Avoiding crooks after death : Law Society of Scotland solicitors make the worst Executors possible. NOVEMBER, the month of writing wills according to the Law Society of Scotland, whose members are engaged in their annual campaign to persuade their clients and the vast uninformed swathes of the general public to write a will, and, name a lawyer as their executor to ensure a ‘perfect execution of your last wishes’.
However, the ‘perfect execution of your last wishes’ when a client takes the idiotic decision to make their solicitor as their Executor, is very far from perfect for those you leave behind, as the normal pattern which follows is the solicitor acting as your Executor empties your bank accounts & sells your possessions to line their own pockets.
Choose someone better qualified to be your Executor is a claim often bandied about by the legal profession, who, lets face it are there to sell themselves and their services, not do you a favour just for the hell of ensuring what you leave after death is passed onto those you want to leave it to. The list of reasons why you should appoint a professional will be long, incredulous, corrosive, divisive, and in some respects, just plain full of lies to get you to sign up to a dodgy will written in a lawyer’s office, witnessed & signed by one of their own colleagues or secretaries, naming themselves as your Executor. Don't do it. Whatever you do, do NOT choose a solicitor as your Executor.
I am not going to sit here and give you examples of how some dead rich celebrity who thought they were being clever by appointing people close to them along with a ‘professional’ as executors will help you avoid a rip off, because well, it doesn't help. In fact, appointing one of your intended beneficiaries or say, a loved one, along with a solicitor or other professional to act as two Executors of your will, can do even more harm when both begin to battle with each other when, for instance, it is discovered the lawyer decides to help themselves to your money instead of passing it on to your family, The result of such a dual appointment often ends in a negative value of your remaining estate after your oh-so-trustworthy solicitor turns into a shark, intentionally burning up all your remaining assets to fight the other Executor for control of your remaining estate.
Speaking not just as a journalist but also as a victim of the sheer greed of the legal profession & the Law Society of Scotland, simply put, don't appoint a lawyer as your executor. Those you leave behind as beneficiaries will regret it, and I can assure you they will be treated to the horrific Andrew Penman & Norman Howitt experience which happened to my family. You can read all about this here : The Andrew Penman Crooked Lawyer Experience & The Norman Howitt Crooked Accountant Experience
Some basic tips about who to appoint as your Executor and what to say in your will to limit anything which you do not want to happen.
For an Executor, choose someone you feel your family and beneficiaries will trust, or at least they like. In most cases a will is divided up between partners & children or relatives, so choose your remaining partner and one of the children as Executors. If you choose two Executors, at least there are checks & balances on both. Choose someone who will not side with one against the other, or use their position for their own ends to generate huge fees (as a lawyer usually does) for their own work as your Executor.
Now the question of fees.
Within your will, you can easily set financial limits on who should be paid how much to wind up your estate or carry out work as your Executor. This is a good idea to put it down in writing how much, if anything your Executors should be paid. If for instance, your Executors are also beneficiaries, it may well be they do not require payment because they are going to receive the bequest you made them in your will.
At some point, unfortunately, your Executors may require the services of a solicitor or a bank for certain documents regarding your finances but these services should not be strung out for months & years just because a lawyer wants to fatten up his wallet.
To avoid a rip-off if your Executors need to use a solicitor or bank, a good idea is to set strict limits on how much should be paid out of your estate for any legal fees, so you limit how much a lawyer can plunder from your finances. After all, you don't want to leave your money to your solicitor do you, you want to leave it to y our family, right ?
Now, where to store your will.
Obviously you should make several copies of your will. Your Executors should be given copies, or at least told where they can obtain a copy of your will, if, for instance you choose to store it in a safe deposit box at a Bank or with someone who can be trusted.
Often another ruse of the legal profession is to claim they will store your will for free. However, this is simply, a lie. Your solicitor will charge you on a yearly basis for storing your will, property titles and other documents. If they don't you can be sure they will charge for all those years of ‘free storage’ when they come to administer your will, by inflating their fees exponentially.
A case last year which was drawn to my attention of a will, stored for free for ten years, turned out to be not so free when the solicitor charged the estate a whopping TEN THOUSAND POUNDS for ten years of storage. As there was nothing written into the will to say it had been stored for free by the solicitor, the family fought the fee demand but were forced to pay, after an expensive court action. As you see therefore, lawyers have an answer to everything when it comes to money.
Being an Executor is too difficult, it must be done by a lawyer – says the lawyer !
Don't listen to the legal profession about the winding up of an estate being incredibly complicated and the position of an Executor being so frightening it can only be performed by a solicitor. This is all nonsense. There are many people out there each year who manage to navigate the maze of winding up an estate without the need to use a lawyer. Its much cheaper, it usually ends up settled more amicably, honestly and without the five, ten or fifteen years of fuss a lawyer may make of it, just to keep sending in bills for work he never did.
Earlier this year I reported on how the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) had exponged the myth that writing a will meant it was required to appoint a solicitor as an Executor, in an article here : 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
Here’s what the OFT had to say back in February 2011 :
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.
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.
You can read my earlier coverage about wills here : You and Your Will
An article I wrote in 2009 covered extensive examples of fraud committed by lawyers & Executors against wills : Consumer warning on wills : Don't make your lawyer your executor as soaring cases of 'will fraud' show Law Society closes ranks on complaints
Over the six years of this blog, some readers have come to me asking me to be their Executor. I have refused. It is simply not feasible for me to be an Executor to a hundred wills.
However, in one case recently, the two Executors of a will of a friend came to me for help, as they could not reach an agreement on a particular transaction. I was happy to talk to both, at no cost. There is no cost because I have already been through this experience. After our talk, the two Executors resolved their differences and the property involved in the transaction was sold for a higher value than the suspiciously lower value presented to them by a solicitor. The family received what had been left to them without further worry.
Lets call it, free mediation, backed up by the possibility if the two Executors had not resolved their difficulties, headlines would have ensured they did, as my primary concern was of course for the remaining family as beneficiaries who had been put in the unenviable position where one Executor had been poisoned by a crooked lawyer out to buy up what he hoped would be a cheap house. It felt good to protect another family from a lawyer led rip-off and it doesn't cost anything to prevent a fraud, really. It was a service, and a duty, to a friend. I would encourage others to do the same.
Incidentally, some people might wonder why the not-so-merry month of November is designated as a good month by the legal profession to run will writing campaigns. Well simply, as one solicitor told me, its because old people tend to die off in the winter, or there are more fatal accidents during the winter. Lovely people aren’t they .. the legal profession who come up with all this kind of stuff. If you take my advice you will steer clear of them when writing up your will. They are not in it for you, they are in it for themselves, and when it all goes wrong, the Law Society of Scotland and the equally prejudiced complainer-hating Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) will be of no use to you at all.
One of the most important things you need to remember is, where there is a will, there is a crooked lawyer from the Law Society of Scotland. So, when you come to write your will, don't appoint a THIEF or a CROOKED LAWYER (or as someone recently asked me A BANK) as your sole Executor. Those who you leave behind don't need to live through yet another horror story after having to get through your death. A free guide from Citizens Advice Scotland on Will writing is HERE although I must admit there is a lot of rubbish in the guide such as naming solicitors & banks as executors which is just a complete no-no in the 21st Century. Just make sure you miss out any of the parts which suggest you need to appoint a solicitor to do this or that, at horrendous cost to your estate and your remaining family.
If you want to discuss with others, issues about wills and problems in writing wills or problems with Executors, I would encourage you to visit the Consumer Action Group forums and participate. If there is an issue or a problem with a will in Scotland involving crooked Executors or crooked lawyers which you feel should be published, please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org