Case study of a solicitors negligence claim in which specialist lawyer, Emma Slade, recovered compensation on behalf of a beneficiary who lost out due to a badly prepared Will.
Mr & Mrs Pryor (a made up name, naturally) went to see their solicitor about making some Wills. Mrs Pryor was gravely ill with Multiple Sclerosis so although both of them were making Wills, it was largely to sort out Mrs Pryor’s position. Importantly, they were concerned to ensure that Mr Pryor had a roof over his head as they had heard many horror stories about people losing their homes. They explained their concerns to the solicitor. I know this because it is in the solicitor’s attendance note.
Mr & Mrs Pryor also had a son called Frank (whose name is equally fictitious) and Mrs Pryor in particular wished to ensure that there was something for Frank in the Will. It was suggested that Frank have an interest in the house on Mrs Pryor’s death which was agreed but Mr & Mrs Pryor were adamant that any monies should pass to the survivor of each other as again, they had heard horror stories about people losing their homes and not having any money to live on. Again, I know this because it is also in the attendance note.
But what is not in the solicitor’s attendance note are the sort of questions that I think the solicitor should have been asking. For example, how old is Frank? Does he have a partner? Is he likely to want to live with his Dad? Would he prefer a lump sum to living at home? The attendance note said that Frank did not have the financial ability to purchase his own home but that was then. What about the future?
Importantly, the solicitor didn’t discuss with Mr & Mrs Pryor the fact that if Frank did get a half interest in the house, he had the right to apply to the Court for the property to be sold. There would be insufficient funds then to re-house Mr Pryor and the horror stories Mr & Mrs Pryor were so concerned about may come true. The solicitor should have suggested that the Wills be altered so that the survivor could live in the property for as long as they liked but when they died, the half interest would go to Frank. This is known as a ‘life interest’.
There was a still a chance for the solicitor to redeem herself as Mr & Mrs Pryor came back a couple of weeks later to sign their Wills which gave half the home to Frank. Straight away, Mr & Mrs Pryor told the solicitor that Frank and his wife had split up and Mrs Frank was going to issue divorce proceedings. The solicitor simply nodded wisely, gave them a big smile and got them to sign the Wills. Actually, that first bit isn’t in the attendance note – I made that up – but whilst the note is silent on the cheery grin, it is also silent on the advice that a prudent and competent solicitor should have been giving. In particular, she should have been warning Mr & Mrs Pryor that if half the house went to Frank, then Mrs Frank may have a claim on it in the divorce proceedings.
Unfortunately, the inevitable happened. Mrs Pryor died within a couple of months and although Frank got back with his wife, he had a major bust-up with his father and for a while it looked like Frank may actually insist on having the house sold and his father flung out on the streets.
Fortunately, Frank saw sense in the end. I would like to think it was because he did not wish to see his father homeless but I think it was probably more to do with the fact that he could not afford the legal costs of an expensive, drawn out legal battle. He agreed therefore to a variation of his mother’s Will granting his father a life interest in mum’s half of the property.
This is where I came in. Mr Pryor had incurred large legal costs in trying to rectify the position caused by the badly prepared Will. I wrote to the negligent solicitors, seeking compensation for Mr Pryor’s losses arising from their negligence. At first they denied that they had been negligent, said that Mrs Pryor understood the consequences of leaving her half of the property to her son and that she thought her son would always want to live in the property. Unfortunately for them, their attendance notes did not back up this line of argument so they swiftly settled the claim and agreed to pay compensation.
I don’t know whether relations between Mr Pryor and Frank have improved. Now that there is no longer any friction over the house, I would like to think they have. What I do know though is that for brief but worry time, Mrs Pryor’s fears looked like they might come true; at least we were able to prevent that.
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