Scotland

Jersey: Banking on answers

I'm Fergus Muirhead and I'm here to answer any questions you may have about any money or consumer issues.

Please drop me a line at fergus@bbc.co.uk with your questions. You can also read more on money and consumer issues on my own blog.

Q. My mother died in December and had two bank accounts with the RBS in Huntly and one - for some reason - with the RBS in Jersey. She was advised that this was a safe place to put her money by staff in the RBS at the time. She had no other assets. The only relatives left are me and my sister. My mother left no will as it was destroyed in a fire in her home before she was moved to the nursing home. We closed down the accounts in Huntly, paid the nursing home fees and the funeral costs through the estates department of the RBS. This left about £800. While we were in the RBS, the manager phoned Jersey, explained the situation, (even mentioned she was holding a copy of the death certificate), and asked what the balance was in the account, only to be told "no"! We had to send a copy of the death certificate before they would tell us there was - as far as I remember - £12,000 in the account. She phoned the bank in Jersey to try to close the account herself and was told they would require a letter of agreement from the Jersey Probate Office. She got in touch with the office, and sent what she thought was the paperwork required, to find out they needed a missing paper which would have be supplied by a Jersey lawyer. At this point I took over as the stress was affecting my sister. I found a lawyer in Jersey and was quoted £550 plus court fees. I authorised the bank to release the papers to the lawyers, who stated they would need to be paid in advance for this to proceed. Over the next couple of days this quote rose to a "capped" fee of £1,500, plus court fees - about £150 - plus a letter of affirmation from a Scottish court, plus my lawyer's fees. I told them we did not have this money available, to be told they would now take their fees from the "estate" once the bank released the money. I got in touch and told them we were not willing to proceed, and could they send me an invoice for their time and expenses and return the papers they held - neither of which I have received yet. The other way left for us to proceed is to get the affirmation from a Scottish Court and appear in person in the court in Jersey - which seems to be the cheapest option left open to us. John Weatherby

A. I've printed your letter in full so that other readers can get an idea of the stress you have been though following your mother's death, and all because she opened what I'm sure she thought at the time was an innocent enough account.

There are two issues here. The first is that, under Jersey law, if there is more than £10,000 in an account there are a whole lot of hoops that need to be jumped through before the money can be released to you and your sister.

I spoke to a solicitor in Jersey and he explained that there is no way around the rules, and you would either have to visit the country to arrange for the account to be closed or have a solicitor do it for you.

Unfortunately either option would come at a cost, and it seems a lot to pay when there is not a huge amount in the account.

I spoke to RBS as well and this is where the second issue kicks in.

Your mum opened her account in 1996 and at the time the requirements to record the reasons for opening an account were not perhaps as stringent as they are today. RBS, therefore, has no record of the reasons that this account was suggested to your mum.

It seems to me that your mum didn't have the assets to warrant an account based in Jersey, and you tell me that she wasn't in any way an experienced investor so I can't think of any good reason that the account was opened so I fear we will never get the truth.

I am pleased to tell you, however, that RBS has recognised the trouble you have had dealing with this situation and have agreed to make a payment to you as a goodwill gesture to help with the expenses you will face in arranging to have your mum's account closed.

For anyone reading this who may have done something similar to John's mum, it might be wise to look again at the terms of the accounts so that you can be sure that you can access your cash when you are likely to need it, or that your dependants can access it if you don't.

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