Legacies of trouble: The way a will is executed can lead to difficulties for the loved ones who are left behind. Maria Scott reports

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The Independent Online
MAKING a will does not necessarily mean that our nearest and dearest are spared arguments and traumas over the worldly goods left behind.

For Sheila George, the eight months since her partner, James Connor, died have not been trouble-free.

The couple sailed to Spain last year intending to settle there. Then Mr Connor passed away. His will left his estate in trust to Mrs George, who is to have an income from the trust. The trustee, Barclays Bank, also has the discretion to pay her capital. Any trust money remaining on her death must go to the RSPCA.

The estate consisted of: a bungalow in Dorset, mortgage- free and rented out at pounds 350 a month; a motorcycle; a 10-year old Triumph Spitfire car; the 25ft boat the couple sailed to Spain; and about pounds 20,000 invested in the Leeds Permanent Building Society, and earning pounds 166 a month. There was also a Barclays Bank account containing a little over pounds 4,000, and a lump-sum payment of pounds 6,500 from a pension fund.

Mrs George was surprised that until the week before last she had received only pounds 700 of income. She received a further pounds 1,447 last week. This is only a little more than the pounds 1,900 the bank has taken out of the estate so far in fees.

Furthermore, the bank has suggested the boat be sold, because the cost of upkeep would place a burden on Mrs George. But she is living on it at present and believes that Mr Connor would have wanted her to have it. The bank's reply was that she should buy it from the trust.

Mrs George is confused about the apparent need for Barclays to consult with the RSPCA over how to deal with the assets and is also wondering why the bank took the money in the Leeds Permanent and deposited it in a Barclays account offering a lower rate of interest.

A spokeswoman for Barclays defended its handling of the estate, although she was not able to go into all the details of the matter, she said, without Mrs George's written permission.

She said the trustees had a legal duty to keep all beneficiaries of an estate such as this informed about its handling of the assets. She confirmed the bank had taken money out of the Leeds account, but said the rate was only slightly lower at Barclays. The bank needed easy access to the money while the administration of the estate was being organised. The bank could return it to the building society when the administration was completed.

She said no decision had yet been made about the future of the boat, but said the bank foresaw no difficulties in allowing Mrs George to keep it.

On the subject of charges, the Barclays spokeswoman said the fees were in accordance with the bank's scale for this type of work and had been discussed fully with Mr Connor.

The bank said Mrs George should get in touch with the trustees if she wanted more details about her eventual income from the trust.

Brian Walsh, of Hempsons, the RSPCA's solicitors, was unwilling to comment on Mr Connor's will, although he said that the society had made no demands of Barclays over the handling of the assets.

Bryan King, of the Chester solicitors Wayman-Hales, a Law Society council member and past chairman of the society's wills committee, agreed there was nothing untoward about a trustee keeping a beneficiary such as the RSPCA informed. 'The trustee has an overall duty to safeguard assets.

'I would think that this is a case of the bank looking over its shoulder and wanting to be sure that any decision is not going to be the subject of criticism eventually. A bank might be inclined to look over its shoulder more frequently than you or I'

Another solicitor was much more forthright in his views about banks as trustees: 'I don't like them administering estates. They have a book of rules to follow. In my opinion they often lack vision and flair in dealing with personal problems regarding estates.'

Mr King said that in his experience, solicitors were sometimes placed in a difficult position by a bank with whom they had a working relationship. They were often invited to make a will for a client, but it was made clear to them that the bank should be appointed as executor. There might be circumstances where it seemed inappropriate for the bank to be the executor.

However, there were times when the bank was the ideal trustee. 'It's horses for courses,' Mr King said.

Colin Patrick, the senior partner of Lester Aldridge, which drew up Mr Connor's will, was unable to comment about how the firm got its instructions. But he said it was not unusual for an institution wanting to have a will drawn up to consult a solicitor. The firm would then check with the individual to make sure the will matched his or her wishes.

The position of a trustee administering an estate such as Mr Connor's, where there were two masters, can be problematic.

Mr King said: 'I think a testator must think very hard before placing restrictions upon a surviving partner, bearing in mind that the survivor may live a good many years and find it difficult to live on what proves to be a dwindling income.'

(Photograph omitted)

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