It has been widely reported in the press in recent months of the considerable backlog of work that the Probate Registries in England and Wales are facing. Whereas in previous years, a Grant of Representation often took 10 days to be issued from the outset of the application, Solicitors are reporting applications taking an average of 8 weeks with some cases taking in excess of 13 – 15 weeks.
The delays have been caused due to the Probate Court Service having transitioned to a new IT system in January of this year; a system which seems fraught with teething problems; and also the Government’s proposed increases in probate court fees which were originally due to be brought into force on the 1st April, meaning the Probate Registries were flooded with applications in March, ahead of the date of the proposed changes.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) met HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) at the end of June, together with The Law Society and Solicitors for the Elderly, to obtain an update on the delays and disruption to the probate service.
HMCTS gave the following update on work undertaken since the 14th May:-
They have taken on 30 new staff since the transfer to the new IT system.
They currently have 180 employees working across the Probate Service, having recruited additional legal advisors with probate experience.
HMCTS is now issuing approximately 20,000 grants a month.
Applications are being dealt with in date order, with the oldest first.
Grants are not being prioritised according to urgency and such applications based on urgency are not being granted.
The current timescale is 6-8 weeks for applications to be dealt with.
There will not be any refund of probate fees made due to the delays.
HMCTS anticipates that once its new digital system is fully up and running, there will be less scope for administrative and human errors. Users will be able to track applications and make corrections online.
STEP are due to meet with HMCTS for a further update at that time. However, practitioners continue to report delays in excess of the timescales currently being given by HMCTS, meaning there are many bereaved people being left in limbo by the current chaos.
Should you require help with the administration of an estate, please get in touch with Rebecca Head on 01543 440308.
In the media there has been controversy over a “shipping company with no ships”, Seaborne Freight (UK) Limited, that has been awarded a £14 million government contract in readiness for Brexit.
Ridicule has been heaped on the company in many publications because of the ‘terms and conditions’ that were published on its website at https://seabornefreight.com/. The terms and conditions that appeared on Seaborne Freight (UK) Ltd’s website stated:
“It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order.”
It would appear that at least some of the published terms and conditions have been prepared for reasons other than freight shipping. The words in the excerpt have now been removed, presumably because of all the press attention. One would expect the company to have moved quickly to repair the damage to its corporate image that has resulted but no. As of today (04 January 2019) another section remains which is laid out thus:
“Seaborne Freight (UK) Limited and any
disclose, distribute, incorporate and otherwise use that material and all data, images, sounds, text and other things embodied in it for any and all commercial or non-commercial purposes.”
There is a noticeable gap between the word ‘any’ and the word ‘disclose’ which means the words on either side of that gap do not form a coherent sentence. Whatever editing was carried out by the company since this story hit the news has obviously been clumsy and less than thorough.
As the government are proposing to spend taxpayers’ money with this company the negative reaction has put the transport secretary in a bad light and brought questions as to what sort of due diligence the government carried out before awarding the contract.
A company website is a shop window to the world. Putting up terms of business copied from elsewhere without thought is a cheap shortcut, illustrative of a company whose managers do not care about important things. Also copying terms from elsewhere on the internet without permission is unlawful as it breaches the owner’s copyright. Terms and conditions are intended to create legal relations between the company and a customer. If there is a problem with a customer, how is a Court going to identify the obligations arising out of shipping freight relationship when the terms and conditions refer to food?
This sorry tale provides a stark illustration of how quickly a carefully cultivated business image can fall apart and how it can have a negative effect on customers of that business. For the sake of a modest expenditure, we work with the director(s) to prepare terms of business that fit around the business model. This process also helps the directors to understand how the law interacts with their particular business. After Seaborne Freight UK Ltd the benefits become obvious.
Joanna Parkin recently became a Dementia Friends Champion, meaning she is able to deliver Dementia Friends information sessions on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Society. The Dementia Friends programme is a social action movement designed to change the way we act, think and talk about dementia.
“I have previously attended a Dementia Friends Information Session and found it really interesting and helpful with my understanding of people who are living with dementia. I wanted to join my colleague Beckie Head in becoming a Champion and keep spreading the word”, says Joanna.
Information sessions can be run for groups of 5 people upwards. Should you or your business be interested in hosting a free session, please contact Joanna on 01543 440308.
A recent gift to the charity Oxfam has highlighted the importance of making a provision in your Will for the unlikely event that the whole family should die with you or before you.
Richard Cousins was the head of Compass, a successful Catering company, and had an estate worth in excess of £40m. On 31st December 2017, he was with his fiancée and 2 sons (aged 25 and 23) when the plane they were all flying in crashed into a river in Australia and all on board were killed.
Cousins’ Will provided that his estate would pass to his sons, sadly they died with him. His Will included a long stop provision that should his sons also pass away then the bulk of his fortune would pass to his chosen charity, Oxfam. Without this provision, his estate would have been governed by intestacy rules.
At Four Oaks Legal Services, when we talk to you about making a Will, of course we look at family members you wish to provide for in the first instance but often, particularly where children are young and it is likely that you travel together, or where the family is small, we will advise you to name a ‘long stop’ individual or charity who would be entitled to benefit should those first in line have passed away.
Hopefully, the worst won’t happen but if it does then it’s important to have a plan in place. Many charities rely on legacies in wills and in 2017 legacy giving accounted for over half the single source of funding for charities.
We are pleased to announce that we are expanding and will be opening our new Lichfield office at Ground Floor, New Media House, Lichfield, WS14 9DZ on Monday 22nd October.
We have outgrown our offices at 168 Birmingham Road, which has been our home for the last 2 and a half years. New Media House will become our main office but we will continue to offer appointments at 168 Birmingham Road, Shenstone Wood End, WS14 0NX as we currently do now. Therefore clients who visit us at our offices can choose which location they wish to visit.
The new Lichfield office is on the outskirts of Lichfield and there is plenty of parking at the rear of the office. We will be based on the ground floor with an easily accessible meeting room.
We look forward to welcoming you to our new office soon!
We reported back in February 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 during that time.
Following a Freedom of Information request, the Office of the Public Guardian have confirmed that as at the end of August, there have only been 158,212 claims made for refunds. The OPG believes there are over a million potential refunds due.
On Wednesday 12th September 2018, Four Oaks Legal Services and Tamworth Wellbeing and Cancer Support Centre, held their inaugural charity golf day at Aston Wood Golf Club.
Ten teams played the 18 hole course at Aston Wood, including a team made up of former football manager Ron Atkinson, former Aston Villa footballer Steve Staunton and local Birmingham based actor Mitch Powell, in superb September weather.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of the golfers, the sponsors and our hosts at Aston Wood, the day was a great success and raised a whopping £2,209.15 for Tamworth Wellbeing and Support Centre!
A huge congratulations go to the winning team ‘The Peaky Blinders’, consisting of our very special guests Ron Atkinson, Steve Staunton, Mitch Powell and Aston Wood Manager Simon Smith. Also, a well done to the best individual player Richard Bywater and the runner up, our very own Stuart McIntosh. Nearest the pin winner was Simon Trevelyan of Four Oaks Financial Services. The longest drive winner was John Burton and the putting competition winner was Mark Blake – congratulations to you all!
Finally, we would like to thank our sponsors for the event, who helped raise much needed funds for the charity. To you all, we are very grateful:-
Please keep Wednesday 11th September 2019 free as we are planning to do it all over again!
• 98% of people in the West Midlands leave important health and welfare decisions to chance
• 71% would like a family member to make medical and care decisions on their behalf, in the event of mental incapacity
• 80% of people in the West Midlands are worried about dementia and losing the ability to make decisions for themselves
• 81% haven’t discussed end of life medical and care wishes
• 36% admit to having made no provisions at all, such as a will, Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), pension or funeral plan
Coalition of partners join forces to warn of ‘incapacity crisis’ led by SFE, including Baroness Ilora Finlay, Alzheimer’s Society, Dying Matters, Age UK, Anchor, and SOLLA
A new report from SFE (Solicitors for the Elderly) and independent think tank, Centre for Future Studies, reveals the UK is leaving medical and care preferences to chance. The report looks at the ever-increasing number of people living with dementia which, combined with the failure to plan ahead for mental incapacity, exposes a looming crisis.
The study found 98% of people in the West Midlands have not made necessary provisions, should they lose capacity from conditions like dementia. A further 36% admit to having made no provisions at all for later life, including a will, pension, funeral plan or LPA.
The research found that 80% of people in the region are worried about dementia and losing the ability to make decisions for themselves, but 81% have not spoken about, or even considered, personal medical and care end of life decisions.
A staggering 70% of people incorrectly believe that their next of kin can specify what they would have wanted if they are no longer able to and 71% of the public would like a family member to make medical and care decisions on their behalf.
69% of people incorrectly believe that their spouse has the power to do so
80% of those in the West Midlands are worried about becoming mentally incapacitated and losing the ability to make decisions for themselves
60% believe that being on the NHS organ donor register ensures that organs are donated following death, however this is not the case.
Only 2% of Britons surveyed in the West Midlands by SFE have a health and welfare LPA in place.
SFE is urging the nation to act now to avoid this incapacity crisis by planning ahead in case of mental incapacity.
It is crucial to have a conversation with loved ones in order to make specific medical and care wishes known – such as, where you are cared for, whether you wish to be an organ donor and whether or not you would want to be resuscitated – otherwise there is a risk your preferences are not taken into account.
The campaign calls on people to act now and start a conversation with loved ones about end of life topics to remove the stigma surrounding the discussion.
Lakshmi Turner, Chief Executive of SFE, said:
“Most of us do not like thinking about, let alone talking about, death, disability or disease, despite the fact that it touches all our lives – but it is essential that we do so.
“Whilst it’s great that more and more of us are putting wills in place and establishing plans for finances and assets, far too few of us are planning ahead for our health and care needs and wishes, leaving this to chance.
“It’s time to set the record straight. Planning ahead by talking to family or friends shouldn’t be seen as doom and gloom, it’s about having a positive conversation about welfare, empowering your loved ones and making the decision-making process easier for everyone.”
Professor Ilora, the Baroness Finlay, states: “With decades of experience working and campaigning around palliative medicine, the low numbers of health and welfare lasting power of attorneys is of concern.
“When a person loses capacity to take decisions, it is sad to see families and professionals struggling to try to determine what a person would have wanted. Delays and distress can be avoided by appointing someone to speak for you when you can no longer speak up for yourself.
“Discussing medical and care wishes ahead of time ensures that care can respect an individual’s wishes, with the respect they deserve – even when it comes to fulfilling wishes after death, such as organ donation.
“It’s important to have an open discussion about future illnesses and possible incapacity. I urge the millions of people who haven’t given loved ones the opportunity to listen, to act now.”
Jeremy Hughes CBE, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society
“We welcome this initiative. Lasting powers of attorney for health and welfare too often get overlooked.
“People with dementia have the right to make choices about their care, just like anyone else. Making someone they trust their attorney for health and welfare is one of the ways people can do this. A health and welfare LPA provides reassurance to them and the act of creating one can start useful conversations about the future with family and friends.”
Promises from slick marketing campaigns that by putting your property and assets into a trust you can avoid care home fees and Inheritance Tax (IHT) are all over the local and national press.
Several companies are currently running high profile marketing campaigns targeting people concerned about their wealth being chipped away by care home fees and IHT. Often termed in the adverts as ‘Asset Protection Trusts’ or ‘Family Protection Trusts’, this type of trust has been around for many years but has been given a ‘marketing makeover’ by these companies, who are eager to cash in on worried consumers, often charging several thousand pounds to set one up. In fact, in our opinion, this type of trust may only be suitable for the circumstances of around 5% of the UK population.
The companies often name themselves as Trustees on the Trusts they establish meaning that they then own and control the assets within the Trust; for instance, if you put your house into the trust, then the company directors (as the Trustees) own your house. It isn’t possible to end the trust without their consent and in order to give that consent many will charge a fee of several hundred pounds for meetings and further charges will be made should the Trustees retire from the Trusts.
Why Don’t These Trusts Work?
If you need to go into care in the future a local authority could decide you should pay for your care anyway because by putting your assets into the trust you have ‘deliberately deprived’ yourself of capital which could have been used to meet the costs.
How Are They Getting Away With It?
The provision of advice around Will writing and estate planning is not regulated by a professional body; the scheme these companies are marketing is not illegal but would only be suitable in a very limited percentage of cases.
If you are considering whether a trust would suitable for your situation, you should seek advice from a regulated professional with appropriate qualifications.
It is advisable to use a provider who is regulated such as a Solicitor or a member of the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners. Solicitors are regulated by the SRA and are required to have professional indemnity insurance. If the firm you used to make your Will no longer exists, then your documents will still be safe as the SRA will ensure all matters are passed to another Solicitors’ firm. Anyone can call themselves a ‘lawyer’ but only Solicitors with practising certificates issued by the SRA can legally use that term.
As a Solicitor who deals with elderly client matters, I come across some really sad situations for families. However, taking advice and acting on it, at the right time, can mean a difficult situation is made slightly easier and not a whole lot worse for the families involved.
I visited a Tamworth couple recently at their home. They had been married for many years and sadly the Husband had vascular dementia. His Wife had called me previously when her Husband was in the early stages of diagnosis of the disease and whilst he was still capable of making his own decisions. I’d advised her that her Husband should put a Lasting Power of Attorney in place to cover his Property & Affairs as soon as possible, as with vascular dementia, a decline in mental state can happen more quickly than with other types of dementia. I was particularly concerned about this couple as many of the family assets were held in her Husband’s sole name, including their family home. The lady was very reluctant to talk to her Husband about these matters and therefore decided not to. She contacted me again some months later to visit them to discuss matters with them both.
The meeting was prompted by the fact that the Husband’s condition had deteriorated considerably. The lady was attempting to care for her Husband at home but the house they lived in was a large house. She felt that if they moved to a small bungalow then she would be able to avoid her Husband having to be cared for in a residential setting. She had seen a bungalow that would be ideal for the parties needs and wanted to sell their home but obviously could not do this without her Husband’s consent.
After a thorough assessment about his understanding, it was apparent that the Husband was no longer capable of making a Lasting Power of Attorney. A person must understand the nature of their actions to put one in place. I explained to the Wife that she must now make an application to the Court of Protection to ask the Court to appoint her to manage her Husband’s affairs and to give her authority to sell her own home. Such applications can take several months and are very costly, often costing several thousands of pounds. This therefore meant that the family were unable to buy the bungalow they wanted and that would have suited their needs. Had they taken steps earlier to put a Lasting Power of Attorney in place, this incredibly difficult situation would have been avoided. Whilst it may not have solved the issue that the Husband was poorly and would deteriorate, it would have provided the family with more options and less stress at a crucial time.
Please contact Rebecca for a no obligation discussion, if you or your family may be affected by these issues.