Bona Vacantia Estate - Solicitor not paying over estate funds

Over a year ago we found an estate listed on the treasury solicitors website and started research into the family to find potential beneficiaries. The deceased person had outlived her parents and her siblings. All of her siblings either died as bachelor’s or spinsters, as no issue can be found and it appears no marriages for any of them.
The deceased persons will that created the partial intestacy her father was born in the 1880’ and he was one of 12 issue, so you can imagine the size of the family tree.
The firm of solicitors that originally administered the estate has subsequently been taken over and have a new name, so last April we submitted a claim the solicitor who was listed on the Bona Vacantia Website as the people to submit a claim to, which was a success which we were told was successful.
The Treasury solicitors sent the firm of solicitors the balances on the account which the solicitors have had in their possession up to this day, we were informed that they had the money by a legal assistant in the company.
Since them every time we have asked for an update we have hit brick walls, the solicitor said that they were going to get missing beneficiary insurance as he wants to protect the executor, which we fully understand. The legal assistant even sent us a list of the requirements from a company of what they required, we even sent them as a pdf a copy of the family tree, which you can appreciate is rather large. We heard nothing so we approached the Oxford Probate Registry to see if they would issue a second grant, that way they could have paid the money over to us and we could have got on and distributed the estate, but Oxford said they would not issue a second grant.
After asking the question on the technical board previously we were advised to send a letter to the executor pointing out their responsibilities, which we did and even gave the executor a break down on what had been happening. We did ask if the executor was instructing the solicitor or vice versa. The solicitor who is meant to be dealing with the case phoned us and was very unprofessional in the way that he dealt us on the telephone, it was like we were naughty children.
I even said to him that we might send him all the details and he can pay the estate out, and we will invoice him, to which he said he would not pay our account, which I do not think is very good for a solicitor to adopt that sort of attitude.
It seems as if he does not want to hand over the estate for us to distribute, as I feel that there is something in it that we have found all the beneficiaries of which we have found about 80, and that this was something that should have happened 20 years ago. The firm of solicitors have not been very helpful from the start, when we first contacted them they even denied any knowledge of the case even though the treasury solicitors listed them as executors.
Can anyone suggest a way for us to get the funds and for us to distribute the funds to the beneficiaries we are getting calls and enquiries all the time and all we can say is that we are waiting for the solicitor to make a decision?

David Griffiths
A2Z Probate Research Ltd

Noting that there is an executor, I wonder if you have tried communicating with him or her. It is he or she who is best placed to secure the proper administration of the estate. If the executor is not concerned to take further action then beneficiaries may try.

I suspect that one reason for the solicitors lack of cooperation as you describe is that you, personally, have no interest in the estate. As you are obviously in touch with some of those entitled could you not obtain an authorisation from them directing the solicitors to give you information about the administration? You would probably have to provide the solicitors with evidence of their identity and the chain of relationships that establish their interest.

A formal complaint to the solicitors may be the next step- if that does not bring forth an acknowledgment in the form of a copy of the firm’s complaints procedure and the involvement of a director or senior partner then the Legal Ombudsman should be consulted. These steps would have to be taken by or on behalf of persons with an interest (in the technical sense) in the estate.

I think the solicitors were quite correct to be guarded about the information they gave you and it would be completely contrary to the Solicitors Accounts rules for them to transfer money to you to distribute.

Have you considered whether alternative approaches might have obtained a more welcoming response from them?

Tim Gibbons

Hi Tim

We have approached the executor, after the last time that I put a posting to seek help with this solicitor, and the advice was to write to the executor, which we did, they just went straight to the solicitor, and the next thing we know is that we receive a phone call from him, shouting at me down the phone in a very unprofessional manner.

We have it in writing from the solicitor that the executor is perfectly ok for us to distribute the money that they hold, when we first made the application to them after finding a beneficiary entitled to a share of the estate we always enclose a letter of authority from them, for us to act on their behalf, and we also supply certified copies of their ID. Prior to running my own company I worked for a high street bank in their trust and probate department for 10 years so that has become standard for me to request.

The solicitor that is dealing with this is a partner in the firm, but is not the head of the Trust and Probate Department.

With regards to the money to be distributed, the firm of solicitors originally paid the money over the treasury solicitors Bona Vacantia, and when an estate is paid to the Treasury solicitors you do not need a solicitor to distribute the money, and I know lots of genealogy companies that are not even members of STEP that distribute money from the Treasury solicitors.

When looking on their website there is no one that appears to have the title senior Partner, unless they are part of a national firm of solicitors in which case the senior partner may be at another branch, which I will have to look into.

When you say alternative approaches can you explain what you mean here, just after the start the company took on a legal executive who seemed to be dealing with everything and he would inform us that the cannot do anything without the say so of the solicitor, plus they seemed to stall everything.

I do not want to pass all the ID of all the beneficiaries over to the solicitor as that would be a breach of data protection on our part, as I would need their permission to do that, and I have grave reservations that the solicitor would not pay us our fee as he has already indicated that in a conversation, that he would not pay us, and he was not forth coming.

David Griffiths
A2Z Probate Research Ltd