Deceased man buried contrary to his wishes

Rebecca Stapleton  06-11-2023

A man who passed away in December 2017 was buried, contrary to his wishes, after a probate solicitor failed to release his will to his family in a timely manner. Mr K's will included his funeral wishes, but the solicitor who held his will, Ms Susan Lebreton-Towell, took three months to respond to the family's request for a copy, which was only released when another firm of solicitors was instructed by Mr K's children. By the time the will was released by Ms Lebreton-Towell, Mr K had been buried. 

In the same case, Ms Lebreton-Towell charged Mr K's estate £200 per hour for 12 hours she said she spent clearing his house and then a further 8 hours for attending an auction. 

Ms Lebreton-Towell was a qualified solicitor, and she was working in her son’s non-regulated law firm, LT Law, at the time of these events. 

The body responsible for regulating all law firms in England and Wales, is the Solicitors' Regulation Authority, also known as the SRA. All law firms should be regulated by the SRA and any law firm with a website is required to carry a clickable icon which enables clients to verify that a law firm is properly regulated. 

During a two year period whilst Ms Lebreton-Towell was carrying out probate work for LT Law, the SRA received  an astounding 22 complaints about her. As well as the complaints raised by Mr K's family, she was accused of charging “significant sums of money for legal work” despite not working in an “authorised environment” and failing to communicate with co-executors and clients in a timely manner.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal commented that Ms Lebreton-Towell had failed to act in the best interests of her client, with integrity, or in a manner that upholds trust in the profession.

Ms Lebreton-Towell admitted to the SRA that she had conducted "reserved legal activity" at legal rates when  she was unauthorised. She also accepted that “with the benefit of hindsight” she had breached the solicitors' conduct rules.

Ultimately, Ms Lebreton-Towell has been suspended from practicing as a solicitor for three months and has agreed to pay £16,000 in costs. However, the distress that she has caused to families at their most vulnerable time, is immeasurable.  

This unfortunate case highlights the importance of instructing properly regulated professionals to carry out probate work. It should be possible for you to check that the law firm you are instructing is regulated by the SRA.

Since 2014, some firms of accountants have also started carrying out probate work. However, many of these will simply not have the necessary expertise to do so. This means that if anything goes wrong, you would not be able raise a complaint about the accountant to the SRA. 

It is therefore always best to instruct the correct professional for the job you require. After all, you wouldn't go to a vet if you had broken your leg! A properly qualified and regulated solicitor is the right professional to carry out probate work for you and your loved ones. 

Here at Samuels Solicitors LLP, we are regulated by the SRA to carry out all legal services including probate work. If you need help from an expert to deal with probate, or if you want to discuss your will, a trust, tax planning or estate administration, please get in touch with one of our trusted professional lawyers.

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