When Daryl Curmi and his partner found their dream home seven months ago, they entrusted their life savings to their notary, Ivan Barbara, as part of the process of buying the property.

But Barbara’s sudden death in April after contracting COVID-19 while adopting a child in India has left Curmi and other clients in a state of anxious limbo trying to recover their hard-earned deposits.

According to the Notarial Council, Barbara’s widow, Rosanne, has renounced her husband’s inheritance, forfeiting any assets or responsibility for pending debt. It means it is unclear who the legal heir is.

“When I found out that his widow renounced his inheritance, I was in utter disbelief,” Curmi told Times of Malta.

“I didn’t even know this was something you could do with a notary’s client accounts,” he said.

He has now been left questioning where his money has gone and how to get access to it.

The Notary Council had asked the attorney general to hand over any deeds and wills published by Barbara to the government’s chief notary to fast-track the process of checking for potential breach of contract.

On Tuesday, the government chief notary, Keith Francis German, was appointed as the notary delegate of all deeds relating to Barbara with effect from August 16.

This means that the Office of the Notary to Government had initiated the process of collecting all contracts and wills that were published by Barbara for the purpose of conserving them at the notarial archives.

However, this won’t help Barbara’s clients as the Notary Council says any pending files and deposits are a civil matter which “falls outside the remit and scope” of the body.

It advises Barbara’s clients to “seek legal advice”.

'The biggest investment of our lives'

Curmi says he had been advised by the person selling the property he was buying in Żejtun to work with Barbara. 

“As we didn’t know any notaries we went with him,” he said.

In December, the couple deposited €31,000, or 10 per cent of the value of the property, with Barbara as part of the promise of sale agreement.

It is usually considered the safest option for the buyer to entrust the deposit with the notary, who only releases it to the seller when the final deeds are handed over and the sale goes through some months later.

Everything we have ever saved went into this

“We are trying to continue as best we can but without the money, the 10 per cent deposit, there is not much we can do,” Curmi says.

“This is the biggest investment of our lives. Everything we have ever saved up went into this. The seller has been patient with us but how long can this last?”

Describing the situation as “messed up”, he now faces having to “go to court to get our money… spending even more on lawyers to get what’s ours”.

In the meantime, the couple are having to pay life insurance and home insurance “for a house that we do not have”.

‘Utterly desperate’

Another of Barbara’s clients, Janice, who asked not to reveal her last name, said her promise of sale has fallen through because she could not recover the €20,000 deposited with Barbara.

“It was everything I had ever saved up and now I don’t know where my money is,” she said.

“I went from taking prenatal vitamins in the hope that we could start our family to swallowing tranquillisers to soothe my anxiety.”

She says that now she feels “utterly desperate”.

“I sold vegetables every day while studying at the university to save this money and it’s all gone up in smoke,” she added.

“No one can tell me how I can get my money back. I have no other option but to go to a lawyer... I have lost all my money and now I have to spend more.”

'My partner goes to sleep in tears'

A third person, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he and his partner “don’t know what to do with themselves” after losing €20,000. 

“We are normal working people who made a lot of sacrifices to save up for a long time.

“We have been together for 11 years... some of the deposit money was saved up from our university stipend,” he said.

With no information, the couple are at a loss over the €20,000 they entrusted with their notary.

“This was our life savings; without them our hands are tied. My partner goes to sleep with tears in her eyes every night.

“We were about to start planning our wedding but there’s nowhere to take it. We have to start from scratch and it’s daunting.”

A spokesperson for the Notarial Council told Times of Malta that the heritage process of Barbara’s estate is still an ongoing process and that the council has no formal indication at the moment as to who the heirs at law may be.

“Until the said process is concluded, it is not officially and conclusively possible to verify with any bank the number or the status of any accounts held in the name of a deceased person, which will be frozen at time of notification of death,” they said.

The Notarial Council said that it had been informed by Rosanne Barbara’s lawyer, Phyllis Aquilina, that the widow had filed a court application to renounce her husband’s inheritance.

Questions sent to Rosanne Barbara were not answered at time of writing.

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