One needs to be extra careful when handling funds in the estate of an ultra-high net-worth foreign national, as a London solicitor discovered. He sent £1.575 million to the widow while a dispute was raging according to Legal Futures.
For his trouble, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal fined him £15,000 and ordered him to pay £7,500 costs. He lost his position with a leading legal firm and says he “suffered significant financial loss as a result”.
The Mistake That Never Should Have Happened
The widow had obtained a limited grant of representation which did permit her to receive payments. From this we can assume the ultra-high net-worth foreign national died intestate or without a will under UK law.
When the widow requested payments the London solicitor obliged, despite being aware she was in dispute with the deceased’s children. These things can happen when a person dies without recording their final testament.
What UK Intestacy Law Dictates When a Married Father Dies
If there is no will, then the law favours the married partner by awarding them the personal effects, the first £250,000, and half the remaining estate (if any).
The children share the balance of the estate between them. If one or more have died then their children (if any) share their entitlement.
It does not sound as if the £1.5 million came anywhere near half the value of the ultra-high net-worth foreign national’s estate. Hence we are dealing with error of procedure which manifestly fell foul of the expectations of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
What the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal Found
The solicitor knew the limited grant of representation did no entitle the widow to drawings from the estate at that stage. However, Legal Futures adds the misconduct “arose from errors he made” and there was “no malign motive”.
The client was in dispute with the children, “including over the extent of their respective shares in the estate under the local laws of the husband’s country of domicile”. Hence the widow’s grant was limited to securing and preserving the assets.
None the less, the solicitor agreed to the widow’s request in October 2015, and paid £750,000 across to her “by way of an interim distribution at her request”, doing so “in the knowledge that she was not entitled to make that distribution”.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found the solicitor “knew that the English estate of the husband was worth over £9 million and he owned “valuable assets in other jurisdictions”.
Therefore, the solicitor “believed he was justified in making the distribution because it was ultimately a small proportion of what she would receive”. Six further payments totalling £825,000 followed “on account of expenses incurred by [the widow} as administratrix of the estate”.
Legal Futures points out the solicitor “insisted that he did not deal in an improper manner”. Nonetheless he apparently broke the law and had to face the consequences.
Why We Posted This Story for You Here
We posted this story to make the point that UK probate law is complex. This does not mean you could not apply for a grant of probate. You just need to have your brain on and not let others persuade you to let your guard down.