Law Society offers new guidance on complaints

In an article posted on 22 September 2014, we drew attention to the confusion surrounding the duty of care owed by estate administration lawyers to beneficiaries. Now the Law Society has given its view that while residuary beneficiaries are not clients, they should be regarded as having the status and legal protection of clients.

The Law Society Practice Advice Service periodically publishes answers to frequently asked questions. Their latest Q&A is entitled ‘Residuary beneficiaries: dealing with complaints’. The advice given could not be clearer.

Although residuary beneficiaries are not clients, they are able to complain about a firm’s service and require the firm to deal with their complaint under its complaints handling procedure. If they remain dissatisfied, they may escalate the matter to the Legal Ombudsman who can deal with their complaints.

The piece goes on to point out that:

the complaint should be handled in the same way as you would deal with a complaint from a client.

And further that:

a residuary beneficiary has the ability to seek third party assessment of costs under s71 Solicitors Act 1974.

This marks another significant step in a paradigm shift we noticed months ago – and for solicitors administering intestate (or partially intestate) estates it could be a cause for concern.

On the one hand, there is a rebalancing to protect beneficiaries; on the other hand, the unregulated probate genealogy industry has never been more in disarray, a magnet for inexperienced amateurs and unscrupulous organisations attracted by what they see as easy pickings.

At Anglia Research, a significant percentage of our caseload involves rectifying mistakes made by heir-hunting companies and the solicitors with whom they have relationships. While personal representatives are often left exposed to litigation as the result of poor advice, wronged beneficiaries are increasingly finding their feet.

One example of what happens when inadequately qualified researchers and unusually naive solicitors coincide can be seen in the case history of James Taylor. Over the coming weeks, we intend to publish more case studies to demonstrate the risks to solicitors and beneficiaries when research is not expertly and ethically conducted.

At Anglia Research we combine ethics with expertise.

  • We employ more accredited genealogists* than any other probate research company.
  • We make it our business to know the law and always act on your behalf in accordance with the law.

*members of AGRAASGRA and AGI. In addition, most of our case managers hold paralegal practising certificates and are regulated by the PPR, giving you the reassurance of an independent complaints procedure and compensation scheme. For more details, please see our accreditation page.

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