Is the possession 9/10 enough?
January 28, 2010 3:10 PM   Subscribe

After buying a flat in London (UK) with all of the previous owners possessions still present as part of a probate settlement, do I have any legal claim to stocks, bonds, and other named financial devices I found?

The specific items are a stock certificate (worth about £5000), a bond for a lot more, and travellers cheques (signed of course) for about £300.

I did try calling the bond office, but they wouldn't give me any information about whether they had been disposed of as I am not a relative, and told me to send them to the executors.

Of course, hope springs eternal, as this would help me to take a chunk out of my mortgage - is it completely futile?
posted by fizban to Law & Government (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure somebody who knows what they're talking about will respond but in the meantime...

...there was a case here in Toronto a few years back about a couple of guys who bought a scrap metal dealership and all the contents thereof. In clearing it out, one of their workers found a fire exinguisher stuffed with large bills. They tried to keep it a secret and wound up sentenced to jail time. I will bet that this is an area where British and Canadian law would be in sync. This book has a really similar example.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:58 PM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: IAAL. IANYL. Send them to the Executor of the deceased's estate. If you don't know who the Executor is, contact the solicitors who acted for the estate on the sale of the property - their name should be in the paperwork for the purchase of your flat.

Trying to cash these yourself could result in serious consequences. They form part of the deceased's estate and can only be paid to the Executor of that estate.
posted by essexjan at 4:18 PM on January 28, 2010

Best answer: IAAL. IANYL. Seconding (as ever) Jan.

Possession of a share certificate does not infer ownership; entry in the company's register of shareholders does. You don't own those shares. You will get in serious shit if you try to deal with them as though you do.

The bonds are also not your property. Whether you can appropriate them or not is a separate question and depends on whether they are bearer instruments.

Buying a property full of the previous owner's possessions is not uncommon. Essentially you're agreeing to do a clear up/ sort out in exchange for a reduction in price. What you get to deal with is chattel. What you don’t get is a free pass to loot the deceased person’s finances nor to deal with intangible personal property including but not limited to securities.

Those financial instruments belong to someone else. How would you feel if you discovered that someone had cheated you out of hundreds or thousands of pounds? That's right - you'd call the cops and then you’d sue the living shit out of them.

If there’s any doubt at all in your mind, then there is no doubt at all.
posted by dmt at 3:34 AM on January 29, 2010

The share certificate? Unless youre related to the deceased, very much doubt it.

Capita Registrars FAQ: Death of a shareholder
Centrica Registrars: Small Estates Procedure

The registrar is the body responsible for making sure the shares end up in the right hands. Most companies will list contact details for their registrar on their website. Should you send the cert to the registrar they'll tell you all the paperwork they'd need to see to transfer it to the next of kin and keep the cert until that paperwork is provided.
posted by Ness at 3:37 AM on January 29, 2010

Turn everything over to the estate: you don't own any of it except possibly if there are any bearer bonds, in which case you might be able to make a case that those specifically were sold to you along with everything else in the house, but you'd need to go talk to a lawyer & it would be a pretty shitty thing to do.
posted by pharm at 6:37 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: Well, that seems fairly unequivocal. In truth I had not thought about it as taking them from someone else, as I know that the previous owner left no friends or relatives but of course the estate must be going somewhere. The various pieces are enveloped up now...

For my interest, then, what would have happened if we had let the sellers solicitors throw away everything in the house as they offered to? We opted to keep the contents in order to get some furniture (and because I couldn't bear to see the books going to waste), and came across these when emptying drawers.
posted by fizban at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2010

Mostly, documents themselves aren't assets - they're evidence of the existence of assets held elsewhere - in a bank, as a share of a company, etc..

If the seller's solicitors had thrown away everything in the house, and at some point in the future a beneficiary of the estate had said "hang on a minute, what about Great Aunt Jemima's share certificates?", then the solicitors would be left with the job of tracing those assets without the documents. It can be done, but it's a pain in the arse and a lot of work.
posted by essexjan at 3:02 PM on January 29, 2010

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