Monday, 29 September 2014

My bereavement experience – exploitation and bureaucracy!




I was recently bereaved. My dad died at the beginning of September, and as if that wasn’t traumatic enough, I then had to deal with all of the paperwork that death entails in our modern society. I’m blogging about it to let off steam primarily, but also, if it helps someone, then even better. Prepare to be shocked. 
 
The death certificate
When someone dies in hospital, you have to give them time to prepare the death certificate before you can even call the funeral directors. In our case it took 6 days, as it was straightforward. We had to return to the hospital, to the very ward my dad died in to collect it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we got home to find a message waiting for us – could we return to the hospital with the certificate, as the doctor had left something off! We were admitted back to the ward by the sister in charge, and even she was shocked at this.

Registering the death
You find this office in a god-forsaken corner of the Civic Centre, and you would think you were walking into a derelict building, the surroundings are in such disrepair. The staff on the front desk were, let’s say, not people persons. The registrar herself was fine though, so we’ll say no more. The much-advertised “one stop shop” where you can tell all the government departments  such as pensions and DVLA about a death, weren’t available. In fact, the registrar said they “hadn’t worked for weeks.”
What I later discovered in the pack of leaflets and documents we were given as we left, hugely infuriated me, but more about that in the probate section.



The Funeral
The funeral directors were excellent; caring, compassionate and helpful. There was, however, one pressing problem. Due to “austerity,” Sunderland Council no longer has an adequate supply of workers for digging graves, so if we opted for a burial, then the wait could be up to 3 weeks. Health and safety rules, limited personnel, or simple incompetence meant that the number of graves dug per day was hopelessly inadequate. Looking at Sunderland Council’s list of charges, from £700 to £2000 for grave digging, which are eye watering, one wonders why they can’t afford to employ adequate numbers of persons. The funeral director, a family friend, begged me to spread the word about the stress this puts families under.

Probate
This is perhaps the worst experience of all – having to defend my mother against exploitation by greedy companies. We went to the bank, and they straight away dialled up their “bereavement services division.” I asked who they were, and were told they were a Bank “associate.” I asked twice if they were a separate company, and was fobbed off twice with the answer, “No, they’re an associate.” At no time was it stated that they were in not part of the Bank at all. And here’s the sneaky bit. The bank advisor said, “Can I update your telephone number,” and he typed it into his computer, which was connected to the bereavement services. He was in fact giving our phone number to the separate company, which was absolutely not our choice, and did not have our permission. In fact, at no time did we give permission for a separate company to have all our bank details!
There and then, on the phone, they tried to make an appointment with my mother for “free bereavement counselling.” She later described the phone conversation as “oppressive” and “a hard sell.” She told them she absolutely wasn’t interested.
Later, at home they tried to ring my mother again to sell her their services, but by this time, I’d done some research on them, as I wasn’t happy with how my mother had been treated. She told them where to go.

How it works:-
From Bank leaflet:- “How we can help you at this difficult time.”
If there’s anything you’re not sure about  or need more help with, we’ll be there for you through our Barclays Service Centre, you’ll be able to speak directly to our specialist team who can help. We can also direct you to our bereavement partners, Simplify**, who can talk to you about probate.

The ** directs us to a piece of small print below which says, “Simplify, the UK’s largest probate provider, works in partnership with Barclays to provide bereavement services.”

Who are they exactly?

You may well ask.

Simplify is one of a group of companies, such as SIMPLIFY CHANNEL LTD, Company registration 08249813, INDEPENDENT TRUST CORPORATION LIMITED, Chorus Law Ltd, Chorus Law Group Ltd, Simplify Giving Ltd, Washbrook Capital Ltd, Broadwell Investments Ltd, Hinkley and Hunt Company Ltd, ITC Financial Ltd, Funeral Assist Ltd, ITC Property Ltd and ITC Legal Services Ltd who are all under the directorship of a single individual, (with various, changing partners) Grant Ian McKerron.

http://companycheck.co.uk/director/901047449

In fact, the leaflet the Sunderland registrar gave me, included in their pack when you get the death certificate, is ITC; one of the names this company goes by.

Probate is an unregulated and very lucrative industry, and there are a number of legal pitfalls to beware of, for example, giving power over an estate to a company which employs a firm of lawyers – therefore the company is the customer, not you, and since you aren’t the one employing the lawyer, you have no right of complaint about law services.
They can charge very high fees – a percentage of the estate, (e.g. 5%, which for an average house of £150,000 is going to be £7500+)  and may take an extremely long time.
I’ve quoted what people say exactly, so sue them if you have a problem with their words, not me.

This from the Thisismoney website:-

Money Mail and consumer group Which? have separately investigated the often-murky world of will-writing and probate services - the legal process of handling the affairs of the deceased. We found shocking evidence of:
  • High Street banks charging almost twice as much as solicitors for probate services;
  • Grieving relatives subjected to 'hard-sell' tactics;
  • Banks automatically appointing themselves as executors of wills;
  • Unregulated firms left free to give poor advice; and
  • Bereaved families prevented from shopping around for better deals. executing or administering the estates of the deceased is a lucrative business for banks, solicitors and specialist probate and will-writing firms, with estimates saying it is worth more than half a billion pounds a year.
Consumer group Which? sent eight undercover researchers to make 42 visits or calls to solicitors, specialist will-writers and banks around the UK posing as divorcees wanting to write a will.
They found that banks will charge on average £10,830 for executing a typical £270,000 estate - around double the £ 4,759 charged by will- writers and £5,199 by solicitors.
Barclays is the most expensive of the High St reet giants, with an average charge of £13,395.  A common ploy is to lure customers in with cheap wills costing as little as £75. 

And the following story:-
Farmer John Berryman and his wife, Judy, couldn't believe it when Barclays tried to charge more than £25,000 for probate services after his aunt, Valerie Sage, died last December.
   Miss Sage had used Barclays Wealth to write her will, and the bank appointed itself executor, placing it in line for a lucrative payout.
   Her estate was worth approximately £650,000, including a property, money in bank accounts and investments.
   The Berrymans are convinced she wouldn't have signed up if she had understood the charges. They learned of the arrangement when a bank representative called to arrange a meeting.
   Mr Berryman, 56, says: 'The sales woman was very evasive about charges. It was only when we read the brochure that we found they were going to charge 4% of the estate, which would work out at more than £25,200.'
   Mr Berryman, from Surrey, says when he complained the bank immediately halved the price.
   Then he went to probate broker Final Duties, which managed to get a quote for £4,450  -  including its own charge. Barclays renounced its position as executor and the Berrymans saved more than £20,000.
   A Barclays spokesman says: 'While we believe we acted entirely in the customer's best interests in this case, Mr Berryman felt that he and his family had a poor experience, for which we have apologised.   'We worked closely with him in order to address and resolve his concerns fully.'

This from the Guardian:-

Banks and most solicitors nearly always charge by a percentage of the estate's value – irrespective of the work involved.
Many banks charge a flat 4% (plus VAT) of what is left in the will. Barclays has a more complicated scale – its fees are 4.5% of the first £100,000, 3.5% of the next £400,000 and 1.5% of anything over £500,000.
In addition, it charges £400 for every beneficiary and £75 for each asset (or 10% for assets under £750).

http://www.theguardian.com/money/2009/apr/18/probate-writing-a-will

This from the Law Society, 24/09/2009:-
A probate services company which has signed a deal to ­handle Barclays customers was the subject of criticism this week.
ITC Legal Services (ITC), which according to its website has a transparent fixed-fee policy which makes it competitive on price with solicitors, has agreed a third-party arrangement to run Barclays Bank’s deceased case management activities.
As part of the arrangement, ITC has access to all of a deceased person’s Barclays Bank account details, and may refer the bereaved friend or relative to its own, commercially independent probate services division to arrange a home visit. Staff operate from a call centre, where there are four qualified solicitors.
Jeremy Groeger-Wilson, head of the wills and estates team at Kent firm Clarkson Wright & Jakes, questioned ITC’s claims of price competitiveness. He said he was also concerned that vulnerable people may feel under pressure to sign up to the probate service.
A spokeswoman for Barclays Bank said it had come to an official outsourcing arrangement for ITC to become a third-party supplier of deceased case management services on its behalf. ITC, therefore, had access to paperwork and other details relating to the deceased’s bank accounts and other relationships with Barclays Bank. The connection between Barclays Bank and ITC was made clear to customers, she stressed.
ITC chief executive Martin Trees said he was unable to respond to queries put to him by the Gazette, but endorsed the comments from Barclays Bank.
http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/probate-services-company-itc-signs-deal-with-barclays/52458.fullarticle

This from solicitors Fidler and Pepper:-
have had a recent enquiry from a young lady based in London.  Her Mother passed away some 18 months ago, and almost the day after her Mother died ITC visited the young lady regarding the Probate work that would be required.  They got her details from the Bereavement Service that the young lady had used.
From what this young lady has told me, the representative from ITC was apparently so pushy with her, so recently after her Mother had died, that she just signed what was put in front of her to get the representative out of the house.
18 months later the young lady has spent months calling and chasing ITC to find out what is going on.  ITC have apparently appointed themselves as the Administrators in her Mother’s estate.  This gives them equal rights with the young lady to deal with the estate, and therefore they can control how quickly (or in this case slowly), and how expensively (in this case they will not tell the young lady how much they will cost, so let’s suggest it will be VERY expensive) the matter becomes.

She has attempted to complain over:
1.  the delays that have taken place,
2.  the cost,
3.  the fact that she never speaks to the same person when she calls, and
4.  regarding a lump sum from a pension payout that was supposed to be paid direct to the young lady, but ITC interfered and now hold the money in their account but will not release it to her, even though she is in dire financial need.

The young lady has been told for several weeks that someone from a complaints department will call her back.  She had been told there is no one in the complaints department who will speak to her, she must put her complaint in writing and wait for a reply.  There is apparently no time scale to this.
She finally lost it yesterday, called me for some advice, and then called ITC better equipped to complain.  All she really needed to know was the Probate process, and what her rights were.

She emailed this morning to say thank you, and that the pension monies were being posted to her yesterday, by special delivery, and she thanked me for my advice.  I suspect it is not the last I have heard of the young lady, she tells me that once she finally gets a bill for ITC’s services she does not intend to pay a penny of it if she can avoid it.  I do not blame her.

I have spoken to people who are obliged to recommend ITC, such as the Bereavement Service, and some banks, and they are inundated with complaints from their clients who have had problems with ITC.  Some of their clients are going as far as moving banks, so furious are they with being told ITC will look after them in such a sensitive time.  They feel thoroughly let down.
http://fidler.co.uk/blogs/privateclient/category/itc/

This from Moneysavingexpert blogs
Please read this as a heartfelt warning...
Some years ago there was a thread on MSE regarding the terrible work performed by ITC Legal Services of Stratford Upon Avon 
http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/...&highlight=itc

Before the thread was closed, ITC themselves posted an apology to past customers for the poor levels of service that they had provided to them and stated that they have introduced changes in their operation to ensure that new customers will receive a far better level of service. That was in October 2012.

However, since that change, ITC Legal Services have started to use different names and different methods to attract customers but their service still remains poor, with their own satisfaction rate of 86% and many, many very unhappy customers.

The names that ITC Legal Services also now use include:
ITC Probate, Chorus Law, Simplify, Barclay's Bank Deceased Accounts Department, Halifax/HBOS Deceased Accounts Service and they are also financially and managerially linked with the Bereavement Advice Centre.


The methods that they use to catch their customers include suggesting the use of their own companies in leaflets issued by local registrars on the registration of a death, and falsely announcing themselves as Barclay's Bank or HBOS Deceased Accounts Departmentwhen a customer calls the 0800 number issued by the banks in the event of an account holder's death.

The links below give a further insight into ITC's past and current practices:
http://www.reviewcentre.com/reviews248753.html
https://www.facebook.com/groups/104268162937758/

The probate industry is completely unregulated in the UK and ITC make full use of that fact. My message to anyone who is thinking of using ITC or any of it's other companies is - DON'T. You will regret it. Find a local solicitor (who WILL be regulated) and save yourself years of pain and heartache.

I'm sure that as people find this thread there will be numerous stories of their current disgraceful activities within this unregulated probate industry...

****

I too had the unfortunate experience with itc. They were instructed to administer my mums estate after l contacted the Bereavement Advice Centre in Jan 2008. All was finalised in Nov 2009 and during that period of time , itc made the Probate process an absolute nightmare. I wrote a series of long and detailed letters of complaints about the most unacceptable service and treatment l had received. I too was told via letter, by the customer relations manager at the time, that...l quote...
' We regret that we cannot change any of the experiences that you endured throughout this period but can assure you that as a relatively new company we are always reviewing procedures to see where improvements can be made. More stringent productivity and quality checks have been implemented to ensure that we develop and support all administrators to minimise any errors'
And they also write 'We acknowledge that you have suffered a great deal of stress during the administration of the estate and thankyou for your feedback with regards to how your complaint was handled. The customer relations manager has changed since your complaint was raised and the feedback that you have provided will be used to ensure that the Customer Relations Department corresponds with all of our customers in an appropriate manner.'

****

' Regrettably, it is evident that the level of service offered by us has fallen below the standard our customers should expect to receive. We would like to assure you that the issues you have brought to our attention have been raised at Senior Executive level and steps have been taken to improve the service. We would like to thank you for raising your concerns and frustrations with us and hope to reassure you that your feedback will help us in the future so that others do not have a similar experience'
They finish by writing ' and that you are able to move on from this period that has affected you so greatly. We offer our sincere apologies that we did not ease the burden.'
The letter is dated 21st January 2010.
Itc are still failing customers and giving shoddy and unacceptable service. Nothing has changed except the names they trade under. Please be aware of the names on this thread forum as clients are still being driven to despair.
I would also like to point out that itc claim to have over 20 years experience yet this letter written in 2010 states that ITC are a ' relatively new company'
Misleading or what?
 After overvaluing my father's estate by some £50,000 in 2008, ITC Legal Services finally admitted their mistake on the 8th July 2013...it has only taken them 5 YEARS to rectify it and pay me the money that is rightfully mine.
 No interest or compensation though.

I just wanted to say thank you very much to all of you who have taken the time to post on this thread, and my sympathies to all of you who have suffered at the hands of ITC, now known as Chorus Law. It is thanks to all of you bothering to tell your experiences online that I know the truth about them and decided not to employ them to sort out probate on my mum's estate.

My introduction started in much the same way as many others. My mother died in June and as her current acct was with Barclays I went in to register the death and close her account. They told me that they could arrange a home visit from a probate expert who could tell me about how probate works and what I need to do, and a visit was set up for very soon afterwards.

The woman who came was from an outfit called Simplify, and when probed she said "think of us as the Citizens' Advice Bureau of probate", and made out that Simplify was a totally independent service paid for by various banks to give the best possible advice to the relatives of deceased customers. She went on to detail the various steps in the process of applying for probate and winding up an estate - making out that it was immensely complicated, then went on to rubbish the service offered by solicitors, before delivering the sales pitch: by far the best option is to go with a probate specialist, and out of all of them Chorus Law (who I know from reading these threads is the new name for ITC) was streets ahead, the best in the field, etc.

Like many other posters, I was immensely relieved and reassured to think there was such a thing as a probate specialist, and that among them this one came so highly recommended. She said I needed to hand over various documents to her to be able to instruct Chorus Law, and we made an appointment for a few days later so I could hand it over.

I then went online to check out Chorus Law, and boy am I glad I did! I had a narrow escape. I phoned to cancel the appointment with Simplify woman, and have now gone with a local solicitor instead to sort out the probate.


*****

As the rest of the forum states, stay away from Chorus Law (formally ITC) at all costs. I have a probate case running with them at the moment and they have made it incredibility difficult at every turn.
The constant chasing for updates, the lack of accountability they take when you are paying them a large fee for their terrible service you are receiving is a joke.
I have complained on a number of occasions to my Case Manager who just does not care about the service I'm given or their Team Leader who has attempted to fob me off with a pathetic excuse.
When I have complained they seem to lose forms which were completed and submitted months ago. A worrying trend. So new forms have to be completed and sent in which buys them time to waste on not progressing your case.
Remember that Chorus Law is NOT a law firm, do not be fooled by the name. They have to send forms off to their own solicitors to get them checked.
I have been fed misinformation from the first meeting in order to get my business.
It would have been cheaper and more straightforward to engage a local solicitor who have the power to act directly on your probate case.
Do you be taken in by the sales pitch and stay away from these jokers.


*******

Readers of this thread may be interested in the following:

Re: Chorus Law, ITC Legal Services, GPB Solicitors and Mr Daniel Clarke.

Anyone who currently has an active case with either ITC or Chorus Law will probably get some sort of contact from the companies soon regarding an issue with GPB Solicitors. However, Chorus & ITC may well see fit to keep the following info under wraps, so I think it is only right to let you all know the situation.

As ITC & Chorus Law are NOT solicitors and have no ability to conduct legal work, they employ a firm of solicitors by the name of Geoffrey Parker Bourne (GPB). From a customer point of view, there are many problems with this set up, one being that if GPB get something wrong, only THEIR customer (which is Chorus or ITC) have any right to raise a complaint. Chorus Law & ITC work very closely with GPB and, as you might imagine, they are birds of a feather so they stick together.

On 9 October, GPB was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority following their finding that an employee was acting dishonestly. Clearly that could have serious repercussions to any case that GPB have worked on for ITC/Chorus Law and, in turn may have resulted in some discrepancies with current and past cases handled by ITC or Chorus Law. With this in mind, if your case was or is handled by him, I would suggest that you ask ITC/Chorus Law to hand your case to a solicitor of your choice to have the legal work verified.

Here is a link to the SRA closure ruling:
http://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/soli...ck/560888.page

*****
I vehemently wish I had discovered this forum and stayed away from Chorus Law; unfortunately a family death took me by surprise and I trusted Barclay's when they recommended them.
I have had a probate case running with Chorus Law for over a year and they have made it incredibility difficult at every turn, and I have still yet to see any result of their efforts at all.
The number of mistakes they have made is incredible
Constant chasing for updates, which when they do come invariably lack any substantial detail, Lack of accountability is a joke.
They attempted to assume an ongoing malpractice lawsuit on my behalf. - naturally they charged me a fee for rectifying their mistake, and then complained to me that the High Court judge and the defendants had objected to the wording of their Deed of Appointment.
They have made a number of time-wasting errors, including requesting GRO documents which they should have known were absolutely unavailable, calling my New York office at 4:00 am because they didn't know what time it was there, telling their associate company Move-with-us to sell my sister's house from under her.
I have complained on a number of occasions to my Case Manager, who incidentally has changed three times, but whenever I complain they seem to think that fobbing me off with a verbal reassurance is all I need
I got the mistaken impression from Simplify that Chorus was a company of lawyers specializing in probate cases; I now wish I had gone with a local lawyer.
I would dearly love to know how to light a fire under their backside to get some positive action.


*******
From a different angle, I had the pleasure of working for Chorus Law some time ago. I regard myself as an honest, decent and professional person, but let me just say that working for this bunch was the most excrutiatingly painful experience of my life!

This mob are all about sales, sales and sales again. The phone centre will attempt to persuade you to accept an appointment from a Simplify adviser for 'free and impartial advice'. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Probate Advisers are sent to see you for one reason and one reason only, and that is to close the deal on their full administration service.

The Advisers are placed under immense pressure to sell this service whether it is appropriate or not; the only commissions they earn are for selling that service and nothing else. If they fail to sell that service they face negative sanctions.

There are many good reputable probate service companies out there, one of which i now work for, but please believe me, Chorus Law is certainly not one of them.


*******

The problem here is that once a customer signs up with Chorus Law (or ITC legal Services) they hand over the Power of Attorney to the company so they are the executors of the will. Then, after a couple of months when you find out what sort of company they really are, you have to fight to cancel the contract, get the PoA revoked and start all over again yourself.

I would do my own in future, but sometimes the thought of getting involved is legal business is very daunting for people who are bereaved.

http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?t=4673259

This from reviewcentre.com

My mum died back in March 2012 and, in a very distressed state, I contacted the number given in a pack from the funeral service firm. The man who came to see me was very consoling and charming. He 'established' the value of all my mum's stuff, by saying things like 'did she like antiques? she must have had some lovely pieces, I bet they are worth something?' etc etc. He 'offered' a figure of 'around £10- £15,000. I agreed to all this (the furniture subsequently sold for £100.00 total) stupidly not realising what he was up to. Suffice to say he talked the talk and they have now based their figures on what I said back then, despite those figures bearing no resemblance to what finally transpired.

Once I gave them my business, then the cracks appeared. The people I have dealt with have been rude and insensitive; they kept calling my mum 'the deceased' and even called her 'he' and 'him' in conversations. They are now sitting on the money claiming they are waiting for a final bill from the electricity and gas company. I have just sorted all this out myself, and found that they had not contacted the energy company at all with readings until prompted to do so by my solicitor last week. Then they gave incorrect readings and so it goes on - I'm sorry I could write a book about how this company have behaved, but I find it exhausting just thinking about it. Suffice to say, if you are bereaved and need probate, avoid them at all costs. They are terrible.

Plus 60 similar reviews!

*******

So there it is. I hope that my experience, and the experiences of all of these other people are of help to you. Look up reviews in any probate company before you let them make decisions on your behalf!

8 comments:

  1. Hi Meg,
    Thanks for this very well written piece. I hope that it gets read by plenty of people as this is a very serious subject. Sadly, too many people ignore or shy away from the issues that surround a death and that is what helps these companies to survive and prosper.
    I am pleased that you have linked the Money Saving Expert threads and the Facebook group in this blog. I started the MSE threads along with the FB group way bach in 2008, but the above companies are still managing to pull the same old tricks on unsuspecting vulnerable people who get passed to them via the banks.
    Our Facebook group is still growing steadily and regularly uncovers new problems caused by the inefficiency of the untrained staff they employ. The group now carries a link to your blog.
    If you haven't already done so, you are more than welcome to join us. Together we may be a greater challenge to these companies.
    Thanks again,
    Mark

    ReplyDelete
  2. wish i had read all this before i went with Chorus Law,like so many others i trusted them as they were recommended by Barclays or so i thought. now i am waiting for my inheritance. they have had my mums money since March

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  3. the whole experience is making me ill, there must be a law out there to stop this happening time and time again,

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  4. As of Nov 2015 barclays bank is still up to the nasty fraudulent activity of lying to customers by pretending their bereavement service is a help function as opposed to the truth of hard sell probate supplier that they are in cahoots with. I went into stratford upon avon barclays branch to advise of the passing away of my 88yr old mother. I confirmed that I was the executor and that I would be applying for probate myself. I stated that I was here purely to advise death, provide original death certificate and request that the 2 accounts be frozen pending probate being granted in circa 3 months. I explained that I had no need to access any of my mother's funds and that they should remain in situ at barclays until I had the grant of probate. The asset manager supposedly actioned my request and then told me she would now ring this through to the barclays bereavement dept. She did this whilst I was there and I assumed that when she passed me the phone and told me it was barclays bereavement dept, I believed her. The young man on the phone informed me that he was at barclays bereavement dept and asked me to ratify what I had already requested. I did this, he then tried to question me as to what other accounts my mother held at other banks. I asked why he wanted to know. He did not answer and then asked if my mother was a home owner. I realised that his purpose was to assess the estate value then do his hard sell on selling their tawdry and over priced probate services and I told him so. It was only when I complained to barclays when they subsequently transferred my mother's barclays funds to me ie what I had told them not to do, did I learn that I had not been speaking to barclays staff but I,and my mothers detsils, had been passed to simplify without my knowledge or permission. I am utterly disgusted at their lies and disingenuous behaviour. I have requested a full copy of the recording of the call and have advised that I will be reporting them to the fca. I also intend to report this on every social media site I can.

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  5. Went to tell Barclay's of my father's death and deal with accounts. Of the 30 minutes I was in the branch, 20 minutes was them trying to sell me Simplify's services.

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  6. I phoned Barclays to inform them of my father's death as he had a current account with them. After wasting a considerable amount of time on the phone I was told I had to go to a Barclays branch taking the death certificate and fill in a form in the branch. The entire phone call was an attempt to sell their probate services which I was not interested in. A week later I am getting calls from Simplify Probate services which I will not answer as it is a waste of my time and I already told them (when I thought I was speaking to Barclays Bank and not a 3rd party) I am not interested!

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  7. Thanks for exposing this - the probate racket is going strong in America too. Here's a link to my blog: a-ripoff.blogspot.com

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    ReplyDelete