Universal Wealth Preservation

Were you a client of Universal Wealth Preservation?

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Four Oaks Legal Services have been made aware by the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP) that they have received an unprecedented number of enquiries about Mr Steven Long and the companies of which he is a Director, namely Universal Tax Solutions which traded as Universal Wealth Preservation. Associated companies also include Universal Asset Protection Ltd and Universal Trustees Ltd.

Mr Steven Long, his Wife Mrs Melanie Long and Universal Trustees Ltd have acted as Professional Trustees for many clients. Universal Wealth also assisted clients with the drafting and management of trusts; drafting wills and lasting powers of attorney (LPAs); as well as providing  storage of original documents.

STEP have confirmed that they suspended Mr Long’s membership back in November 2017, pending the outcome of investigations into the numerous complaints they received.

Universal Asset Protection entered into compulsory liquidation in May 2018, although the business premises of Universal Wealth Preservation was closed several months before this time and the website is no longer active.

Four Oaks Legal are aware that many people have experienced great difficulties in attempting to contact Universal, with no responses to emails, letters or phone calls made.  Those clients have been concerned about the management of their trusts and have been unable to ascertain the whereabouts of their assets, or retrieve original wills and LPAs held in storage by Universal.   Some clients have discovered their LPAs have not been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), although they believed they had.

We are aware that Suffolk Police are in the process of investigating Mr and Mrs Long, and they have seized all documents that were held at the businesses premises.  Universal clients now face the realistic prospect that they are unlikely to retrieve original documents or to recover cash assets.

What should you do now?

The advice STEP is giving to Universal clients is as follows:-

  • Seek independent legal advice from an experienced trust and estate practitioner on your options, which may include how to make an application to the courts to replace Mr and Mrs Long/Universal Asset Protection Ltd as trustees, making new wills and LPAs.
  • Check whether Lasting or Enduring Powers of Attorney have been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian – call the OPG on 0300 456 0300.
  • If you are not in possession of an original will held by them, make a new one without delay.
  • Contact the Land Registry to ascertain in whose name your property is registered. Call the Land Registry on 0300 006 0411. The Land Registry is aware of the issues with Universal.
  • If appropriate, consider whether to make a report to Action Fraud quoting ‘Operation Ardent’.
  • If concerned by marketing information received or direct approaches from other firms advising you to use their services, consider taking advice from Trading Standards/Citizens Advice Bureau.

If you are affected by any of these issues with Universal, please contact Rebecca Head or Joanna Parkin on 01543 440 308 and they will be pleased to discuss your options with you.

Can I get a copy of a deceased’s Will?

A question that our probate team often get asked is “Can we get a copy of a Will after a person has died?”.

Can I get a copy of a Will?
Can I get a copy of a Will?

If an estate requires a Grant of Probate then the deceased’s original Will is submitted to the Probate Registry and is retained there.  The Will then becomes a public document and anyone, upon payment of a small fee, can apply for a copy of it.

You can find out if a Grant of Probate has been obtained, and order a copy of a Will, by using the Gov.UK search tool here:-

https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills

If an estate does not require a Grant of Probate, the Will remains a private document and only the Executors of the estate can then agree to release a copy.

 

 

 

Court of Protection to Refund Overcharged Fees

Following the successful refund scheme for registration fees in relation to Lasting Powers of Attorney, the Ministry of Justice have now announced that some Court of Protection fees are also to be reduced.  An internal review found that the fees are higher than necessary to recover court costs. Therefore, a refund scheme will be set up to reimburse people the amounts they have been over-charged. Details of the scheme are yet to be published.

Property Trust Wills

An increasing number of people are worried about the possibility of needing care in the future and the financial impact that may have upon their assets. Protective Property Trusts in your Will can enable a couple to save part of their property to pass onto their family.  These types of Wills are also sometimes called Property Trust Wills.

What is a Property Trust Will?

A property trust is a type of legal structure that can be included as part of your Will and is designed to protect your share of jointly owned property from being included in financial assessments that are carried out to determine how much you should contribute to long-term care fees. The structure can also be useful should you be worried that your spouse might re-marry in the future by protecting your share of the property for your family.

A property trust will covers a share of a jointly-owned property to ensure that a surviving spouse or partner can still benefit from their deceased partner’s share in the property even when they are gone.  Should the survivor have to go into long-term care, their deceased spouse’s share will be protected – and can be passed onto family members upon their death.   

Most couples when making a Will, leave their assets directly to their partner. Should the partner require care, this can mean that there are less assets to pass onto the family after their death.

For this reason, Property Will Trusts can hold assets on behalf of the partner to guard against deductions made due to care costs.

How Does It Work?

The best way to explain how Property Trust Wills work is through an example:-

Let’s say Mr and Mrs Marr jointly own their home. They want to ensure that their respective shares will be passed to their two children when they pass away.  They want peace of mind that if the survivor of them needs care, at least half the property can be passed to their two children.

If Mr Marr dies before his wife, his half share in the property will go into the Property Trust set up in his Will – with the remainder of his estate left to Mrs Marr. She then has the right to occupy the property or move house if she wishes. If she requires long-term care in the future, her Husband’s share of the property remains in trust and cannot be taken into account during any financial assessments to determine what she will need pay towards her care.

In short, 50% of the value of the property cannot be taken and used to pay for her care fees.

This type of trust covers every eventuality. Even if Mr and Mrs Marr’s children divorce, predecease them or declare bankruptcy, the surviving spouse still retains occupancy and their share in the property is fully protected. Upon Mrs Marr’s death, the half share of the property is transferred to her two children, even if Mrs Marr has used all her assets to pay for care.

What Does This Cost?

Depending on your circumstances, this type of arrangement can cost from £400 – £525 + VAT.

Four Oaks Legal Services can assist if you feel a Property Trust Will might suit your circumstances.  Please contact us on 01543 440 308.

 

Should You Give Your Property to your Children?

One of the frequent questions I get asked as a Solicitor is whether a parent should give their home to their children. My clients have many reasons in mind as to why they might want to do this from ensuring the house passes to the children to attempting to avoid paying for care  or just getting the children to take over responsibility for the property so they don’t have to worry about maintenance issues any longer.

Providing you have no mortgage on your property, you are at liberty to gift your home to your family if you want to do so. But there are a few issues you may need to bear in mind before making that decision:

You will no longer be the legal owner of your home

If you gift your home, you need to consider the possibility that your child may divorce. If this happens, they may be forced to sell your home as part of those proceedings. Equally, your son or daughter’s ex-spouse would have a legal claim against their estate, which would also include your home.

If your child has financial problems and had an issue with bankruptcy, your home would form part of their estate. This could then potentially be claimed by creditors seeking to claw back money from their estate.

If your child predeceases you, their beneficiaries would then become the owner of your home.

If you wanted to obtain equity release on the property, you would be unable to.

If you needed to release some equity from your home, perhaps to help pay for adaptions if your health needs changed, you would not be able to do this. As you wouldn’t own the property, you can’t take equity release on it.

You need to consider Inheritance Tax

You may think that if you transfer your home to your children, then it won’t form part of your estate for inheritance tax purposes should you survive 7 years after making the gift. Unfortunately that is not the case. Due to the reservation of benefit rules, if you “give” away an asset that you continue to use, it is still treated as part of your estate for inheritance tax purposes. By gifting your property to you children during your lifetime, you could also lose the new residential nil rate band allowance as well.

You need to consider Capital Gains Tax

Before gifting your property, you also need to think about other tax, such as capital gains tax. This applies where a property is not a “principal primary residence” and could apply if, for example, your child is not living in your home when it is transferred into their name but has increased in value when they come to sell it.

Will I avoid care home fees?

You need to tread carefully before passing your home onto your children for this reason. The Local Authority could view this as “deliberate deprivation of assets” to avoid having to pay residential care home fees.

Put simply, transferring your home to your children in this way may be seen as an attempt to conceal funds to avoid paying for care.

If this is deemed to be the case, the Local Authority can reverse the transfer of ownership back to you or they can include the value of the home in your financial calculation anyway but including it as “notional capital”.

So gifting your home involves a number of considerations and a decision to do this should not be taken lightly. I would recommend seeking advice from a specialist Solicitor about these issues beforehand.

Rebecca Head is a private client Solicitor with many years experience and can be contacted on 01543 440 308.

Are you due a Refund for Lasting Power of Attorney Fees?

 

We reported back in July 2017 that the Office of the Public Guardian would be making partial refunds to people who had paid to register their Lasting Powers of Attorney between the 1st April 2013 and the 31st March 2017.  This was due to the Office of the Public Guardian making savings on their operating costs which weren’t passed onto the public at that time.shutterstock_119205097

The Office of the Public Guardian have now announced that either the donor of the power or their appointed attorney can make the application for a refund.  Full details can be found on the Government website https://www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney-refund but applications can be made online  or by telephoning the Office of the Public Guardian on 0300 456 0300 (choose option 6).

 

What Might I Be Entitled To?

How much you get will depend on when you paid the fee.  You will also be entitled to 0.5% interest on the sum due.

When you paid the fee Refund for each power of attorney
April to September 2013 £54
October 2013 to March 2014 £34
April 2014 to March 2015 £37
April 2015 to March 2016 £38
April 2016 to March 2017 £45

You’ll be entitled to half the refund if you paid a reduced fee.

The Office of the Public Guardian has estimated there will be some £89 million pounds to be refunded, so they are estimating it will take up to 12 weeks to process the refunds.

Finally, if the donor of the power has since passed away, a refund can still be claimed.

For further information, please contact us on 01543 440 308.

 

Why Making a Will is Tough for Parents of Children with Disabilities

Statistically speaking, some 60% of the population haven’t made a Will. Of the 40% that have, around 20% of those need to review those provisions. Scary, isn’t it?

For parents with children who have disabilities, there are no specific statistics on how many of them haven’t made a will but in my 14 years’ experience as a wills Solicitor, I would guess it it will be an even higher percentage than 60%.

Over the years, I’ve given numerous talks on behalf of Mencap and other organisations, such as schools and charities, who support the parents of children with disabilities. I’ve talked about the issues which surround making a will when you have a child with disabilities and I’ve made many wills for parents in this situation, ranging from children with very mild to moderate disabilities to those who have very severe disabilities. In talking to many of these parents over the years, I’ve gained an insight into why many don’t act to make wills. In order to help other parents who may be in a similar situation, I thought I’d share those reasons with you, together with my responses.

Top Reason – the Ostrich Approach

No-one likes to think of a time when they won’t be here for their children but for parents of children with disabilities, this can be even harder to think about. For most of us, when our children are adults in the eyes of the law, they can take care of themselves and whilst we may not be around, they will manage. For those parents of children with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities, it can be a real worry to think about who will care for your child as they may never be in a position to care for themselves. This tends to mean that parents just don’t think about it as it’s too upsetting for them to do so. They take the ostrich approach of sticking their head in the sand and no planning gets done.

Answer: Whether you make plans or you don’t, the inevitable will happen. It is surely better to have a will in place setting out your plans for your child, so that you can rest easy in the knowledge you’ve taken care of everything that you possibly can for them.

Second Reason – my child doesn’t understand the value of money

We all want to pass on our hard-earned money to our children and give them as much of a head start as possible but, when you have a child with a disability, it may not be as simple as that. If your child does not understand the value of money, this can be a huge problem as it may not be appropriate to leave them a large inheritance that they will not be able to manage. They may have no, or limited, skills to manage the funds or they may use it inappropriately.  There is also the risk that they may become susceptible to third parties who may want to relieve them of your hard earned money.

Answer: Trusts can be used to help provide for children who cannot manage funds themselves.

Third reason – my child will lose their benefits, there’s no point me giving them anything

Some children with disabilities may be reliant in the long term on means tested benefits. Therefore if they inherit money, they will have to declare this to the DWP and they may then lose those benefits. Many parents feel that they are giving with one hand and the DWP are then taking it away with the other hand. Some parents, therefore choose not to do anything as they can’t see the point in leaving anything to their child in this situation.

Answer: Certain types of trust can be used to help provide for children who are in receipt of means tested benefits. The funds are owned by the trust and not the child, so their benefits are not affected, even though the trust funds can be used for the child.

Fourth reason – I just don’t know where to start thinking about this

Many parents of children with disabilities feel overwhelmed at the thought of making a will because they don’t know where to start or how they will resolve the issues in making appropriate provision for their child. So instead of seeking advice, they do nothing.

Answer: a good friend once said to me “You don’t know what you don’t know”, which is some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. How can you expect to make decisions about your child’s future if you don’t know what the law allows you to do and what options are open to you. Of course, you will feel confused and unsure. If my car makes a strange noise, I don’t lift the car bonnet and look at it thinking “How can I fix this? I don’t know how to do it!”. I call the local garage and have experts look at it and tell me what my options are. It’s really the same with making a will. Have a chat about your situation with someone who specialises in preparing wills for families like yours and they will give you the options that are open to you. Once you know the options, it’s generally very easy to make a decision.

If you are a parent of a child with a disability, or you know someone who is, and you haven’t made a will, I can help. I offer an initial no obligation, no charge meeting to discuss your situation and to advise you about the options available to you, to help you make decisions so that you can begin the journey to properly protect your child and family.

Rebecca Head of Four Oaks Legal Services
Rebecca Head of Four Oaks Legal Services

 

Rebecca Head is a Solicitor and Director of Four Oaks Legal Services and can be contacted on 01543 440 308.

Rebecca Head Defends Lasting Powers of Attorney

Rebecca Head has defended lasting powers of attorney after comments from a former senior judge that powers of attorney may leave elderly people open to abuse

lasting-powerRebecca is a member of the national group, Solicitors for the Elderly which says with the right advice, powers of attorney can act as important safeguards

If you’ve ever made or considered making a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) the comments of a former Senior Judge of the Court of Protection, Denzil Lush, may have caught your attention last week.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40887323

A LPA is a powerful legal document that allows a person to appoint trusted individuals to make important decisions about care and finances on their behalf, in the event of a loss of mental capacity through an accident or illness such as dementia.

In the foreword to a new book on the subject, Mr Lush raised concerns about the “lack of transparency” in how appointed attorneys manage older people’s finances. The former judge went on to criticise the Ministry of Justice as being “disingenuous” in its promotion of the legal document.

However, Rebecca said LPAs are effective safeguards when created responsibly:

“Senior Judge Lush’s comments have given rise to fears that LPAs are a direct avenue for financial abuse. However, his comments must be put into context, as his 20-year career at the Court of Protection will have presented him with the very worst cases of financial abuse.

“An LPA can be a positive and effective legal tool, which ensures your wishes are respected should you ever lose capacity. Senior Judge Lush’s comments should highlight the clear need for professional advice when considering powerful legal documents of this nature.”

If you would like to talk to Rebecca about LPAs and if they are right for you, please call her on 01543 440 308

LPA Overcharged Fees to be Refunded

It was announced on 20th July that the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) will be refunding some £89 million in “excessive” Power of Attorney registration fees for applications dating back as far as 2013.

On 1st April 2017, the OPG reduced the registration fee to £82 from £110.  They claimed that an increase in the number of applications, together with greater efficiency in processing applications, meant  a lower fee could now be charged.  Government agencies are not permitted to run at a profit without legislative authority.  During a recent review, the Ministry of Justice stated that the earlier fees charged meant that the OPG were running at a profit and these additional fees were not permitted.  Those additional fees are to be refunded.

The OPG will shortly announce how it plans to administer the refunds to individuals who registered a Lasting Power of Attorney between 2013 and 31st March 2017.  We will update you as and when we have further information.shutterstock_104156891

Doing Business – Don’t be afraid of the law-it can protect you

When dealing with customers
1. Manage the customer’s expectations.
2. Be clear about what you are selling to them or what services you will provide. Be equally clear about what you are not selling to them and the limit of the services you will provide.
3. Make sure you only ‘do the deal’ with a customer when you are comfortable that you know that you can deliver to their expectations.
4. Do the deal, but only after you have given the customer access to the small print in your ‘terms of business’.

Where the law fits in
1. The small print, the terms of business, should contain all the things that you should think about each time you make a sale but don’t have time to think about.
2. If you sell to private customers (“consumers”), by using a standardised set of terms of business you can ensure that you comply with the new consumer protection law which requires you to give certain information before the deal is done.
3. If things go wrong, yo

ur terms of business will protect you as they set out the boundaries of what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for. This puts you in a stronger position to deal with a disgruntled customer.

Distance and off premises selling – 3 important points
1. You must provide certain information if you’re selling goods or services to consumers through your website or by phone or text message (distance selling). Many of the obligations extend to the situation where you are arranging a sale whilst away from your own business base (off-premises selling). Consumers must be given a 14 day right to cancel the sale.
2. If you don’t follow the rules the law now allows the consumer 12 months to cancel the deal. You won’t be able to go to law and enforce non-payment and you may have to pay compensation. You may also be subject to criminal proceedings as it is now a criminal offence n

ot to provide consumers with their rights. Properly prepared terms of business will provide your customers with the information that you must give them.

3. Concluding sales to customers efficiently and professionally and managing their expectations will help set you apart from your competitors!

For an informal discussion around any of the issues in this article please contact Stuart McIntosh on 01543 440 308 or use the Contact Us form on the website