Area of law: Wills and probate
Complaint reason(s): Failure to follow instructions
Remedy: None – no poor service
Outcome: Ombudsman decision rejected by complainant
Ms E had been left a share of a property under a will. She owned one third of the property and her sisters owned the other two. When Ms E moved into a care home, her niece, Miss S contacted the firm. Miss S’s mother also owned a share in the property and also lived in a care home.
Miss S asked the firm if her aunt’s ownership of the property would affect the fees she had to pay to her care home. Once the firm received written authority from Ms E, they agreed to discuss the matter with Miss S, but reminded her that Ms E was their client and they would act in her best interests.
Social Services contacted the firm and asked them about Ms E’s share in the property. The firm drafted a letter in response, but first sent it to Miss S for her approval. Ms E sadly passed away and Miss S became concerned when Social Services began to contact her mother about her share in the property. They said they had reassessed her mother’s entitlement to help with her care home fees and decided she needed to pay more.
Miss S was fuming. She felt that the firm had disclosed too much information to Social Services and let slip about her mother’s share in the property, which they had no right to do. The firm explained that they did not act for Miss S, they acted for Ms E. Their duty of confidentiality was to Ms E and not to Miss S or to her mother. They felt they had only disclosed information which was both required by Social Services and was in the interests of their client.
The ombudsman considered the original request by Social Services and found that they were already aware that the property was jointly owned and even, if the firm had limited its response, this would not have prevented the council from putting two and two together. He said that the firm behaved reasonably in terms of their client’s position and there was no evidence that Miss S directed the firm to also protect the interests of the other owners.