When Stella Cookson tried to get hold of her mum Joyce’s will after she died, she found it had been lost by the solicitors supposed to be looking after it.
Stella, sole executor of the will, contacted Mace & Jones solicitors of Manchester when her mum died in March 2012, to request the original.
The firm failed to reply by mid April, so Stella’s husband Frank faxed them. This was acknowledged by a solicitor at Weightmans, a firm that had merged with Mace & Jones in 2011.
Frank was told that the company would check its records and be in touch. Two days later, the firm said it had searched its three offices, in Manchester, Knutsford and Liverpool, but couldn’t find the will. He was also told that the firm’s wills records had been destroyed and its wills manager had left.
When applying for a grant of probate, you must show the original will to the Probate Registry. If the will has been lost, you can apply for an order under Rule 54 of the Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987, allowing for a copy to be used. But an affidavit (a sworn legal statement) must be made by those with full details of how the original will was lost. In this case, we advised that two affidavits should be prepared, one for Stella and one for the company.
Weightmans agreed to produce the affidavits for free, but its draft version was returned by Oxford Probate Registry with many changes, causing more delay.
Normally, the application for probate takes two to three weeks if the required documents are present, but in this case probate was only granted in September 2012. Frank wrote to Weightmans to complain, asking for compensation for the delay and lack of care preparing the affidavits. He also asked that steps be taken to ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen to others in future.
Weightmans said it had stringent procedures but admitted they hadn’t been effective this time. It offered the couple £250 compensation. Frank complained to the Legal Ombudsman, which recommended a £700 award to reflect the poor service and delay. It also referred the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Frank wrote again to Weightmans and it offered the couple £1,100 and a further £1,100 for the charity of their choice. They accepted the offer.
To find out more about probate, what it is, when it is granted and how our experts can guide you through the process, visit which.co.uk/probate.