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Coffin chasers targeting grieving families

In our article on 2nd July Cashing in on Death we reported on the alarming news that banks, specialist probate firms and Will-writers were exploiting the public with their probate charges. Since then our investigations and links with local support groups have highlighted a worrying development.

Grieving families registering deaths at town halls or visiting their local GP are being lured into signing up to a 'coffin chaser' firm which can charge eye-watering fees for basic probate services.

Registrars, GPs, hospitals, churches and funeral homes are all handing out leaflets advertising the Bereavement Advice Centre.

The official-looking document appears to be for a free independent advice service. But those that call a free helpline or visit the website are pointed towards ITC Legal Services, one of the biggest probate providers in the UK.

ITC's fees can be much greater than similar services offered by local solicitors. In one case, mentioned in an article in This is Money, a reader was quoted £2,400 by ITC, almost three times more than a local solicitor.

Probate is the legal process the executors of a Will have to go through to make sure the estate of a loved one is dealt with properly when they die. Despite claiming its fees are competitive with solicitors and can be half that charged by banks, ITC's charges can be hugely more expensive than services offered by trained lawyers. This is because the firm charges a percentage of the estate, unlike solicitors, which tend to charge an hourly rate.

As reported in This is Money, Chris Partington, from solicitor Slater Heelis, recently persuaded Trafford Council in Manchester to withdraw these leaflets from Sale Town Hall. He is now trying to persuade Stockport and Manchester town halls to do the same.

He says: 'This firm is preying on people who are going through a traumatic time. Creating misleading alliances with GPs or local authorities implying that there is an endorsement from these establishments is an insensitive way to establish sales leads.'

We have recently been involved in communication with the Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths on Corn Street in Bristol who have confirmed that they too are investigating the matter and removing leaflets.

For more information about this, or related matters, please get in touch.

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