Clients are warned to review their procedures within their businesses relating to probate procedures. In the recent case of The Attorney General v Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC, Jersey Bank, the Royal Court found a bank guilty of committing a criminal offence and fined the bank for not obtaining the necessary authorisation before transferring the assets of a deceased client out of the jurisdiction.
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC, Jersey Bank (the “Bank”) was charged with intermeddling, contrary to Article 23(1) of the Probate (Jersey) Law 1998.
The deceased died on 1 June 2017 and held numerous accounts with the Bank in various jurisdictions. The account held with the Jersey branch held a balance of just over $400,000 at the date of the death. When the Bank was notified of the death, it attached a ‘no debit’ instruction on all of his accounts (per internal procedures).
However, following the death of the deceased, a court in the United Arab Emirates (which had jurisdiction over the estate of the deceased) directed that all sums held by the Bank in the name of the deceased were to be transferred to the Court’s “Treasury” so that the deceased’s estate could be managed in accordance with UAE probate law. The transfer was made from the deceased’s account in order to comply with the order from the UAE. This amounted to the offence of intermeddling in the estate as the Bank dealt with assets of an estate without obtaining a grant of probate.
A few weeks later the Bank’s branch manager in Jersey informed the Jersey Financial Services Commission that the monies had been paid to the UAE court by error and without obtaining the required Jersey grant of probate. The Bank also later self-reported the breach to the Registrar of Probate, copied to the Attorney General.
By Article 23(1) of the Probate (Jersey) Law 1998, a person guilty of an offence is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months or both.
The Court fined the Bank £25,000 and an extra £2,085 in compensation. The Bailiff acknowledged that this was a mistake by the Bank and noted that there had been no malicious intent e.g. trying to avoid paying the appropriate stamp duty and there was no prejudice to the heirs.
The Court concluded that the purposes of the offence of intermeddling were to prevent those who wished to avoid paying stamp duty on probate successfully doing so, and to avoid dissipation of estates by those not entitled to them.
This is an example of the importance of obtaining the necessary legal authorisations in all relevant jurisdictions before dealing with assets of a deceased person. It is often the case where businesses are based in different jurisdictions that there may be a lower level of awareness among foreign staff as to Jersey requirements.