Families cheated over wills (UK)

Probate fraud now cost thousands of victims at least £200million a year.

The Society of Estate and Trust ­Practitioners (Step) last night called for tighter regulation of will writers and estate administrators to stop the soaring number of ­victims, often elderly, being ripped off.

By law in England and Wales beneficiaries are not given access to estate accounts and rely on the honesty of the executor.

A poll by Step found that 75 per cent of its members encountered “cowboy” will writers in the last year.

These include people’s identities being stolen allowing wills and property deeds to be changed.

Also 66 per cent questioned found hidden costs in the stated prices for wills and 63 per cent dealt with firms which folded and disappeared with the inheritances.

A sharp rise in the number of carers, or nieces and nephews, acting as lay executors to save up to £9,000 by not appointing a professional, has sparked more fraud. Experts warn against using cut-price unregulated online will services.

Rogue lawyers have also been caught. Legal executive Jacqueline D’Hazzard, 44, from Hove, East Sussex, was jailed last month for defrauding four elderly clients out of £100,000. She transferred money out of their accounts into her own before giving details of their estates to families.

Solicitor Peter Jeffreys, a partner of Wilsons in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and expert on probate, said: “There is an amazing diversity of ways in which a determined fraudster can milk the system.”

David Harvey, chief executive of Step, said: “Our research highlights how widespread cowboy will writers and estate administrators have become and it is clear those who charge a fee for such services should now be regulated.”


Families cheated over wills
GRIEVING families are being cheated out of their inheritances by criminals exploiting Britain’s lax wills regulations.
Jon Coates
May 8,2011