We have received a number of worried calls from HSBC customers in relation to a letter they have received from the bank and I feel it is important to bring an urgent matter to your attention, in case you have either not received the letter or you have and are worried.
In June 2015, HSBC sold their Wills and Probate business to a company called Simplify Channel Ltd, with the transfer date expected to occur on 30th October 2015.
Many people who made Wills with HSBC also appointed HSBC as the Executors of their Will and received a letter from them, dated 10th July, giving them the option to sign a Codicil to appoint Simplify or another Executor of their choice instead of HSBC, or to inform HSBC that their Will is no longer valid. The customers we spoke to were given a deadline of 31st July to respond. Simplify will not be able to act as Executors unless Wills are changed.
We have been helping worried HSBC customers who wanted to make sense of the letter and obtain proper legal advice before making a decision and have therefore read the letter, which raised some concerns:
• The transfer is expected to take place on 30th October, yet the customers we spoke to were instructed to make a decision and return all documents to HSBC by 31st July, when the letter was only dated 10th July. This did not give you much time to make an informed decision. Much later, in the Q&A, the deadline appears to be 30th October, not 31st July, providing further confusion.
• Although the letter explains that you have options and that you are not obliged to appoint Simplify as an Executor of your Will, there is a sense of you being encouraged to do so as the easiest option. It is often more appropriate and much more cost-effective to appoint a family member rather than a professional, but this is not clearly explained in the letter.
• The letter and enclosed information leaflets and pre-populated Codicils can be confusing to many people and, although they include a glossary of terms, there is no indication that it might be a good idea to contact a solicitor to discuss the letter, other than a reference to using a solicitor if you wish to change your Will - and this is on page 6, under Q&A.
• Although there is a Codicil provided for you to appoint another Executor, this is worded in such a way that the appointment will take effect only on completion of the sale of HSBC's UK probate services business to Simplify (unless you don't sign the Codicil until after that date). There is no option to make the appointment with immediate effect.
• It is very unusual to send out Codicils with pre-populated information. These Codicils make specific reference to a purchase agreement between HSBC and Simplify, made on 1st May 2015, and you are expected to sign them, having not seen the document they refer to.
• HSBC provide no information of the financial arrangement between them and Simplify. Often firms who act for banks charge customers much higher fees to take into account referral fees they pay to banks.
• Simplify are not regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Simplify are a subsidiary of Chorus Law Group Ltd, itself a reincarnation of a company called Independent Trust Corporation Ltd. We would strongly advise you to research these companies carefully. On their website, Simplify do not provide details or profiles of any members of staff. If HSBC have sold your Will without your permission, you may feel more comfortable with a more personal service.
If you made a Will with HSBC and have received the letter from them, or if you haven't been contacted yet and are not sure where you stand please contact me to discuss this further.