Family executors beware

You may have read articles about fraudsters who manage to insert their own bank details into perfectly legitimate requests for bank transfers over the internet. You may have also read our articles about the liabilities that Executors face when carrying out Estate Administration. Furthermore, we have highlighted the little known problem that executors face because they must pay any Inheritance Tax that is due before HMRC will give a clearance certificate which allows a grant of probate to be obtained and estate assets to be gathered in.

An Essex couple has lost £120,000 after sending, by bank transfer, the money to an account that they believed belonged to their Solicitors. This sum represented the Inheritance Tax that was due on the husband’s grandmother’s estate. Unfortunately, the email that seemed to contain the Solicitor’s bank details was actually sent by a fraudster who had inserted their bank details onto the email.

The couple instructed their bank to send the funds to the Solicitor and included the bank sort code and account number. The bank paid the funds even though the account name of the payee did not match the name of the firm of Solicitors. The bank is saying that they carried out the instruction as advised.

What is even more galling for the executors is that after the funds were transferred (to the fraudulent account) the fraudster sent the Executors a receipt by email which seemed as though it had been sent from the Solicitors. So the Executors thought they had a legitimate receipt for the funds.

The matter only came to light a few days later when the Executor telephoned the Solicitors and asked for a written (as opposed to email) receipt. It then became apparent that the account to which the funds had been paid was not the Solicitor’s account. Urgent checks were made regarding the account to which the funds had been sent but the funds had been withdrawn and the fraudster had disappeared.

There are two banks involved and a Solicitor, but nobody wants to accept any liability. Executors are personally liable for any losses to the estate and so this couple have had to borrow £120,000 to replace the £120,000 that had been lost to a fraudster.

Never trust an email containing bank details. Always telephone the person you want to pay and check bank account details directly with them before you send any money.

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