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Cromer coastguard chief in distressing legal battle with North Walsham solicitor over mum’s will

PUBLISHED: 16:00 13 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:01 26 February 2014

Jim Lilley and his family, wife Jenny and daughter Charlotte, from Overstrand.

Jim Lilley and his family, wife Jenny and daughter Charlotte, from Overstrand. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

A north Norfolk man claims a solicitor’s delays in dealing with his late mother’s will have led to a breakdown in his health and in his relationship with his siblings.

Kathleen Lilley.
PHOTO: submitted Kathleen Lilley. PHOTO: submitted

Jim Lilley, who is well-known as station officer for Cromer coastguard, claims North Walsham solicitor Michael Elsdon has still not distributed the proceeds of his mother Kathleen’s estate, five-and-a-half-years after her death.

In the intervening years, Mr Lilley, 57, says he has also become estranged from his sister and brother because of the issue. His brother has since died.

And last month the stress caused Mr Lilley to go missing for a day from his home in Church Close, Overstrand, sparking a hunt by police and his coastguard colleagues. He was found 13 hours later after walking in a daze to North Walsham, via Felbrigg.

But when contacted, Mr Elsdon said: “There are to be further court proceedings in this case and therefore I am not permitted to make any comment.”

Mr Lilley’s mother died, aged 89, in August 2008 leaving everything to be shared equally among her three children. Her estate was made up of her home in East Runton, near Cromer, a building society account, and her few belongings.

Papers seen by this paper show that Jim Lilley and Mr Elsdon had been appointed co-executors of her will and Mrs Lilley’s house was sold in January 2011 , making her entire estate worth £159,000.

But when Mr Lilley contacted Mr Elsdon six months later to ask when the estate would be wound up, he was told that the administration was not finished. Mr Elsdon then submitted bills for £54,000 - one third of the total estate.

Mr Lilley said he could not approve the bills as they were “excessive” and would have led to Mrs Lilley’s three children receiving about £33,000 each, rather than between £45,000 and £50,000.

Over the following months he claims Mr Elsdon raised concerns over £32,000 withdrawn from Mrs Lilley’s building society account over a period of about three years.

He was not satisfied with Mr Lilley’s explanation that it had been used to pay her household bills and shopping, and later to pay social services for her care plan and claimed he had evidence Mrs Lilley should have been put into a nursing home, instead of being cared for at home.

Mr Lilley said Mr Elsdon’s claims of negligence had caused a massive rift between himself and his brother and sister.

Mr Elsdon had applied to the High Court in London to have his bills assessed and in November 2012 counsel Master Gordon Saker ruled that they could not be justified and reduced them to £7,922.46.

Mr Elsdon’s appeal was dismissed on November 15 2013. On each occasion he was also ordered to pay costs. Shortly before the hearing, Mr Elsdon submitted another bill, for £20,658 for work done to investigate the allegations of neglect.

Despite a written request to Mr Elsdon following the appeal, Mr Lilley said the estate money had still not been distributed and there had been no indication of when it would be.

Mr Lilley complained about Mr Elsdon, who also has a practice in Barnstaple, Devon, to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) in July 2012 and last December but has not heard whether any action has been taken.

Mr Lilley said: “It has been very depressing and stressful. We seem to keep going to court and winning but nothing happens.

“It never comes to an end and I can’t seem to get over the loss of my mother because it all keeps dragging on. It’s stressful for my wife and daughter as well.”

Mr Lilley’s solicitor, Hugh Berridge, said: ““I think my client has been treated disgracefully. The delays in administering the estate are unforgiveable – at the very least interim payments should have been made shortly after the house was sold in January 2011.”

A spokesman for the SRA said it was not unusual for investigations to take some time to complete.

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