It is reported today in Scotland on Sunday that Lady Caroline Minto, who is currently writing her memoirs as the Dowager Countess and former wife of the late 6th Earl of Minto, is to fight a court case against the late earl's executors – his son, the present 7th Earl, better known as businessman Timothy Melgund, and Edinburgh solicitor Douglas Connell.
The late Earl's estate has allegedly fallen on bad times, and Executor Douglas Connell, senior partner in the well known Edinburgh legal firm of Turcan Connell, claims there is no money left to pay the inheritance to Lady Minto, as the story goes.
Readers may well recall an earlier tale where Messrs Turcan Connell were embroiled in a story relating to a legal bill from Turcan Connell wiping out the net assets of an estate .. so no stranger to controversy then, and unsurprisingly, the Law Society of Scotland whitewashed rejected the complaint.
Why do people bother appointing lawyers as Executors to their estates when more often than not it causes these same problems ?
Some free advice for non-lawyer readers - never appoint a solicitor or legal agent as the executor of your will !
Scotland on Sunday reports :
By Martin Hannan
ONE of Scotland's leading aristocratic families has been split by a bitter feud over the non-payment of a six-figure legacy to the Dowager Countess and former wife of the late 6th Earl of Minto.
The row threatens to explode as the Dowager Countess, Lady Caroline Minto, is currently writing "tell-all" memoirs in a bid to raise cash to fund a court case against the late earl's executors – his son, the present 7th Earl, better known as businessman Timothy Melgund, and Edinburgh solicitor Douglas Connell.
Melgund and Connell say they cannot honour the legacy as there is no money left from her former husband's estate to pay her. Under Scots law, executors do not have to make payments to beneficiaries if the deceased's estate cannot afford it.
Lady Minto says she will ask the courts to rule that more £200,000 worth of assets transferred by her husband to the family's Minto Trust should be returned to his estate in order to pay the legacy.
The row over the will has revealed deep divisions within the House of Minto. Melgund, the chief executive of Paperchase, has accused his stepmother of deserting his father when he became ill some years before his death in September, 2005, an accusation she denies.
Lady Minto, the former nurse and model Caroline Larlham, married the 6th Earl, Gilbert Edward George Lariston Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, in 1991 when he was 63 and she was 39. The Old Etonian and former Scots Guards officer Gibbie Elliot, as he was known to his friends, was convener of Borders Regional Council from 1990 until 1996.
Lady Minto's memoirs are expected to tell an extraordinary story of how she rose from being adopted at birth to becoming a Countess. It was love at first sight when she met the widowed earl at an art exhibition – he dropped his spectacles, and she picked them up. They were married within months.
But Lord and Lady Minto divorced in 2004 after 14 years together, during which time Earl's condition deteriorated to the point where he needed permanent oxygen treatment.
Lady Minto, who now lives in a small flat in Italy, says her husband's health and wealth were ruined by the long battle over the family seat near Hawick.
Her book will also detail her acrimonious estrangement from some of the Minto family.
"None of them even phoned me to tell me he was dead," she said. "A butcher in Hawick phoned to offer his condolences, and I didn't even know he was dead."
The Dowager Countess was left £100,000 in the will but she has been paid only £10,000 after her solicitors tackled the executors. Lady Minto has now been told that the late Earl's estate was valued at £151,000 but that after deducting expenses, taxes and £40,000 legal fees, there is nothing left to pay the £90,000 balance of the legacy.
Lady Minto, 55, says that in 2001, her late husband signed over personal holdings worth £300,000 to the Minto Trust, in which the Elliot family's assets were invested. The trustees include Melgund and Connell.
She claims that after deductions for his care and £1,000 per month living expenses payments, the trust still has more than £200,000-worth of the late Earl's wealth which she says should go back into his personal estate.
"I believe the executors have at least a moral duty to recover and sell some of my late husband's assets and pay my legacy," said Lady Minto.
She claims those assets included two paintings attributed to French Old Master Jean-Antoine Watteau – another of his works is up for auction at Christie's in London next month for a minimum of £3m.
No paintings by Watteau are listed in the inventory of the estate, which does include numerous valuable artworks and Georgian silverware.
A spokeswoman for Douglas Connell and Turcan Connell said: "Client confidentiality is at the heart of the Turcan Connell ethos and as a total rule we never make comment on any aspect of client business.
"If Lady Minto wishes to take the matter further then she should instruct her lawyers to contact us."
Timothy Melgund, who lives in Wiltshire, said: "My ex-stepmother deserted my father when he became bedridden and ill. He was then supported by the local authority until I managed to have him moved into a home where he became very happy again and unfortunately died in 2005.
"I hadn't seen my ex-stepmother for many years before that and this sort of interference that she is now coming up with is not particularly pleasant.
"The perception that my family is a rich family is just a nonsense, I'm afraid. My father left a legacy in his will but he just did not have that amount of money."
Asked about his feelings about the Dowager Countess, Melgund said: "This is a rather sad tale of a man who was married to a lady for a pretty short period of his life and when he became frail to the point where he couldn't support himself, she deserted him."
He firmly denied there were paintings such as the two alleged Watteaus held by the trust.
"The idea that these Watteaus were worth £3m or indeed that they were Watteaus is just fantasy," said Melgund.
"They had Watteau written on the frame. But they weren't. If they had been genuine Watteaus they would have been sold many, many years ago."
Friends of Lady Minto say they are shocked at the accusation of desertion. "She was definitely with Gibbie when I visited them several times in 2002-2003," said Frances Anderson, "even though Gibbie was in very poor health. Caroline was devoted to Gibbie."
Jane Martin, Lord Minto's carer in his final months before entering a nursing home, added: "Lord and Lady Minto were devoted to each other."
and just for comparison here is an earlier story, from the Herald newspaper where Messrs Turcan Connell were caught in an earlier scandal involving a 'ruined' estate ...
IAIN MORSE and SIMON BAIN January 02 2007
A leading Edinburgh law firm which charged fees of more than £16,000 to administer an estate with net assets of under £14,000 has had a complaint against it to the Law Society of Scotland rejected.
The complaint was made by widow Dr Kate Forrest, a lecturer in Russian in Edinburgh, against Turcan Connell, the multi-disciplinary firm which prides itself on its “family office”.
Forrest complained that the firm had told her only that it would charge £200 an hour, had entered into unnecessary work, and had failed to give her estimates, or issue itemised bills, despite repeated requests. She claims the firm then gave an undertaking to halt the charges, in a meeting with witnesses at the firm’s office, but this did not materialise.
When the Law Society examined the complaint, it ruled that the meeting could not be taken into account as the firm had no record of it, and it accepted an explanation by managing partner Douglas Connell that the complaint had been based entirely on a “misunderstanding”.
The £16,000 in charges had the effect of more than wiping out any assets in the estate, which had gross assets of £69,574 but debts of £55,731.
The Law Society reported that the firm had “apologised for the oversight” in billing, and that “simple oversight … should not be defined as inadequate professional service”.
In November, Jane Irvine, the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, issued a rare public rebuke to the Law Society over its handling of complaints, urging it to “recognise that the consumer age has dawned”.
The Scottish Executive is poised to scrap self-regulation by the profession, policed by the ombudsman, and introduce a Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which the society is fiercely resisting.
The number of complaints received by the Law Society of Scotland has shot up from 2402 during 2002 to 4849 last year. The 12-page annual report of the society’s Client Relations Office records 1057 cases in which no action was taken at all last year, while in 108 cases a solicitor’s conduct was found unsatisfactory.
The current procedure starts with a reference to the law firm against which the complaint is made, and internal procedures to be followed by firms are laid down by the society. Only after these are exhausted can complainants proceed to the Law Society itself. And then, perhaps surprisingly, complainants can be charged by the law firm for their work in submitting the relevant evidence to the society.
The evidence regarded as acceptable by the society may be limited only to the files presented by the law firm, though it can order the production of “missing”documents - such as the record of a meeting. If a complaint is rejected by the society, the complainants have recourse to the courts. But this means finding a law firm prepared to act against another firm - which as The Herald has reported can be difficult in Edinburgh - at a minimum cost of several thousand pounds, a considerable disincentive to taking legal action.
Kate Forrest says she is left with no choice but to go to court if she wishes to challenge an outstanding fee in excess of £8000. She says: “For me this would be expensive and risky. I am not rich and they know this very well.”
The Law Society of Scotland said: “A complaint about a fee could be service or conduct as it could result from a breach of a rule if there was no letter of engagement, or IPS (inadequate professional service) if there was insufficient communication about a fee with a client.
“If a client feels a fee is too much then it can be referred to the Auditor of Court who can decide what a reasonable fee might be. Firms may also charge for providing a bill which itemises each letter, phone call, etc, especially if it is for a large volume of work.
“If someone takes a court action against a solicitor then the society is not involved in that process.”
Turcan Connell said: “We care deeply about ensuring that we give every client the best possible service. Our trust and tax experts are among the most proficient in Scotland, and we always strive to protect our clients’ interests and minimise their costs as far as possible.
“Dr Forrest is no longer a client. We resolutely protect the privacy of all current and former clients, and would not make any public comment on an individual’s personal circumstances or relationship with us.”