A solicitor was suspended after he spent 19 years trying to settle a spinster’s estate.
Guy Choat, 70, was in his early fifties when he began trying to wind up the affairs of Miss Muriel McCarthy.
Two executors died during the years he wrestled with the papers – but Choat was not aware they had passed away until he was told by his governing body.
The case has still not been finalised and Choat handed the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal details of his latest plan to wind up the estate.
He was barred from the profession for three years for the ‘almost grotesque’ delay.
Miss McCarthy, who lived with a companion, was a member of the same congregation as Choat at St Michael’s Church in Beccles, Suffolk.
When she died she left her £294,000 estate to several beneficiaries including charities and the church.
In 2001 the parish council was concerned about the nine year delay and instructed solicitors to contact Choat, who was running his own firm in offices in Kings Dam in the town.
In August that year he agreed to refund £7,006 which had been wrongly charged to the estate and promised to complete the accounts.
‘There was an enormous delay in preparation of the estate accounts which flowed from that agreement,’ said Mr John Greensmith, for the Solicitors Regulatory Authority
In 2002 Choat apologised for the delay and said the case ‘haunts me night and day and has put me through excruciating anxiety.’
Choat promised to get the accounts done by October, but in January 2003 he explained he had been suffering from a viral infection.
In February Choat said the viral infection was ‘continuing’ but he vowed to give the case ‘top priority.’
Nothing had happened by May 2005 but Choat assured the parish council: ‘I remain committed to resolve this mater and I am making time for it.’
In 2007 he emailed the parish council promising: ‘I have turned away all new work for the last month or more in order to complete this matter.’
In May of that year he wrote stating: ‘The bad news is I have not manage to devote time to this case…but I remain committed to finishing this mater by the end of July.’
But Choat then discovered an apparent error in the accounts which set matters back again.
In September he stated: ‘I have got well into the McCarthy case. I have to complete it before I move on to other matters. I will be in touch within a week with the full figures.’
A week later Choat wrote again stating he was unravelling an error and was ‘chuntering through it.’
‘Alas, by the beginning of November the chuntering appeared to have come to a halt,’ Mr Greensmith said.
The Parish Council threatened to report him to the Legal Complaints Service but Choat begged them not to, saying it could delay matters further.
By June 2008 the Council ‘reached the end of their tether’ and gave Mr Choat 30 days to produce the final set of accounts.
Choat said he had done a great deal of work on the case and ‘very much wanted to finish matters.’
In July the Council complained and he was written to his governing body in September 2008.
After several delays he did not provide and explanation until February.
During the course of correspondence with the regulator, Mr Choat was asked if the executors of the estate were still the same and confirmed they were.
‘What happened next the tribunal might consider was slightly extraordinary,’ Mr Greensmith said.
‘The LCS had learned that one of the executors had died. It was the LCS who broke the new to the respondent, who was completely unaware of the executor’s death.
‘He was very sorry to hear to his death.’
The LCS then found out the second executor had also passed two years before.
Choat told the hearing his problems began when he realised there was an issue with some of the fine details of the estate.
This caused extra work which led to the overcharging claim.
He then struggled to find the £7,000 and the time to settle the accounts.
The lawyer said he had been beset by family difficulties and ‘bad luck.’
‘I was never in a position to pay that money. Ever since that day I have laboured to get sufficiently ahead of the game and recalculate the accounts
‘It is difficult not to compare myself to survivor from the Titanic – now I am well and truly shipwrecked and probably bankrupt.
‘I am clinging to any spar in the wreckage I can.’
Choat said he is no longer working as a solicitor and hopes to find a new career as a writer.
Chairman David Glass told him: ‘We do take note of the fact this is a case of extreme and almost grotesque delay.
‘It is 19 years since the death of the deceased person and the estate has still not been administrated.
‘This sort of delay is extreme and cannot be taken lightly. Many promises were given by you over the years and many deadlines were missed.’
In addition to the suspension Choat was ordered to pay costs of £7,448.
Choat admitted failing to provide proper service to clients, acting in a manner likely to diminish confidence in the profession and failing to deal with his governing body in a prompt and co-operative manner.
No allegations of dishonesty were ever made against him.