|The Consequences |
It was my intention that I would live in our family home upon my retirement. I was looking forward to spending my final years back in the environment in which I had grown up. To spend my twilight years revisiting memories of my childhood and adolescence. To re-read my junior school exercise books, and high school essays. To look at my large collection of family photographs that I had created over many years. To be comforted by being surrounded by my familiar possessions. Indeed, it was the knowledge that I had my home to return to that gave me the strength to live and work abroad in a strange environment. The consequences of John Loftus' actions have been devastating: Almost all of our cherished family heirlooms are destroyed, or sold for the most ludicrous prices. The house is gone. My dreams are shattered. Even the financial losses are mind boggling: Of an estate worth well in excess of a million pounds, over half has been lost due to John Loftus' greed and incompetence.
Law firms are constantly telling the public to get their Will written by a professional. They paint a dire picture for those who fail to do so. What might happen if you were to die before you write your Will? My father wanted the family house and all the contents to go to his son, myself. How simple could that be to express in a legal document? How much simpler could his wishes have been? He went to the largest law firm in town, and instructed the partner that heads that firm's probate department to write his Will. How much safer could he be that that? Well, the result speaks for itself: Our family house is gone, all it's precious contents destroyed, stolen, sold with the proceeds retained by the executors, their family, and friends, or currently in the possession of the executors, their family, and friends, who stubbornly refuse to return anything to their rightful owner. Indeed, some of the house contents had been ordinarily and customarily regarded as my personal property for many decades and not part of my father's estate, items I bought and paid for myself, or made by my own hands. These suffered the same fate. Clearly the executors had no right to touch these items, even with their fraudulently obtained Will. But how much worse could it have been if my father had never written a Will? The intestacy rules would then apply: All his possessions would have gone to his son, just as he wanted. If my father had never set foot in the offices of Norton Peskett, never allowed John Michael Loftus to write his Will, all would have turned out just the way he wanted it to.
The Complaints Process in the UK
Within the United Kingdom there are numerous organizations that the public might reasonably expect to help in a situation such as the one that I found myself in. Some examples are:
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Rouge SolicitorBefore instructing a solicitor it is advisable to do your due diligence, and look for any bad press that solicitor may have received. The experiences of previous clients are a strong indicator of the future behaviour of the firm. The Web is a good source for such reports. Search engines such as Google and Yahoo are a good place to start. Many online business directories also allow former customers to leave reviews, good or bad, about businesses they have experience of. Indeed, the Web has become a great democratizer of information; removing the monopoly of publishing power from the few, and giving it to the people.
Within the UK there is a grass roots movement that seeks to name and shame rouge solicitors, and the ineffective regulatory agencies that fail to protect the public. Here are some links to get you started. I recommend these web sites, both as a list of law firms to avoid, and as an educational resource to learn how to recognize the dirty tricks that you may fall victim to. If you have bad experiences with solicitors yourself, then I encourage you to publish your experiences on these sites so that others can be forewarned. Indeed, if solicitors get the message that they will be named and shamed it just might encourage them to think twice before ripping off their next victim.
(UPDATE: The solicitorsfromhell.co.uk site has been removed from this list. On 7 December 2011 the Solicitors From Hell website was shutdown following a High Court Injunction. Rick Kordowski, the operator of Solicitors From Hell, had put up a brave fight for many years, and at great personal sacrifice, to protect the public from dishonest lawyers. The Law Society succeeded in suppressing free speech, and did so for the benefit of crooked solicitors in the UK. Some new sites are coming online now to replace Solicitors From Hell. Only time will tell if these sites will be able to fulfill that purpose.)
If you have had the misfortune to become a victim of a rouge solicitor, then why not tell the world about your experiences. You could of course set up your own Website just for that purpose. But if you feel that would be too difficult or too expensive, there is another way. There is a portal on the web at: LegalVictims.org There you can register for an account, and write a detailed account of your experiences. If you have any advice for others, you could publish an article on that too. Registration is free and easy, and you can reach a large audience.
You can also help to spread the word about this website. The following links will easily and conveniently publish the URL of this site to many of the better know social networking and social bookmarking sites. The more people that become aware of this site, the more potential future victims will be saved from the agony that I suffered. It will also send a message to Norton Peskett that this kind of predatory behaviour will eventually come back to haunt them.
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Advice and Lessons Learned
If you think that you might possibly die sometime, or if you have a relative who might leave you something in their Will, or if you are an executor, you might find the following advice helpful:
1) Before you die, talk to you beneficiaries about your wishes. Before your parents die, talk to them about their estate. This can be an extremely difficult subject to raise. Most people would find it very difficult to go to their last surviving parent and start a conversation about their death, and what will happen to the family estate. One might appear greedy, money hungry, uncaring, ghoulish. It is certainly an extremely uncomfortable subject for most families. I think it is especially hard for an only child. But if you don’t you will be sorry. In so many ways. Not only could your beneficiaries be in for the fight of their lives. Indeed, possibly for a life changing experience. But your wishes might be misunderstood. There will be no opportunity to ask questions after the death, no chance for clarification. Misunderstandings will fester for the next generation. Unintended consequences can be drastic. It is hard, but raise the subject, and talk it through, early and often.
2) Do not trust anyone, especially your own solicitor. Most people have sufficient street smarts to know that if a used car dealer tells you: “never mind what the written contract says, we will have a verbal agreement that overrides the written contract”, you should not believe it. We all know, or at least should know, that the written word is law. But what if your own solicitor says: “Don’t worry, it’s just a technicality”, or “it’s just in there to make the estate administration easier”. If it’s your own legal adviser, paid good money to keep you safe, shouldn’t you trust them? Absolutely Not! The situation is identical. The written contract is law. Do not rely on any verbal contradictions.
3) Beware the “Trust for Sale”. This refers to wording that is substantially similar to this: “The executors shall have the duty to sell, and the power to delay the sale”. If you want to keep your family heirlooms safe, do not allow this wording. It will deny your beneficiaries legal title to the family’s treasured possessions. If your solicitor says, “don’t worry, we will ask the beneficiaries what they want to keep”, do not accept this. Why should your beneficiaries have to rely on the honesty of a solicitor when it is so easy to give them legal title to the estate’s assets. Let them have legal title to the family assets, they can always choose to sell if they want to. A Trust For Sale robs them of this choice. If there is only one residual beneficiary (the person or persons who get whatever is left after all specific bequests have been met), then there is never ever a good reason to agree to a Trust For Sale. A solicitor might argue that if there are multiple residual beneficiaries who might want the same item, then it should be sold and the proceeds divided amongst them. But remember the story of King Solomon and the baby. Do you really want that treasured family heirloom sold? Why not just explicitly leave it to one of your beneficiaries, the one who loves it the most. And again, talking these issues through before death is so important.
4) What about including other documents in the Will by reference: It is common practice in the UK to include the provisions of the Society of Trust and Estate Planners in a will by simply referring to them. If you ask your solicitor to explain what this is for, he will often just say that it is to make the estate administration easier. Is that a valid explanation? Well in this particular case it might be harmless. But should you agree to something that you don’t understand? I advise that you should not. If you do not fully understand something, then insist that it be removed. If anything is allowed to be included by reference, then make sure you understand what it says and why. Also, make sure that a particular version or revision is specified. Who knows what insidious changes new revisions might sneak in before your death. Best of all, insist that such text is explicitly copied into your Will, and not included by reference. Writing a Will is not like rationalizing a database.The goals are very different. The main goal is to control dishonest lawyers, and safeguard the family heirlooms and assets for the next generation.
5) Don’t let the solicitor write themselves into the Will as an executor. As a professional executor they will be able to bill the estate for their time at an exorbitant hourly rate. It may become very difficult for the other executors to fire them later. Much better to let the lay executors, who are probably also your beneficiaries, administer the estate. If they need the help of a professional they can always hire a solicitor as and when needed. No need to pay a solicitor for doing the grunt work that anyone can do.
6) Make sure you personally understand everything. Know more than your solicitor. You have a much bigger stake. If your solicitor tells you that “it’s just a technicality”, or “it’s just in there to make estate administration easier”, insist on a proper explanation.