An extra pair of skilled hands for the probate practitioner – house clearance with a difference
There is not enough time in a busy Probate Practitioner’s day to visit all the far flung properties that occasionally crop up in your more reclusive clients’ estates.
I offer a locum service to legal practices where I can usually visit a property anywhere within a 4 hour drive of Newbury within 7 to 10 days of receiving instructions. Once there, I can liaise with local estate agents and auctioneers to identify and value the assets and arrange for locksmiths to secure the property. I can also search for and retrieve all the necessary documents to enable you to identify the assets and ensure that valuable chattels are safely deposited with the appropriate offices.
Who am I?
I recently retired after 26 years as a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives and a Trust and Estate Practitioner specialising in Probate, working in large firms in Winchester and Salisbury. For the last 12 years, many of my clients were major Charities who were sole beneficiaries and executors of substantial estates. Often, the deceased had no living relatives and I really enjoyed putting on my detective hat!
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Visiting a property in which someone has died is always a difficult task. Over the years, many of the trainee solicitors who have accompanied me have worried about it. You have to convince yourself that you are not intruding into someone’s personal space because that person has now died and they would like to think that you are there to find all their valuables to maximise the return for their chosen beneficiaries. They would also like to think that you will do it with respect and dignity.
Sadly, people who leave everything to charity rarely have many friends and are often estranged from what little family they may have had. This means there is no one to help you. Quite often their homes are not clean and tidy and sometimes they are a health hazard. I try to find out before I go what I am likely to have to deal with and at the very least I will be wearing my disposable latex gloves. I also take a decorator’s all in one suit, welly boots, a large packet of wet wipes, plenty of black bin bags to pick up all the post on the doorstep, my own flask of coffee and a bottle of water for obvious reasons!
How do I go about the task?
Having obtained the keys from the instructing solicitor along with a letter of authority ‘to whom it may concern’ (you never know when a vigilant neighbour may challenge you) I set off to the property and obtain entry. The instructing solicitor will have made appointments for estate agents and auctioneers/house clearers to meet me at the property at specific times and I will be able to ensure the property and chattels are secure while they look around preparing their valuations. It is often necessary to have three estate agent valuations and you cannot help noticing their different styles and approach to the job. I have even had neighbours who knowing that the property is empty, will knock on the door and ask if they can put an offer in. Needless to say, I refer them to the instructing solicitor and patiently listen to their local knowledge which may be of interest to the executors.
I recently attended a bungalow in the depths of East Anglia with hundreds of ornaments on every conceivable piece of furniture. The expertise I had recently picked up from watching ‘Cash in the Attic’ and ‘Flog it’ (that’s what retired people do!) told me they were all too modern with no or very low value. However, they were clearly much loved and cherished by the former lady of the house. Another humble flat I visited in Greater London contained handmade large scale models of a submarine, a diesel train and a warship. My strangest finds to date include a collection of 22 Meissen porcelain monkeys, an air rifle and a pair of handguns! Garages, lofts and sheds often hold surprises and a photographic record of the property when I first gain entry is particularly useful.
I usually take an assistant with me as it is best practise to work in pairs on a house visit. IPads are a boon as you can take plenty of photographs and email them back to the instructing solicitor as soon as you can find a wifi signal. If the drive is more than 3 hours we usually stay overnight in a Travelodge which allows a second visit the next morning to finish the job. Even with the cost of the travel and hotel, my fee is usually less than instructing another Solicitor to act as an agent.
I also have years of experience of probate properties and in finding the documents you will need to identify the investments. Please contact me if you need my assistance.
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