Man given £100k from estate of Scot he never met still does not know full legacy

A retired Canadian civil servant who has been waiting nearly ten years to find out the extent of his inheritance from a long-lost relative from Glasgow has called for transparency in the Scottish legal system surrounding legacies.

Sunday, 4th October 2020, 7:00 am
Jack Hopwood
Jack Hopwood

Jack Hopwood was contacted almost a decade ago by a Scottish heir hunter company to tell him that he was one of a number of beneficiaries of the estate of an elderly woman, Albertha Finlayson, who had died without leaving a will.

Ms Finlayson, to whom Hopwood did not know he was related, is understood to have lived in a modest flat in Glasgow and showed no outward signs of wealth.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, in the time since the firm, Pitcairn Research, first contacted him, Mr Hopwood, from Vancouver, has received three pay-outs - totalling around £100,000 – and investigation into the case is still ongoing. He believes around 20 people are equal beneficiaries to the will, suggesting the estate is worth more than £2 million.

The inheritance has taken a decade to unravel

However, despite repeated requests, he claims he has never been told how much Ms Finlayson’s total estate is worth, or what stage the investigation into her affairs is at.

Hopwood has now lodged a formal complaint with the Law Society of Scotland.

When Hopwood first received an email telling him he was entitled to a share of Ms Finlayson’s estate in 2011, he thought it was a scam.

“I deleted the email immediately, as soon as I saw it, I just assumed it was a scam,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I spoke to my older brother, who told me he had got one too and said ‘you’re going to inherit some money, fill out the paperwork’, that I realised it was real.

“We believed originally that there would be one distribution, but the fact they have kept coming in is strange.”

He added: “I have been unable to obtain any relevant information from the executor, or the estate solicitors, Dingwall Sutherland Ltd. Neither will provide any accounting despite numerous requests.

“It turns out that Ms Finlayson must have kept her money in a way that the authorities couldn’t trace it down, so it’s been a matter of tracing it, establishing and value and trying to work out how to liquidate it, but no-one has told me this properly or explained the situation.

“The problem is that there is no recourse. There seems to be no oversight in Scotland on estates. For me to pursue this, I would have to hire a lawyer and that would be me putting good money after bad.”

The beneficiaries were asked to sign an agreement entitling Pitcairn, which at the time occupied an office next door to Dingwall Sutherland, a 25 per cent cut of any money they receive as a result of the inheritance. The heir hunter and genealogy firm has since moved its office location.

Lawyers have told Hopwood that it has taken constant work for a decade to unravel the deceased woman’s affairs - due to Ms Finlayson using up to 16 different aliases for different investments and accounts. Hopwood has been told they hope to update beneficiaries by the end of the year.

A spokesman for Dingwall Sutherland said: “We are bound by rules of client confidentiality and cannot make any public comment in relation to any specific cases that we are dealing with.”

Rachel Wood, executive director of regulation at the Law Society of Scotland, said: “As the professional body for Scottish solicitors we take our regulatory duties very seriously to ensure that people have confidence in the legal profession. In any case where we have reason to believe that one of our members has not met the high professional standards expected of them we will take action.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.

Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. Visit https://www.u2swisshome.com/subscriptions now to sign up.

By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director