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For those of you watching the Six Nations, you might be aware of campaigns relating to concussion in the game at the moment. We work with a few charities, and work very hard to support people who lose their mental capacity. This can happen either through a condition or illness, or where the person is physically injured  in some way which leaves them incapacitated. This is why we recommend people of all ages consider creating Lasting Powers of Attorney (‘LPAs’).  They are not just for the elderly or infirm, you never know when you might need them. If you want any advice about LPAs then please get in touch.

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A perfect example of why Will writing should be properly regulated: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-26041133 Someone, somewhere, should be in charge of the industry to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t keep happening. My experience is that, whilst this is an extreme example, far too many Will writers either do not have the knowledge to carry out the work.  And often something unexpected is included in a Will – the most common is a change to the Executor of a Will leaving a company you do not know handling your affairs and your money and assets when you are gone. Making a Will really is a simple thing to do well.  But it’s also incredibly easy to do it badly.  Put your trust in someone who does it professionally and is qualified to do it. If you are thinking of changing or making a Will, please feel free to get in touch.  We have been writing them for decades, and are fully regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority.

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It’s that time of year again. If you’re not sure what I mean, then you possibly do not need to know. But if you know what I am talking about but can’t remember what dates are for what, then HM Revenue & Customs have a handy link on their website to help: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa/deadlines-penalties.htm#5 If you need any help with your taxes, then generally you ought to see an Accountant.  However we can help with general and specific guidance too, and if you need help with your returns then we are happy to help for a pre-agreed fixed cost. If you need any help relating to tax, then please get in touch.
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Following on from my recent blog about how to prepare your affairs for when the time comes, we also get a lot of enquiries about what to do when a family member has recently passed away.  Some of it is obvious, some of it less so, so I thought it would be useful to have a practical guide for this too. Registering the Death: The first step, before you can do anything else, is to register the death. You should be provided by the hospital with a Certificate of Death.  Confusingly this is not a Death Certificate.  You need to take the Certificate of Death, and make an appointment with the local Registrar to obtain the Death Certificate.  Without this there is little you can do. The Will: You should always check the Will, if there is one.  People are named in the Will who are responsible for carrying out the deceased’s wishes – from paying their bills to selling their home.  I’m not suggesting you should not show willing, but you should be careful not to start incurring expenses (eg. paying the deposit for the funeral) in case you are going to be responsible for the payment of them. If there is no Will, then the next of kin are responsible – but who are they legally?  It is worth taking legal advice on this, the answer can be surprising. Funeral: Is there a pre-paid funeral plan somewhere?  If not, you could check for information in the Will as it is not uncommon for people to leave instructions with their Will. Failing that, you will have to make arrangements.  Make sure the deceased had sufficient assets to pay for whatever you want to arrange. Paying for the funeral invoice should be possible before a Grant of Probate has been issued (see below).  You can hand / post the original (and final) funeral invoice, plus an original copy of the death certificate, to a bank where the deceased had an account, and if there are sufficient funds in the account then the bank will pay the funeral director direct. Powers of Attorney: There are various kinds of Powers of Attorney, some of which might be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). If this has happened, you should send a copy of the death certificate to the OPG for them to cancel the Power of Attorney.  This is to prevent anybody continuing to use the Power after the death – a Power of Attorney is only valid during someone’s lifetime. Care Home It might be that the deceased was living in a care home when they died. Some care homes are quite strict and will require a room to be vacated (including personal possessions) surprisingly quickly.  I have known one care home ask for the room to be vacated within 3 days, which is excessively short a time scale.  So contact the care home, and ask for details as to their requirements. Empty Properties: Home insurance policies can have strict conditions as to how long a property can be unoccupied for before the insurance is affected by warranties, or possibly even rendered invalid.  You ought to notify the insurance company of the death, and see what their requirements are too.  At the very least I would expect the premium to increase, but be careful what additional warranties are added to the policy – do you have to visit the property frequently to check it is secure?  Are you still covered for burst water pipes? If you are struggling for proper insurance cover, the Law Society recommends JLT insurance, so it could be worth speaking to them: http://www.jltgroup.com/Risk-and-Insurance/SME-Personal-Insurance/Unoccupied-Property-Scheme/ Grant of Probate, or other types of Grants of Administration. Finally, take some legal advice.  It might be that there is nothing ‘legal’ to be done, but sometimes the smallest, simplest things need to be done and it is not obvious without specialist legal help.  You ought to be able to get some quick, free legal advice on the estate and see if there is work to be done. For example, it is common that when a parent dies leaving a living spouse there is often little to do.  But I have known clients not check this with a Solicitor, and discover a large tax bill some years later. A good place to start is the Solicitor holding the Will, if there is a Will.  But don’t think you are always obliged to use the same Solicitor for any legal work.  This is not always the case, so shop around and see if there are better alternatives.  Some Solicitors offer free advice, some carry out the work at fixed fees and some do not, so make sure you get all the information up front. I hope this guide helps, but if you need any further guidance please feel free to get in touch.

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Excellent news again in relation to Will Aid. We haven’t had the national figures as yet, but Fidler & Pepper clients yet again raised more than  £2,500. A big thank you to every client who took part.  And if you didn’t, there is always 2014 to give money to charity and make a Will at the same time! If you don’t have a Will it’s surprising what can happen to your estate. Making a Will, or indeed updating an old one, is very simple with the right help. If you are interested, or have any queries, please get in touch.

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Unfortunately the nature of my work means I meet people who are about to die.  They might be terminally ill with a few months to live, or in hospital having been told they only have a few days left to live. Those who are terminally ill might have time to get their affairs in order.  Part of that can include speaking to their Solicitor, and making sure everything has been prepared so that things run as smoothly as possible after they are gone, without any upset or unnecessary burden on their family and friends. As a firm, we have a checklist of things we go through with clients to get them to consider certain situations that might arise over the final few months.  But I thought it would be useful to have a practical guide for people in this difficult situation: Making a Will Possibly the most important document of all.  Do you have one? If you do, is it up to date?  It shouldn’t cost you anything to visit your Solicitor and go over your Will, have them explain exactly what your Will will do, and if it still suits your situation.  That should give you some peace of mind. Most people know what a Will does, but it can include things that surprise some people, such as Guardianship provisions for young children. Living Wills I have blogged about these before, but this is a way of you specifying treatments that you do not want to have done to you, in a situation where you cannot communicate this choice to a Doctor.  You cannot express a preference (eg. “I choose surgery rather than tablets”), but you can refuse treatments, be it blood transfusions, resuscitation, or being fed through to a tube. You can lodge this document with your GP, and then you know that treatments you are strongly against ought not happen to you. Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) There is information elsewhere on this website in more depth, but LPAs can come in two forms: (1) Property & Financial Affairs, and (2) Health & Welfare.  LPAs are a means of appointing other people to make decisions and carry out tasks for you. Property & Financial Affairs versions are more common, and you can appoint people to help manage your finances whilst you are unable to, be it because you are in hospital or not mentally well enough to do it yourself. General Affairs This is increasingly tricky in a world where bank statements are delivered electronically, and insurance documents are emailed. Do you have easily found documentation to show all of your assets, liabilities, and important information?  If so, do the right people know where it is? Where are your title deeds?  Do you have Life Insurance / Assurance?  Who is your buildings insurance with? You don’t need to have a list of account numbers and passwords in a file for someone to break into your house and steal! But perhaps a list of institutions / organisations would be useful, to give people a guide when you are no longer around.  This isn’t for everyone, but you can do a lot of arranging, and paying for, beforehand.  This can be from choosing a burial or cremation, right up to what songs you want to be played at what point in a ceremony, or even who you do and don’t want to attend.   I hope this guide helps, but if you need any further guidance please feel free to get in touch.

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We don’t get very many enquiries about Statutory Wills, but they can be useful. Essentially a Statutory Will is where a person cannot make a Will themselves, or change their current Will, generally because of mental incapacity.  I will refer to these people as ‘Patients’ here. It is a court based process, where people who are involved in the Patient’s affairs, such as family members, can apply to have a Will drawn up based on what they think the Patient would want to happen, or what would be in their best interests. There are lots of reasons why a family member might feel that a Patient needs a Will, or their old Will might need to be changed, such as: <ol> <li>Where the Patient has lost touch with someone, perhaps they should no longer be included in any inheritance from the Patient?</li> <li>Where the Patient never made a Will, but would have wanted to provide for someone such as a long term partner who would not benefit under the rules of intestacy (i.e. the rules that apply where someone has not made a Will).</li> <li>Where circumstances have changed since a previous Will was made: for example where a child was to receive a property under a Will, but that property has been sold to pay for care fees and now the child does not benefit from the Patient’s estate at all.</li> </ol> What should be said, however, is that a Patient’s estate must comprise significant assets before considering this. If you would like to know more about Statutory Wills, or anything relating mental capacity, then please get in touch.

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Recent reports have suggested that 75% of Councils do not signpost families of residents in care homes to independent advice in relation to care fees. Essentially people are told a figure to pay every month, and families are unclear how it has been worked out, and if it is accurate and takes into account relevant factors. You should receive a calculation of the monthly payment, so if the figure does not seem right it is worth speaking to someone independent to verify it, or at least have it explained to you. You can approach the Local Government Ombudsman if you need help, they will take up the case if you have concerns. You can also call certain kinds of Solicitors, including ourselves.  So if you have been given a figure by the Council to pay for care fees, and you feel it has not been assessed correctly, please get in touch.

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Unfortunately very recently we were called by the daughter of a long term client of ours with some sad news. Our client has been deemed unfit to manage her own financial affairs, and has gone into a residential care home. This is always difficult for the family to deal with.  But in this case it is doubly so because our client has not made a Power of Attorney. We have probably recommended to our client a couple of times a year for about 6-7 years to make one.  But it was never the right time, or felt they were a little expensive (we charge £215 plus VAT to prepare a Lasting Power of Attorney). As a result, the family are faced with a bill of £850 plus VAT, and a court fee of £400 to obtain a Deputyship Order.  These costs are fixed by the court.  A Doctor is also involved in the process, and they charge additional fees for writing a report. This usually takes a minimum of 6 months, and before the Order is made nobody can access or deal with the affairs of the person who has lost their mental capacity (‘the Patient’).  For example, the bank accounts are effectively frozen. A Deputyship Order is a court order allowing a family member, or members, to manage the affairs of the Patient.  It allows them to pay bills, access bank accounts, that kind of thing. In addition to those costs to obtain an Order, there are fees that the Court of Protection charge in all Deputyship Applications.  These include:  – ‘Supervision’ costs, which can be up £800.00 per year for the lifetime of the Patient, and – The purchase of an insurance bond, which can be up to £2,000.00 per year for the lifetime of the Patient, depending on the value of the assets owned by the Patient. And on top of all of these costs, the family member(s) must get the approval for any decision they make which is not covered by the original Order. This can range from buying life insurance to selling a property.  Each of these orders can cost hundreds and even thousands of pounds, and take a further 6 months or so. If our client had made a Power of Attorney, there would be a relatively short registration process of about 3 months, costing around a third as much as the Deputyship Order.  And there are no ongoing annual costs.  No other orders to apply for. The process is so much simpler, and the family are frustrated at our client for not having made a Power of Attorney. If you are interested in making a Power of Attorney have a look at our website, or get in touch.

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I have blogged about this before, but I read an interesting article recently on this again. It involved a gentleman and his wife seeing a Will writing company to have Wills drawn up. The Wife’s Will left money in a life interest trust when she died.  See http://www.fidler.co.uk/probate/will_life_int.cfm for more information, but this means a sum of money was placed in a trust on her death, and the income from that trust is paid to the Husband during his lifetime.  The intention was that, when the Husband died, the money left in the trust would go to the Wife’s children who were from a previous relationship. The Will writing company, by not understanding the trust properly, wrote the Will and left this money in such a way that when the Husband died the money passed to…the Husband. Will writing can be very technical when you don’t understand the rules, so why would you use someone with no qualifications or training? The Husband was asked this.  The Will writing company had charged him somewhere in the region of £900 plus VAT, but he had been told several times that Solicitors charged much more than this. Ask any Solicitor outside of London, and they will tell you these kinds of Wills cost around £300 plus VAT.  Most Wills are actually only half that price. Don’t be taken in by what you are told.  Do the reasearch, get quotes from a Solicitor and a Will writing company, and check what you are getting.  Check that the person dealing with you has been trained to write Wills by some kind of accredited body.  You wouldn’t let some random salesperson change your boiler, so why would let a random salesperson arrange what is going to happen to all of your money and your house when you die? If you have any queries, or are thinking about making a Will, please get in touch.

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