Solicitor took 15 years to finish distributing estate

Probate: Solicitor said it was not his “finest hour”

A veteran solicitor who failed to complete several probate matters promptly – with one taking 15 years – has been fined by a tribunal.

Robin Edward Stubbings told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that it had been a case of “out of sight out of mind”.

Mr Stubbings, born in 1948, was admitted as a solicitor in 1975. Until 2009 he was in partnership and thereafter practised on his own account as CC Bell & Son in Bedford.

The SRA identified at least five probate matters that the solicitor did not deal with promptly – in the most egregious, probate was obtained in May 2000, with £159,000 distributed to the four residuary beneficiaries four months later.

But in July 2001, a further £36,000 was received, which Mr Stubbings did not attempt to distribute until 2014 and even then he did not succeed in doing so for a further two years. Two of the beneficiaries had died by then and the money was distributed in accordance with their wills.

Asked to account for the delay, Mr Stubbings told the SRA: “When you’re dealing with a load of other stuff as well, you’re not being chased for anything [it] just lapses into the background I suppose.”

As well as admitting that he failed to progress probates and return client monies promptly, Mr Stubbings admitted failing to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman in relation to complaints by a probate client and a conveyancing client, and also with the SRA’s investigation.

In mitigation, Mr Stubbings told the tribunal that this was not his “finest hour” – the cases represented “a very small number of the hundreds of cases that he dealt with each year and the thousands he had handled in his career of over 40 years”.

The SDT recorded: “[He] told the tribunal that he was fully conscious that his standard fell below what would be expected. He had not acted expeditiously enough and could have done more. Some of the cases were difficult in that he did not know where to distribute the funds.

“[Mr Stubbings] told the tribunal that he was looking to retire and was in discussion with another firm with matters a view to a merger. He hoped this could be achieved over the coming year. He did not particularly enjoy being a sole practitioner.”

In the meantime, he was keeping a closer eye on which funds were being held and why.

The SDT found that the harm caused had been significant. “In some instances beneficiaries had died before receiving the funds due to them. In other cases property sales were delayed and [Mr Stubbings] had to be chased by clients to progress matters.

“At the heart of it was a delay in meeting the wishes of the deceased and this was a very serious matter which considerably undermined the reputation of the profession.”

However, the SDT said that, in light of the solicitor’s “admissions and the level of insight shown”, a fine of £15,000 was sufficient. He was ordered to pay a similar sum in costs.

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