Estate administrator ordered to repay improperly spent legal charges

Estate administrator to Cynthia Maria Lyons has been ordered to reimburse over £87,000 of costs lost to a licensed conveyancing firm used in defending from a claim against other potential beneficiaries of the estate.

Dying intestate in 2011, Ms Lyons left property in both Jamaica and England. Applications for the grant of letters of administration were submitted in competition; one being from the claimant’s supposed niece, Audrene Kerr-Robinson. She subsequently obtained a grant in February 2012, despite initial input of caveats on the Principal Probate Registry. Realising a mistake has been made in regards to professional accountant Kerr-Robinson, correspondence was swiftly made in relation to the error, only to be met with no reply.

The competing, unsuccessful applications made by Jonathan Kerr and George Lyons challenged the accountant’s right to take possession of the estate, claiming they were both close relatives. They contested Kerr-Robinson’s application and asset appropriation, stating she was not a close relative and therefore revocation of her initial grant. In order to prevent the dissipation of the estate in the meantime of obtaining a grant themselves, they sought an interim administrator.

Although defending this initial action, on grounds of error, Kerr-Robinson’s grant was revoked. She was also ordered to deliver estate assets to the appointed interim administrator as well as incurred costs of £20,000 by the judge.

She then unsuccessfully instructed Blueprint Property Lawyers to appeal on her behalf. The firm was not however, licensed to conduct probate or litigations tasks, though in dealings with Kerr-Robinson, had appeared to have engaged in ‘both of these things’ according to Master Matthews, sitting in the Chancery Division. Legal costs sourced from the estate of £86,765 were ultimately lost as the firm subsequently suffered insolvency in 2014. Claiming that Kerr-Robinson had been in breach of her undertaking not to dispose of estate assets in using them to pay legal bills, George Lyons and Jonathan Kerr brought action for her to repay the estate’s £80,000 from her own resources.

Rejecting Kerr-Robinson’s defence that she had acted honestly and reasonably with no fiduciary duty breach, the judge agreed, ordering payment to the estate’s administrator of £86,765, plus interest.

“Her failure to take any sufficient steps to ensure that the monies she believed still to be in the client account were safeguarded and transferred to the administrator, would mean that she was in breach of the order […] to deliver the property or assets of the estate to the interim administrator and not dispose of or deal with the estate assets in the meantime. [She] was required to keep the monies covered by the undertaking and order safe until transferred to the administrator, and to transfer them once she or he was appointed. She must therefore now account to the administrator for them.”

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