Area of law: Wills and probate
Complaint reason(s): Costs information deficient; costs excessive; failure to follow instructions; failure to keep informed; failure to progress; delay
Remedy: To pay compensation of £300 for inconvenience caused, to limit fees and complete the work at the firm’s own expense.
Outcome: Ombudsman’s decision rejected by the complainant
Mr C’s aunt died, leaving him her house and naming a number of other beneficiaries in her will. Naturally enough, he wanted the firm appointed as executors to get on with it. They needed to make sure the house was sold as quickly as possible and transfer the proceeds to Mr C without delay.
Mr C waited, but saw no apparent progress. He couldn’t understand why things were taking so long: what was the problem with the sale of the property, and why were the solicitor’s bills so high?
In the midst of all this, the lawyer named as the executor retired, but no one else had taken on the job after he left. The firm itself was still functioning perfectly normally, but everything seemed to have got stalled. Frustrated by the lack of any progress and poor communications with the firm, Mr C came to the Legal Ombudsman for help.
Our Ombudsman looked into this aspect of the complaint and concluded that there had indeed been some problems with the way the firm had handled the administration of the will. But that wasn’t the only issue for Mr C. He’d also complained that the work done to sell the house was of a poor standard. Although there was some disagreement between Mr C and the firm about how the work had been done, the Ombudsman decided that the firm had tried to explain all the whys and wherefores to Mr C in a letter that he’d signed. But they also accepted that the firm could have been clearer in how it explained the process to Mr C – the risks and benefits of the different options available to him, and so on. The way the firm approached the case was confusing and resulted in delays and inconvenience to Mr C. We decided that the firm should reduce their overall bill.
Another part of the problem as it turned out was poor office admin by the firm. They hadn’t separated their charges for sorting out the estate as a whole from any costs associated specifically with the house sale, which would be down to Mr C alone to cover. This meant that their bills got muddled up, so it was harder to work out who was being charged for what.
The Ombudsman acknowledged that there was an ongoing debate about whether a lease extension to do with the property itself was valid. But this wasn’t something we could resolve. This was a legal matter and nothing to do with the standard of service provided by the firm.
We were also asked to consider whether the way the work was done acted as a barrier to selling the house in the future. We couldn’t say one way or the other – it would all depend on what any future buyer might want.
Mr C said the firm had been slow to pay some fees owing to a nursing home, and that the outstanding work needed to finish the administration of the estate still hadn’t been done. The Ombudsman agreed and decided the firm should take immediate practical steps to manage the handover properly, all at their own expense, and get on with bringing the administration to a swift conclusion.
Finally, the Ombudsman decided there was no evidence that Mr C had suffered any financial loss. There had been a few problems, but nothing to suggest that he had lost any money as a result.
Nevertheless, because of the delays and confusion, the Ombudsman awarded Mr C £300 as a good will payment. If the Ombudsman’s decision was accepted by Mr C, the firm would also be told to reduce their final bill and complete the work at their own expense.