Help With Deceased Estates
In October 2020 we renewed our focus on assisting local authorities with recovery of debts owed by deceased estates. A year later we have had many successes in recovery of unpaid adult social care costs and council tax debts from estates.
Here, we share some of the stories.
The council wanted to bring an abandoned and derelict property back into use and recover of a council tax debt of £30,000 which had also accrued. The property had been abandoned in the lifetime of its owners and having fallen into a serious state of disrepair became a target for squatters. Liability orders for unpaid council tax had been obtained against the joint owners of the property both in their lifetime and after their death.
Their daughter was traced but it was apparent that she was unwilling to assist or co-operate with the council. Fortunately, we were able to trace the personal representative of the last surviving owner who had administered the estate several years beforehand and established contact. It became apparent that the personal representative had administered the estate several years previously and had been unaware of the existence of the abandoned property.
The deceased owners of the property had moved to another part of the country leaving it empty for reasons that remain unknown. The personal representative who engaged in resolving the matter in full arranged an immediate valuation of the property. Shortly thereafter it was sold at auction achieving a transfer of the property to new owners and payment of the council tax debt in full.
This is an example of an exemplary personal representative who acted in accordance her statutory duty to administer an estate according to law. We appreciate that the families of deceased debtors are not always as willing to assist with payment of estate debts.
No Response To Contact
We have had success in matters where a personal representative has been appointed to administer the estate but correspondence addressed to them seeking recovery of estate debts has been unanswered. In one particular case we established contact with solicitors who had been instructed by the personal representative to administer the estate but had failed to reply to any of the letters that the council had sent. We contacted the personal representative’s solicitors and it transpired that the estate was insolvent. This led to an acceptable offer of settlement being made following several months of the probate solicitor’s failure to respond to the council.
In another matter, the personal representative of the debtor estate had failed to inform the council that solicitors had been instructed. A letter demanding payment of the debt was sent to the personal representative in question who replied acknowledging the existence of the debt providing details of her solicitors. This ultimately resulted in recovery of £98,000 in outstanding adult social care costs that were owed by the estate.
Disputed Adult Social Care
There are instances where the debt owed by the deceased estate is disputed, particularly prevalent in estate debts for unpaid adult social care charges. The deceased debtor’s house had been marketed for sale and communications with the personal representative had stalled. There were concerns that the personal representative would distribute the proceeds of sale without first satisfying the debt because of the dispute.
The PR failed to respond to a letter before action and county court proceedings were commenced against him on the council’s behalf. The PR failed to file a defence on behalf of the estate. As no defence was presented an application for judgment was made. Despite his earlier dispute the personal representative then promptly agreed to pay the care costs in full, together with the council’s legal costs. As the property had already been sold payment was made quickly, achieving a full recovery for the council.
Deprivation Of Assets
The more complicated of the cases we have seen involve instances of family members depriving assets of their relatives in care particularly where the capacity of the care recipient is questionable. These cases include circumstances where there has been a deprivation of assets prior to the deceased’s death, such as the transfer of property belonging to the deceased and where there has been a distribution of the sale proceeds following death of the deceased without first satisfying the debt. Our involvement in several of these cases is continuing and we are hopeful that we will be able to provide a full case update in this regard soon.
PR Appointed By Council
The lack of a personal representative can sometimes appear to create a difficulty in recovery of debts from a deceased estate. However the provisions of the civil procedure rules permit the appointment of a PR to represent a debtor estate in civil proceedings. The person appointed to represent the estate in the intended claim does not necessarily need to be a member of the deceased’s family.
We work with a specialist probate solicitor from an independent firm who will accept a nomination as a “litigation” personal representative. We have applied successfully for his appointment on multiple matters, of which several are ongoing. In one concluded case we have achieved a successful recovery of unpaid adult social care charges by way of a third-party debt order in circumstances where the deceased debtor had no known surviving relatives and no grant of representation had been extracted.
No two cases are the same.
We understand that recoveries from deceased estates can raise difficult issues and appear at first sight to be difficult.
Let our team have a look at any problem cases on your desk. We’re confident we can come up with a solution and move the case forward.
Contact Richard Kerr (Richard.Kerr@greenhalghkerr.com) or Nicky Kinnear (Nicky.Kinnear@greenhalghkerr.com) for further assistance.