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.

Probate Fees Update

 

The proposed considerable increases in Probate Court fees have yet to materialise, despite concerns that these would be brought in on the 1st April 2019.  With Parliamentary timetabling, the earliest these could be reviewed would be the start of the Autumn session.  However, there will be an increase in the price of obtaining a copy of a Grant from £0.50 to £1.50 as of the 22nd July 2019. 

The proposed considerable increases in Probate Court fees have yet to materialise, despite concerns that these would be brought in on the 1st April 2019.  With Parliamentary timetabling, the earliest these could be reviewed would be the start of the Autumn session.  However, there will be an increase in the price of obtaining a copy of a Grant from £0.50 to £1.50 as of the 22nd July 2019. 

Probate Registry Delays

 

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.

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.

What a ‘SHIPPY’ Takeaway

seaborne freight
Seaborne T&C web page

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.”

_105054073_excerpt-nc
Part screengrab of the original Seaborne T&C

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.

If you want to discuss your own business terms without obligation, please contact Stuart on 01543 440 308 or email on admin@fouroakslegalservices.com.

We Are the Dementia Champions!

Making Dementia Friends

Dementia Champions Joanna and Beckie
Dementia Champions Joanna and Beckie

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.

Further information about the Dementia Friends programme can be found here https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/

The Important ‘All in the Car Together’ Clause

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.tom-barrett-318954-unsplash

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.

If we can help with updating or making a new Will for you please contact Rebecca or Joanna on 01543 440 308 or e-mail us at rebecca@fouroakslegalservices.com or joanna@fouroakslegalservices.com

 

Great News – We are Expanding!

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.shutterstock_159894752

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!