Disposing of Personal Items in your Will

During our lifetime, we collect many personal items (or chattels as we lawyers like to call them), such as our breakfast bowl, jewellery, cars and, perhaps even, works of art.  We dispose of some of these items too, as they either wear out; cease to be of interest to us or when we have the New Year clear out!

 

Whilst some items will have actual value, some will simply have sentimental value but, when we die, we may want specific individuals to receive certain items.  If we list these wishes in our Will, this could create a very long document and one which would need to be updated regularly to reflect changes in what we own, as well as changes to who should receive those items, as our own relationships change. 

 

 

So, to avoid the inconvenience and cost of you having to re-write your Will, a clause can be incorporated into your Will which gives your Executors the power to dispose of your personal items in accordance with any wishes you have made known to them.  Then a separate letter can be prepared to enable you to note your current wishes.  Should you review your wishes in the future and wish to make changes, this can be done by simply updating the letter itself without making changes to the Will.

 

For more information about writing your Will, please contact Joanna Parkin or Rebecca Head on 01543 440 308. 

“Lost” Wills following Closure of Law Firm

It is not uncommon through the passage of time, that law firms re-locate or sadly close down.  This can result in other law firms inheriting their Will Banks and on occasions, this can sometimes result in the original Will Writer not knowing the current location of their Will.

The law firm who “inherits” the Will Bank will usually attempt to contact those they hold Wills for, but if those people have themselves re-located, it may mean they are unable to do so. 

It is important for clients to know where their Wills have moved to, so they have the reassurance that their Wills can be located upon death or if they need to review their Will.  Certainty – the National Wills Register can help in these situations. 

 

Mr L comments: “My Wife and I wrote Wills at a St. Albans in 1980 in St. Alban’s when we lived in that area. Later, we relocated nearly 100 miles away.  When my Wife passed away, I needed to locate our Wills. When trying to locate our Wills, I discovered that the law firm had re-located. I contacted one of my local solicitors who were able to find another registered address and phone number of the original law firm – it then came to light that the firm had actually closed down”.

 

Mr L continues: “I was then put in touch with Certainty the National Will Register and conducted a Will Register Search.  Unfortunately, our Wills had not been registered on the National Will Register but the staff at Certainty suggested I conduct a REACH Search instead.  This enabled me to search in up to three geographically targeted areas for Wills that have not been registered and would help me see if another Solicitor now held our Wills”. 

“The Certainty Will Search located a Will at a local firm in St. Albans – less than a mile away from where the original firm had re-located! I was quickly contacted by the firm. They asked me to provide a death certificate and a form of ID. Following this they confirmed that they held both mine and my Wife’s Will. It is comforting to know that I now know the location of my own Will and have the option to register it with The National Will Register to avoid the same situation occurring again.”

Registering your Will with Certainty – the National Will Register is very easy and in increasing in popularity.  In 2019, there were over 8.4 million Wills registered on the National Will Register system. 

Four Oaks Legal Services are proud members of Certainty and can help you register your Will with them

Please contact us for further details on 01543 440308.

Homemade Wills Are Ok? Aren’t They?

 

We often get asked to comment on Wills that a person has drawn up themselves or has prepared via an internet based provider.  The number one question asked is “Are they legally valid?”.  The second is “Are they worth the paper they are written on?”.

To be legally valid, a Will must be written on paper and must be signed by the person making the Will in the presence of 2 independent witnesses.  You need to have made the Will of your own free will and also you need to be capable of making a Will at the time you make it.  So if you draw up your own Will or you get one prepared via the internet and you satisfy those basic conditions, you are likely to have a valid Will on your hands. 

Question 2 “Is the Will worth the paper it is written on?” is answered with the standard lawyer’s answer of “It depends!”.  You might have a valid Will but, when it comes to your dying day, will that Will direct your assets where you actually intend?  And this is where people come unstuck……here are two real life examples.

 

Case Study 1

 

A married couple had separated but continued to live together whilst they were formalising their divorce. 

They had a child together and each agreed to not make a Will until the divorce was finalised, so that should either of them pass away during the divorce, the survivor would still inherit the other’s estate to care for their child.  The Husband however “discovered” on the parties laptop, a Will that his Wife had prepared via an internet provider.  The Will had cost £9.99 to download and left her estate to the child directly, contrary to their agreement.  The Husband contacted us as his Wife had signed this Will and it had been witnessed correctly and he was naturally worried he would lose his home if his Wife died before they divorced and settled the finances. 

We learnt from the Husband that the parties house was held as joint tenants and all their bank accounts and investments were all held in joint names.  The Wife did not actually have anything in her sole name.  We were able to advise the Husband that as the assets were owned in this way, should his Wife die, those assets would pass to him automatically as the survivor, outside of the terms of the Will. 

So, in this case, the Will wasn’t worth the paper it was written on if the Husband survived his Wife.

 

Case Study 2

 

A single lady with a sizeable estate prepared a Will with an internet provider.  The process had involved her ticking which clauses she thought were appropriate to go in her Will and completing personal details of assets and family members.  Considering she had little legal knowledge the Will was not actually too bad and it had been executed correctly, so it was legally valid.

In the Will, the lady had included a specific clause leaving her company shares in “X Limited” to a family member.  However, when we looked at the lady’s assets, we looked at the structure of the company and found that, whilst she believed she held shares in “X Limited”, the shares were owned by a holding company “X Holdings Limited” instead. The shares the lady owned were actually in “X Holdings Limited”.  Therefore, the gift in her Will of the shares in “ X Limited” would have failed as she didn’t actually own any shares in that company!  Showing again that a Will may be valid but may not be worth the paper it is written on. 

A Will is an important document, which only gets “tested” when you actually pass away and, of course, it’s then too late to change it if there is a problem.  We recommend a professionally drawn Will where full consideration is given to your family structure; your assets and what you want to actually achieve. 

 

Put a Will in place that is worth the paper it’s written on.  Contact Rebecca Head or Joanna Parkin on 01543 440 308 for further information.

Chulo to Join the Ranks!

 

You’ll all know what dog lovers we are at Four Oaks Legal and you’ll remember that just over 3 years ago, Director Beckie Head welcomed Greek rescue dog, Lena, into their home.  Lena is, of course, a regular visitor to the office, and often accompanies Beckie on her home visits too.  She has become a firm favourite with staff and clients alike.  However, Beckie and her Husband Gareth have decided to add to their family with another rescue dog.

Chulo is a 3 year old male Podenco and currently resides with the Friends of Aprop, a Spanish animal shelter, based in Pego on the Costa Blanca.  Beckie spends several weeks a year cycling in the area and when Beckie and Gareth heard of Chulo’s plight from a friend of theirs who volunteers at the shelter, they decided to open their home and hearts to another four-legged member of the family.  Chulo will be joining Beckie and the Four Oaks Legal team in December 2019.

Say hello to Chulo…….

 

Lloyds Weren’t Banking on This!

 

Lloyds Banking Group has discovered hundreds of Wills within their archives that they did not know they had.  Revealed by the Financial Times, the mistake has left Lloyds hurrying to re-unite around 9,000 families with their loved one’s Wills.

The fact of the Wills not coming to light until now may mean that families could be faced with the fact that money and other assets were gifted to the wrong people!   Lloyds have confirmed however that the number of customers impacted is in the low hundreds.

In the majority of cases the Wills had been overridden by newer versions, and other copies had been stored in a different location – or were dealt with through the intestacy process and followed the testator’s final wishes anyway.

Lloyds Bank has promised that anyone who suffered detriment from the lost Wills will be fully compensated and those who may have wrongly received money and assets will not be asked to return it. 

Rebecca Head of Four Oaks Legal Services said “Historically banks were a trusted place to leave original documents, however, branch closures and changes to the services banks provide mean this is no longer the best place to leave the documents.   It may be a better method to leave your original Will with your Solicitor and to notify your Executors and family where the original is held.  It can also be helpful to consider registering your Will with Certainty, the National Wills Database, so that if your family forget what you have told them, there is a formal record of where your Will is held”.

Probate Fees

 

The Law Society has welcomed the lapse of a planned increase in probate fees as a result of parliament being suspended. 

Fees would have risen from the fixed amounts of £215 (personal applications) or £155 (Solicitor applications), to a sliding scale of up to £6,000 depending on the size of the estate.  The motion to approve the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order had been scheduled for a vote in the House of Commons since February but the prorogation of parliament, means the motion falls away. 

It is now likely that the Probate Fees Order 2018 may re-emerge in the new Parliamentary season, following an outcome concerning the EU. The Law Society have indicated that they will fight its introduction should the government decide to reintroduce the order. 

 

UPDATE – 02/10/19

Following the Supreme Court’s decision last week that Boris Johnson unlawfully prorogued Parliament, it’s back to business as usual, meaning the previously lapsed Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 will also be back on Parliament’s agenda.

Probate Registry Office Closure

 

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has announced that the Probate Registry Office in Birmingham will be closing at the end of the month.  This is the first announced closure with further closures expected across the country as the Probate Service attempts to undertake more work electronically.  There will therefore no longer be a Probate Service public counter at the Priory Court building in Birmingham and all applications will now be dealt with by Newcastle Probate Registry instead.

 

‘Cause if you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it…

 

The rise of cohabiting couples has continued in the UK, with the numbers growing by 25% to 3.4 million families from 2008 to 2018.

Cohabiting couples however still only represent 18 per cent of the UK’s 19.1 million families. Marriages and civil partnerships remain the most common structure and, as such, represent two-thirds of all families.  Although only 10 years ago, marriages and civil partnerships accounted for almost 70 per cent of families.

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners warn that only marriage and civil partnerships grant legal rights and responsibilities to partners, at least in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland updated its law to reflect the number of unmarried cohabiting couples with the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, but it does not provide the same matrimonial rights as married persons have.

Despite the common myth, common-law marriage is not recognised by the law of England and Wales or Northern Ireland, in fact common-law marriage was abolished in 1753. You need to be married or in a civil partnership to rely on the law for dividing up finances if you split up or if one of you dies. It makes no difference if you have children with the person you live with. 

It is therefore imperative for those who are unmarried to ensure they have a valid Will in place providing for their partner, as the law simply does not recognise cohabiting couples where there is no Will.  Should one party to the relationship pass away without a Will, it can leave the surviving partner in a very difficult position. 

Modern Family Structures and Unintended Consequences

 

When couples talk to me about making a Will, they often ask what would happen if they both died together in a car crash-who would inherit their assets if they didn’t have a Will. Answer-in the legal world, where the order of death is uncertain, the older partner is assumed to have died first.

A tragic case has just been reported where a married couple, who each had a daughter from previous relationships, sadly died of hypothermia in 2016 and were found in their house a week later; Mr Scarle was 79 and his wife, Mrs Scarle, 69. The presumption was therefore that Mr Scarle died first being 10 years older, meaning his assets would then pass to his Wife under the intestacy rules and then on to Mrs Scarle’s daughter. Mr Scarle’s daughter would receive nothing.

Mr Scarle’s daughter is challenging the decision saying that it was much more likely that Mrs Scarle died first due to her medical condition (she had suffered a stroke in 1998) and was generally in poor health. If she can produce clear evidence that Mrs Scarle died first then it is Mr Scarle’s daughter who would inherit the entire estate. The decision on the case is to be given at a later date.

This is a sad and rare case but it does highlight the need for professional advice where there are complex family structures if you wish to avoid disputes in the future. A solicitor specialising in Wills would have addressed the issue of how to ensure each of their children could have benefitted when they had both passed away.

Gifts to Charity

 

Giving money to charity in your Will is a lovely way to leave a positive legacy for the future.  People leave:

  1. Cash sums
  2. Property
  3. A share, or the whole, of their estate.

There can be tax advantages to leaving money to charity in your Will.

Legacies left to UK charities now exceed GBP3 billion a year, up by 10 per cent on last year, according to figures from the wills notification service Smee & Ford. More than 10,400 individual charities were named in wills in 2018, the highest number ever recorded. You might be interested to know that the most popular causes are places of worship.

If you would like to leave a gift to charity in your Will, please contact Joanna or Rebecca.