has come under wider public scrutiny as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced the big four banks, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group & Royal Bank of Scotland have all voluntarily agreed to review and, where necessary, improve the way they sell will-writing and executor services. The move follows discussions with the OFT during 2010 as part of a wider effort to improve the will-writing market for customers and their beneficiaries, following concerns that some (well, most) consumers are appointing professional executors without fully understanding the likely costs and the alternative options.

The OFT’s announcement states the big four banks have agreed to meet three key principles, to ensure customers are able to make well-informed decisions.

  • Consumers making a will should not be led to believe that appointing a professional executor is essential or the norm.
  • Consumers should not be encouraged to appoint a professional executor unless it is clearly in their best interests.
  • Providers should be satisfied, before the will is drafted, that the consumer has the information necessary to make an informed choice. The consumer should understand the options around executor appointments and be aware of the likely basis of charging for the professional executor service.

The OFT reported all four banks are currently reviewing their product literature and processes and any necessary changes should be in place within six months at the latest. Barclays Bank, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS Group are the only banks that currently offer will-writing and executor services, however consumers may not always be aware that each bank outsources the preparation of wills to external solicitors, although the bank provides the executor service itself.

While the OFT survey applies only to will writing services of banks, services which are used perhaps more so in England & Wales than in Scotland, many Scots consumers who are thinking of writing a will usually end up blindly walking into a solicitors office somewhere in the country, with absolutely no knowledge of what to expect from their solicitor or bank in terms of what kinds of services are offered, how much a will could cost to be implemented after death, and what action could be taken by beneficiaries if there is poor or negligent handling of a will by the executor, the bank, the solicitor or the will writer who drew up the will in the first place.

If the lack of information on costs of handling a will and how to put things right if its handled badly isn't confusing enough, the serious question of who to appoint as executor is often handled poorly by consumers, who, almost unbelievably in 2011, end up appointing the same solicitor who writes the will, which is almost like giving a blank cheque to a house burglar who will more often than not charge as much as they can for handling a will after death, to the point in some cases, there is no money left for anyone except themselves.

The OFT today reminded consumers there is no requirement in law to appoint a professional executor, although, according to a survey published by the OFT last year, some 43 per cent chose to appoint (usually through ignorance) the same professional will-writer or solicitor who wrote their will.

While the costs for preparing a will can be relatively modest, the costs for a professional executor to administer an estate can be high and vary considerably. For an average estate, consumers can pay between £3,000 and £9,000. Failing to shop around for executor services could be costing UK consumers around £40 million a year, according to OFT estimates.

David Stallibrass, Director in the OFT Services and Public Markets Group, said: “The wrong decision when appointing executors could mean a potentially expensive professional service is chosen, when a family member or friend may be quite capable of handling the task either alone or with professional support. We are pleased that each of the banks has agreed to review its selling practices and marketing literature to ensure customers are getting the information they need to make informed choices.”

When a will is prepared, thought will usually be given to who is legally responsible for administering the estate according to the provisions set out in the will. When appointed under a will, these persons are known as 'executors'. Lay executors - such as friends or family members - can be appointed instead of appointing a solicitor who can end up charging what they like for administering the provisions set out in the will.

The alternative is that consumers can employ a professional executor, who will administer the estate in return for a significant fee - often a sizeable percentage of the value of the estate or possibly even the entire estate if the actions of some solicitors are taken into account. Any consumer ignorant enough to appoint such a person who is covered by their profession’s self regulator may end up appointing the same person or firm who wrote the will such as a solicitor. Bad decision in nine out of ten cases.

Speaking from a personal perspective as a victim of the legal profession over a will rip off, if you do end up appointing a solicitor as your executor, you may well end up with an Andrew Penman, or a Norman Howitt which means you are basically giving all your money, property, possessions etc over to a lawyer so they can enjoy it. Bad decision.

Don't do it. Don't fall into the trap of trusting the person behind a desk in a lawyers office just because they sit in an office and give the appearance they can be trusted. The experience of many people each year in Scotland indicates when it comes to wills and solicitors, the phrase Where there’s a will, there’s a crook has considerable weight.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYCase after case has proved the Law Society & SLCC take no action against lawyers who rip off wills & bereaved families. Do you really want to put your remaining family, friends or loved ones through the nightmare of dealing with a crooked lawyer, crooked law firm, or even worse, having to go through the self protecting Law Society of Scotland or the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ? Take my advice, avoid it all and make sure you never appoint someone such as a solicitor or an accountant as your executor, certainly not in Scotland, because there are absolutely no safeguards to poor, negligent or even the criminal handling of wills by Scottish solicitors.

Given the significant degree of negligence or even criminality in the handling of wills in Scotland, it is long past time for a review of will writing services offered by the legal profession, and wider public education of the real costs & hidden dangers of who you as consumers allow to write & implement your final wishes.

However, any such review of the disgraceful state of will services offered by the Scottish legal profession may well have to come from south of the border because most political parties in Scotland realise its just too much of a cash cow for their friends & donors in the legal profession, a cash cow for lawyers which is guarded to the death …

My previous coverage on the subject of wills, will writers, and the crooked lawyers who handle wills can be found here : Where there's a Will, there's always a crook, a crooked lawyer & a crooked self regulator


Anonymous said...

So will the OFT step forward and present itself as an alternative regulator of professional will writers in Scotland or is the Law Society of Scotland going to be allowed free passage to that role?

Deeds speak louder than words.

Anonymous said...

Finally the OFT have come around to the fact these "professionals" have been ripping off wills forever.

I also agree its a daft idea to make any lawyer your executor.

Anonymous said...

Personally I think the problem is down to laziness and maybe some stupidity thrown in for good measure.
When some old fart goes into their solicitors office and naturally the solicitor volunteers to be their executor, the said old fart who probably thinks he/she is very clever will just agree and there you have the perfect recipe for another client to be fleeced.Maybe they deserve it but the lawyer also deserves to go to a tough jail for all the robbing they do next.
Legalised robbery and I dont think any amount of education will get it into people's thick skulls this goes on all the time until when they experience it for themselves and start bubbling about it.

Anonymous said...

How much does a crooked lawyer pay out of his clients will to the Law Society?

Anonymous said...

*Consumers making a will should not be led to believe that appointing a professional executor is essential or the norm.
*Consumers should not be encouraged to appoint a professional executor unless it is clearly in their best interests.
*Providers should be satisfied, before the will is drafted, that the consumer has the information necessary to make an informed choice. The consumer should understand the options around executor appointments and be aware of the likely basis of charging for the professional executor service.

So the banks might say they are going to do this although cant see it.Also solicitors probably make sure anyone writing a will doesnt walk out of their office until them sign them over as an executor too so the OFT better do some catching up on how things really work

Anonymous said...

From the OFT's own comments it sounds very much like lawyers and banks are working together on wills so you are all best to avoid either of them unless you want to be RIPPED OFF

Anonymous said...


SFH - The best thing I have seen in 30 years!

I worked as a criminal legal exec and left the profession for a number of reasons not least the fact that I felt that those practices I worked for were no longer interested in the client.

Profit and mistake replaced dedication and commitment.

The days of the one man band lawyer are slowly disappearing and are now being replaced with group/partnerships of which wide boys, complete with large knot in tie - dish out misleading advice to clients.

Well done!! Keep up the good work.

Mr B.

Anonymous said...

and when are the OFT going to do something about crooked lawyers writing wills?

Shamed lawyer who robbed clients out of jail and back in business

Nov 28 2010 Exclusive by Russell Findlay and Lauren Crooks, Sunday Mail

A CROOKED lawyer jailed for stealing money from dead clients is back in business, we can reveal.

Valerie Penny, 54, runs a slick website to lure customers into handing over £80 for wills. She is selling the same legal services she used to steal £130,000 from clients and their estates - a catalogue of dishonesty that landed her in prison.

The struck-off solicitor, who was called Macadam before her marriage, boasts of her "successful career". But she makes no mention of her jail time for robbing clients' cash or her shocking record of professional misconduct.

Last week Sunday Mail investigators caught her back in action touting wills and other legal services.

US-born Penny, who has practised law in Scotland and New York, was jailed for three years in December 2008 for stealing £130,000 from clients, some of whom were dead. She seized control of their finances through "power of attorney", then syphoned their life savings over a six-year period. She specialised in conveyancing and wills at her law firm in Edinburgh's posh Charlotte Square before her crime spree was uncovered.

After being freed from Cornton Vale prison in June, Penny launched Wills at Home from her house in West Kilbride, Ayrshire. She and second husband David, 50, a nuclear power station security guard, sell wills and power of attorney documents through online ads.

Her website states: "After a successful career as a lawyer, Valerie Penny lectured in law for several years. "North Ayrshire is the first area in Scotland to have the benefit of Wills at Home but Valerie plans to extend the service throughout the country quickly."

Last week Penny and her husband met our reporters - posing as a couple - at a Kilmarnock hotel and offered two wills for £120. After making and printing the first will, she said: "Now do you have somewhere fireproof to keep the wills? No, well, we have a safe. We can keep them there if you're happy for us to do that. It's what normally happens."

She handed a copy of one will to our team but forgot to print the second. She promised: "I'll send it to you. Are you wanting to pay cash? If we're holding the deeds, there's a small extra charge of £15 per deed. But if you're paying cash, we can make it £140 instead of £150."

The Scottish Government are set to pass a new law to tackle the unregulated will industry.

Lawyer Bruce de Wert, a wills expert based in Wick, was stunned at our revelations about Penny. He said: "I am distressed to hear a convicted embezzler is offering a will-making and storage service.

"I can't imagine anyone who knew her background would accept her service. Apart from the obvious concerns of dealing with a criminal, I do worry that the wills she has produced may never be found.

"When you deal with a solicitor, you will normally find they also offer a will storage service - usually for free. But the difference is solicitors are heavily regulated and, in the event they were to retire or go out of business, the Law Society ensures these wills are properly passed on to another solicitor."

Anonymous said...

The rest of it because its too long to post in 1 comment

Penny first appeared in front of the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal in 2003, which found her guilty of a catalogue of misconduct but failed to strike her off. Two years later she was finally kicked out of the profession for another long litany of misconduct.

The SSDT found Penny "deliberately and fraudulently" forged a signature on a document relating to a dead client's will and acted in a "dishonest fashion by misleading" another client. They also said she embezzled client funds in a "calculated and devious scheme".

Penny's entry on the LinkedIn website for professionals had claimed she worked for global financial giant Bank of New York Mellon between November 2008 and May this year. But she was behind bars during that time. The dates were later changed to when she did work for the bank - from May to December 2008, when she was fired. A bank spokesman said: "As soon as we discovered her conviction, we terminated her employment."

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Penny accused her first husband, lawyer David Macadam, 54, of driving her to embezzlement by his "bullying". He was also rapped for misconduct by the SSDT in 2004. They ordered that he could only work as a lawyer under supervision for a five-year period.

When confronted last week, Penny said: "This will destroy me. The dates on LinkedIn are a mistake." She then told her husband to snatch the will from our reporter's hands.


Anonymous said...

Lawyers are so sick they even steal from child abuse victims!

Crooked lawyer stole thousands from victim of child abuse

Pete Bainbridge

August 17, 2010

A solicitor stole tens of thousands of pounds from his firm and clients – including almost £6,000 from a vulnerable victim of child abuse.

Martin Davy, 46, is facing jail after swindling more than £35,000 over three years while working in Manchester and Ashton under Lyne, Tameside.

During his years of scheming, he conned £5,950 from an elderly woman while acting as a trustee for her trust fund – set up using thousands in compensation she received after being abused by a Catholic priest as a child in Ireland.

Davy spent £3,000 of the money on furniture, £1,250 on decorating and £1,700 on a new kitchen, a solicitors’ watchdog confirmed.

He asked clients to pay him in cash, which he then pocketed, or via cheques which he paid into his personal account.

Davy, of Ridgeway, Lowton village, Wigan, pleaded guilty to eight charges of theft and two charges of false accounting when he appeared at Manchester Crown Court.

He asked for a ninth count of theft to be taken into account.

Davy was working for Rupert Wood and Son, in Ashton under Lyne, when most of his crimes – including the theft from the elderly woman – took place between 2005 and 2008.

He joined Geoffrey Lucas solicitors, in Didsbury, in March 2008, but was arrested by police after his employer alerted the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Davy was banned from working as a solicitor in March last year after admitting his offences before a solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal held on behalf of the SRA.

Davy fiddled the books at Geoffrey Lucas solicitors in a bid to cover his tracks. He transferred money between clients’ accounts.

The SRA tribunal found that he ‘admitted making false accounting entries in one client matter to cover up negligent conduct in another’.

He also intercepted letters from his former bosses warning Geoffrey Lucas solicitors of his conduct.

The SRA hearing was told that Davy was ‘struggling financially’ and had separated from his wife some years earlier.

After Davy pleaded guilty, Judge Robert Atherton told him: "I have got to warn you that a prison sentence is almost inevitable."

Davy, a father who worked as a solicitor for 21 years, will be sentenced in October.

Anonymous said...


Back con the street


Published: 18 Jan 2011

A CROOKED ex-lawyer jailed for pocketing £400,000 from a dead OAP's will to pay off his huge debts has been let out SIX MONTHS early.

Michael Karus was released after serving just 12 months of a three-and-a-half year sentence.

And last week he was back on the streets of Edinburgh with Tanya Murray - mum of his love child - who claimed she'd ditched him after he was caged.

Last night a police source said: "We're shocked. We did not expect him out until July."

Karus admitted embezzling £413,052 in 2009 while acting as executor of the estate of Edith Hampton, 89, who died in 2003.

The former teacher had left her fortune to her cousin's daughter, June Pirie - but Karus told her it had all gone to Cancer Research.

Karus, 49, must still wear an electronic tag until the summer - and has to be back in his posh Edinburgh townhouse before 7pm each night.

The source added: "His liberty is not complete with the tag. He'll have to comply with the conditions or go back inside."

A prison source added: "Karus was very well-behaved. He did his time quietly."

It is understood a bid to recoup the cash under the Proceeds of Crime Act has begun.

Tory justice spokesman John Lamont said of the early release: "It's yet another example of soft-touch Scotland."

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman added: "Being on a tag counts as part of a custodial sentence."

Anonymous said...

may as well burn it instead of allowing some lousy lawyer to get their thieving hands on it

Anonymous said...

Don't do it. Don't fall into the trap of trusting the person behind a desk in a lawyers office just because they sit in an office and give the appearance they can be trusted. The experience of many people each year in Scotland indicates when it comes to wills and solicitors, the phrase “Where there’s a will, there’s a crook“ has considerable weight.

Wise words from someone who has experienced the wrath of the legal profession - keep up the good work Peter and keep us informed of all these dirty tricks lawyers and their buddies in the banks play on us

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

How much does a crooked lawyer pay out of his clients will to the Law Society?

Ask Penman.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who trusts a lawyer is in grave danger of being ruined. An ex president of the Law Society Douglas Mill called clients thorns in lawyers flesh.

Trust no lawyer for your own safety.

William Butler said...

I just want to say to you all and Mr Cherbi I took his advice in an earlier story he wrote and told my solicitor I wanted to redo my will to make my wife executor.My solicitor said it was not a good idea and then he said if I wanted to write the will again it could cost nearly 1 thousand pounds so I told him I was cancelling my will with him and if he gave me any trouble I would tell Mr Cherbi all about it so he could expose what was going on.Solicitor apologised told me I could have all my papers and said there wouldn't be any charge for cancelling the will I have now written a new will with my wife as executor to make sure the family are safe after I go as I am being treated for cancer of the stomach and dont have long to go.I hope Mr Cherbi continues to expose these scoundrel solicitors this blog is the best legal advice website I have read.
Thanks Mr Peter Cherbi.

Anonymous said...

Good posting.

The Law Society will probably launch their own press release telling us we are all safer going to a lawyer.We know from your own experience to do otherwise!

Anonymous said...

From reading a few of your earlier stuff it looks like even leaving it to charity is out because the lawyer will steal that too.

Scumbags is what they are and those who are supposed to watch over them.

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments on this article.

I can only say I hope everyone takes note of what the OFT have said, particularly with regard to there not being a requirement to appoint "professional executors" such as solicitors or otherwise ...

To William Butler @ 25 February 2011 14:37

I am sorry to hear of your poor health and wish you and your family best wishes.

You can contact me via if you want to tell me more about what happened with your solicitor.