Category Archives: Probate & Estate Administration

Want to Avoid Care Home Fees? Beware of the Pitfalls

An estimated 1 million or more people have had to sell their home to pay the cost of care fees within the last 5 years; unsurprising given the average cost of a care home is over £700 per week. Many people who are worried about this are now taking drastic action to try and avoid paying care home fees. The results are not always effective, writes Helen Dandridge, solicitor at Ridley & Hall.

“Any schemes that guarantee to protect your home from being sold to fund future care home fees should be treated with extreme caution” says Helen; “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Helen has seen a recent case involving an elderly vulnerable lady which highlights the importance of obtaining independent legal advice from a trusted firm of solicitors before making life changing decisions.

This lady, who lived alone in the Huddersfield area, paid almost £3,000 for her property to be put into a trust. She did not need this service and undoubtedly did not understand what she was paying for. The idea behind the trust deed was to transfer the property out of her sole name, so that if she ever needed to go into a care home, her home would not have to be sold to fund care fees.

Ridley & Hall receive countless enquiries about creating trusts in relation to properties or transferring assets to a family member to protect against care home fees. Whether this option is appropriate to you depends upon your circumstances.

In this particular case, the elderly client went into a care home within weeks of signing the documentation. Her ability to understand complex legal transactions and to give clear instructions is debateable. Sadly, we will probably never know the true extent of what she was advised to do and more importantly, what she understood about the transaction she entered into.

The trust deed would never have achieved the desired outcome for this lady. It was not appropriate in her circumstances and she should never have been advised to sign the documentation. She was asked to pay the money up front and it is unlikely she will get it back.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case.

Many people wrongly assume that transferring their property to their loved ones will mean that the local authority will have to fund any care home fees if they need to move into a care home.

If you do not obtain specialist legal advice from a solicitor then you may have difficulties. Local firm Ridley & Hall are aware of companies who are cold calling elderly and vulnerable adults telling them they can protect their inheritance by putting their home into a trust.

If you need any advice regarding making or reviewing your will, inheritance tax planning or registering attorneys, please contact our Wills and Probate team on 01484 538421.

For further information, please see Age UK’s factsheet ‘Deprivation of Assets in the means test for care home provision‘.

Helen and some of her colleagues are running the Leeds 10km Abbey Dash in aid of Age UK on the 16th November 2014. If you would like to sponsor this worthwhile cause, please visit our JustGiving page.

End of Life Planning

Recent research shows that many of us fail to plan properly for death.  This causes problems and stress for those we leave behind, at a time when they will already be feeling bereaved and sad.

Imagine that you have just died.  Would your close family know if you had made a Will?  Would they know where to find it?  Would they know what your funeral wishes were?

It can be difficult to discuss end of life planning with those you love.  According to a recent study by the Dying Matters Coalition, 83% of people surveyed admitted feeling uncomfortable discussing dying.

Jill Waddington, head of Wills & Probate at Ridley & Hall, says: “Nobody likes thinking about death.  But neither do we want to make things difficult for our families.  So it’s important, for their sake, to plan ahead.”

Here are five practical steps you can take now to make things easier for your loved ones:

  • Make a Will and keep it up to date
  • Appoint someone to make decisions about your money and future health care in case the time comes when you can no longer make these decisions yourself – Ridley & Hall can set up the appropriate documents (lasting powers of attorney) for you
  • Consider signing up as an organ donor
  • Plan your funeral – you can set out your funeral wishes and leave them with your Will or, better still, plan it all in advance with your local funeral director
  • Make sure your loved ones know your arrangements

Ridley & Hall have an expert Wills & Probate team who can offer specialist legal advice in all end of life planning matters.

Ridley & Hall Listed in Legal 500 for 4th Successive Year

Ridley & Hall is delighted to announce that we have been listed in the Legal 500 in three separate areas; contentious probate, family and private client work.

The Legal 500 is a trusted directory providing comprehensive information on the UK’s recommended leading law firms.

Our Contentious Probate team, headed by partner Sarah Young has been listed as a third tier specialist department and highlights Sarah’s work in missing people.

Sarah commented; “I am delighted that the hard work and dedication of my team, and the work of our family and private client teams has been recognised by the Legal 500.”

In addition to her specialist knowledge and experience of dealing with complex contentious probate claims, Sarah is one of leading experts in missing people and has acted for many relatives who are seeking orders in relation to missing relatives.

Our expert Family team have been listed in the Legal 500 for a fourth consecutive year, which team leader and qualified mediator Vicky Medd is extremely proud of.

“When legal aid was abolished for the majority of private family law cases, many thought this would mean the end of family departments,” commented Vicky, “however with our range of fixed fee packages which we can tailor to an individual’s needs and financial circumstances, we are able to continue to grow as a department.”

Finally, the Private Client department which specialises in a range of services including Wills, probate and Lasting Powers of Attorney has also been re-listed for a fourth time. The head of department, Jill Waddington and her team have extensive experience in complex probate and inheritance tax matters.

Managing Partner, Adam Fletcher, commented, “The recognition from Legal 500 reiterates our commitment to delivering a high standard of service to our clients. Furthermore, it demonstrates that the practice provides, not only the usual services you would expect from a high street firm, but we are also leading the way in niche areas such as kinship care, court of protection and missing people.”

The Trips and Traps of DIY Probate

With the UK economy still being far from flourishing, virtually everyone is looking to save money, with legal services being one area identified as being potentially expendable.

So when a relative dies, the increasing trend has been for the executors or administrators (known generally as personal representatives) to deal with the estate administration themselves. It is entirely possible to obtain probate and deal with the estate without ever having to see a solicitor, with personal applications to the probate registry costing approximately £100 – a noticeable saving on solicitors’ fees. This option also offers families the opportunity to deal with things between themselves, without the associated formality of going to a lawyer to discuss personal matters. The district probate registries are approachable and helpful, and can take some of the intensity out of an already distressing process. You can even now swear your documents at a local solicitor’s rather than having to attend at the registry itself.

However this route is not for the faint-hearted as it does carry some risks, as legal group Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) have recently highlighted.

Many professionally drafted Wills contain trusts to save tax, to avoid those who inherit paying care fees and to reduce the likelihood of potential disputes. SFE members have noticed an increase in ‘DIYers’ returning to them to seek advice when they have made a mistake or find the paperwork too tricky. Mrs A’s Will had included a tax saving trust, but when her husband administered the estate, he paid the whole estate to himself. The solicitor was thankfully able to sort out the matter and avoid future complications occurring when Mr A eventually dies. In Mr G’s case, he sold some shares that had made a gain during the administration of his late sister’s estate and had to pay tax. If he had transferred the shares to himself first, before selling them, he could have avoided the tax.

A specialist probate research company, Title Research, has also identified that DIY probates are increasing the risk of tax fraud and the incorrect distribution of assets. Having reviewed government statistics, they say that the share of probates undertaken by solicitors fell by 7% over the five year period between 2004 and 2009 from 72% to 65%. As the economy has floundered and the use of the internet has increased, the current figure is likely to be less again. In turn, an almost inevitable effect of fewer people using solicitors or other professional advisers is going to be the incorrect or even fraudulent distributions of estates and inheritance tax (IHT) evasion. The idea that relatives can save on solicitors’ fees might be an attractive one, but probate and IHT are incredibly complex areas and the chances of making a costly mistake are high.

It was also suggested that the rise in DIY probate could, in part, explain why there are an increasing number of legal disputes over inheritance that reach the courts and perhaps why HM Revenue & Customs are now so concerned over IHT evasion. There has been an 85% leap in the number of high court cases launched by claimants dissatisfied with their inheritance. Such disputes can dissipate the assets of an estate very quickly, so DIY probate can be a false economy.

A lot of these issues can be resolved over time, but it is obviously better that they be avoided altogether. As a personal representative carries a certain amount of personal liability in their role, they can be opened up to substantial legal claims. There are lots of ways to slip up, if corners are cut, or the personal representatives are unaware of the laws and their obligations, especially when the deceased did not leave a Will. The caveat should therefore always be that if in any doubt, seek professional advice, otherwise the £100 personal application may turn into a legal claim of thousands.

Here at Ridley & Hall, we have a qualified and experienced Wills & Probate team who can assist you deal with the administration of an estate as much as you need us to. We are always here to help you at a difficult and distressing time and can usually offer you a qu

Tidying Up Your Affairs

Most of our resolutions may be pretty much forgotten about, but it is still the beginning of a New Year and a good time to take stock of our personal affairs. Use the motivation of the fresh start to look at the arrangements you have in place, as it will be Easter, Summer Holidays, then Christmas again before you know it!

Far too often however, people do not consider the future, thinking only about today, this week or the next couple of months at most. This can mean people fail to take the appropriate steps to ensure that their various assets and affairs can be dealt with in the event that they cannot do this for themselves – either during their lifetime or on their death.

It is therefore important for each of us to think about how our families and friends would cope in sorting things out if we were not able to do so. During later life, where physical or mental incapability may prevent us from dealing with our day-to-day things, such as paying bills, transferring money or sorting out our benefits, we need to think about who could do that for us. With direct debits being a popular form of payment and The Pension Service now crediting bank accounts directly, it is all too easy to assume that these things would take care of themselves. This is not necessarily the case, but if you think about these issues in plenty of time, you have the option of making a lasting power of attorney (LPA) which is a document that appoints a person or persons of your choice (your attorney) allowing them to deal with your property and financial affairs or your health and welfare and make decisions on your behalf. These documents can be as flexible or as rigid as you dictate, but can be very useful if you become incapable of dealing with matters yourself. Also, because you have put these arrangements in place whilst you still have the necessary mental capacity, it is much more straightforward and cost-effective than if your loved ones needed to make an application to the Court of Protection for deputyship had you not done made an LPA and then lost capacity.

Similarly, the same applies for making arrangements to deal with your affairs on your death. By making a Will and appointing executors, and specifying how you wish your estate to be distributed, this again makes things a lot more straight-forward. If you were to die without making a Will, this means that the intestacy rules set down who is entitled to receive your estate and in what proportions and also who can administer your affairs. If you have made a valid Will, it removes this uncertainty. Sometimes people mistakenly believe that all their estate will be dealt with by their spouse, or their next of kin, but this is not necessarily the case. It is therefore far more sensible to leave a Will which outlines your precise instructions and leaves nothing to chance. You can also use a Will to mitigate inheritance tax or protect your estate from future care home fees, for example.

So when you soon have that thought that it’s time to start your “Spring Cleaning” over the coming weeks, don’t just think about having a spotless house, but think about the mess you could avoid for your loved ones by leaving your affairs nice and tidy too.

Should you wish to discuss either of these matters in greater detail, please contact a member of the Private Client department who will be happy to talk things through with you.

 

For more information about Wills, powers of attorney or Court of Protection, please contact the Private Client team on 01484 538421.

Divorcing? Beware the Death Trap!

Divorce is not the end of the world; death is.  If you are divorced – or are considering a divorce – then there are three things that you need to consider in relation to your estate (your assets and debts) if you die.

1. What Do You Own?

If you jointly own a property and you are married or in a civil partnership then it is likely that you own it as joint tenants.  This means that if one of you dies the other will inherit the property automatically under the “survivorship” rules.

Sometimes couples own property as tenants in common (particularly if they have invested unequally).  This means that if either dies then their share passes according to their Will (or according to the intestacy rules if there is no Will).  If you are divorcing one of the first pieces of advice that you will receive, if you are a joint tenant, is to sever the joint tenancy so that you become tenants in common.

The survivorship rule can lead to some tragically difficult inheritance cases.  For example; A is married to B and they have two young children.  A is the victim of domestic violence and obtains an injunction to remove B from the family home.  B moves in with another woman and makes it clear that he wants no more to do with A or his children.  A is diagnosed with cancer and passes away very quickly, before even being able to take legal advice about a divorce or make a Will.  Her only asset is her half share of the property which passes automatically to B.  A and B’s children live with their aunt and B makes it clear that he has no intention of supporting them.  The children, through their aunt, must then bring court proceedings within 6 months of a grant of probate in order to bring their mother’s half share of the property back into the estate for the purposes of making a claim. Much of the estate is spent fighting the case against B so that the children, even though they win, receive very little.

2. Who Gets What?

While you are going through a divorce, you remain married until the divorce is made absolute.  So if you have made a Will during your marriage in which all of your estate has been left to your spouse and you die before the divorce is made absolute, your spouse will still inherit your estate under the terms of your Will.  If you have not made a Will, the rules of intestacy will provide for your spouse and unless your estate is very substantial they may inherit everything.

Sometimes people think that they do not need to make a Will – that the rules of intestacy will make adequate provision.  However that is often not the case.  By making a Will you are able to say who should administer your estate (be the executor) and make it clear about who is to inherit; you may wish to leave specific items to a particular friend or relative .  A Will also enables you to appoint a guardian to look after minor children and to choose the age at which your children inherit.

3. How to Avoid Post-Death Disputes

No one wants their death to cause a family dispute.  Unfortunately many people do just this by failing to plan for their death and to communicate their wishes to family members.

The recent high profile family war involving the children of the late Lord Lambton is a stark reminder.  Three of the daughters of the late conservative defence minister were said to be “bitterly heartbroken” that a row over his 12 million pound estate reached court 7 years after his death. Lord Lambton resigned from the government in 1973 after being caught with a prostitute.  He moved to Italy and spent the last 30 years of his life there.  When he died in 2006 aged 84 his estate was valued at  £12.1m.  His entire estate was left to his son and heir Edward Lambton the 7th Earl of Durham, but three of his daughters, Lady Lucinda Lambton, Lady Beatrix Neville and Lady Anne Lambton issued court proceedings in Italy on the basis that under Italian law all six of his children would be entitled to a share of his estate.  Their brother, the 52 year old Earl, launched High Court proceedings in London denying their claims and arguing that any dispute should be heard in England.  That dispute has now been resolved and an out of court settlement reached.

That particular dispute, because of the sums involved, may have been inevitable.  For most families the amounts concerned are usually very much smaller which can make it financially extremely risky to bring court proceedings.

It is rarely worth arguing over an estate of, say, £50,000.00 because the legal costs of the parties involved can easily swallow up the estate.  So it becomes all the more important from a practical point of view to understand who is entitled to inherit your estate, what they can expect to receive and (if you plan to exclude anyone) to explain and justify that decision in order to try to prevent litigation after your death.  In England and Wales, children do not have the right to inherit a share of their parents’ estate come what may.  You have the right to leave all of your money to the cat and dog home should you choose!

Although no one likes to contemplate their own death, to make a Will is in fact a practical affirmation of care for your loved ones and as such should be reviewed following any significant change in your life.

If you would like further information about inheritance disputes please contact Sarah Young at Ridley & Hall solicitors: on 01484 538421, 07860 165850 or by e-mail.  Sarah Young is a Partner at Ridley & Hall.  She specialises in contentious probate.  She has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.

Huddersfield Law Firm Receives National Accreditation for Third Consecutive Year

Ridley & Hall is proud to be recognised as national experts by a legal publication for the third consecutive year.

The Legal 500, published for over twenty years provides the most comprehensive worldwide coverage currently available on legal services providers, in over 100 countries.

It is used as a yardstick to measure firms by commercial and private clients as well as professional advisers. The Legal 500 is widely regarded as offering the definitive judgement of law firm capabilities. The publication is updated every year and relies on reports not just from solicitors firms themselves but also interviews with clients.

Ridley & Hall has been particularly recommended for its expertise in family law and trusts and probate in the Yorkshire and Humberside region. The Family team headed up by partner Meena Kumari deals with divorce and financial issues as well as domestic violence and parents seeking contact with children and recently launched the FamlyFirst service earlier this year. The firm also has a specialist child care team which includes award-winning Partners Nigel Priestley and Michael George.

Jill Waddington who heads up the Wills, trusts and probate department said “We are really please to be acknowledged once again as one of the top Wills and probate legal service providers in the region. We attribute this to our experienced and friendly team as well as our involvement with a service for those nearing or at retirement age called Elderflower because we feel strongly that older clients need specialist advice. Membership of the Legal 500 provides further assurance of our expertise to offer this service.”

Managing Partner Adam Fletcher commented “I would like to thank our clients who were willing to recommend us; it is their recognition that really means a lot. For a small firm in West Yorkshire this is quite an achievement!”

For more information, please phone us on 01484 538421 or contact us by e-mail.

Choose your executors wisely

It is important to choose your executors wisely. It is an executor’s responsibility to deal with the administration of your estate after your death and it is usually recommended you appoint at least two executors in case one of them is unable to act due to their age, health or geographical location.

Anybody aged 18 or above can be an executor of your Will. A good idea is to choose a friend or family member and a professional, such as a solicitor. One of the advantages of choosing a professional executor is that you can get someone with specialist knowledge involved. It can also prevent an array of problems occurring where an executor acts outside their power. The following case highlights just one such issue.

A gentleman placed his entire estate in trust for his only child who was to inherit the money when she turned 21. He appointed his sister as his sole executrix. After his sudden death, his executrix spent over £30,000 of the inheritance for her own use within months of his death.

This was reported to the Police and led to an 8 month sentence for the executrix who did not realise she was personally liable in respect of the ways monies are applied.

The executrix incorrectly believed that she was entitled to spend some of the money in her capacity as the executrix. However there were no provisions made for her under her brother’s Will and she did not seek any legal advice in respect of her role.

This story shows the importance of choosing somebody that you trust and who understands they have to administer the estate strictly in accordance with the Will. If a solicitor had been appointed he or she would have ensured all monies pass to the rightful beneficiary.

If you do decide to elect friends or family members to be your executors, you must ensure they understand their role and the fact that they are accountable to the Court if they act with impropriety.  This may not be intentional as they will also be dealing with the loss of a loved one. As well as dealing with the grief of your death, they will also have to deal with the burden of extensive financial documentation and tax accounts.

It is extremely important to choose lay executors who can work together and get along with each other. Some people appoint individuals from different backgrounds who may never have met (e.g brother-in-law and aunt). They may never have met prior to your death and may have differing viewpoints in respect of the best way to deal with the administration of your estate.

In worst case scenarios co-executors have been known to fall out over who should be doing what, leading to needless arguments, resentment and acrimony. This has ended in unnecessary legal fees as separate solicitors are instructed in the last instance to untangle months of problems that have been building up.
Ideally your executors should know each other, be aware of their role and be able to work together during an intensely difficult time.

Choosing a solicitor as one of your executors is a good idea. They are trustworthy and experienced and they know their way around legal, tax and property issues.

For further information contact Nosheen Bukhari , she is a solicitor who specialises in Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorneys and Probate matters. She speaks fluent Punjabi and Urdu and is a member of Solicitors for the Elderly on 01484 538 421.

Executor of an Estate? Three Things you Need to Know

It is an unfortunate fact that very cold snaps in winter increase death rates.  The recent cold spell will mean that many people will have taken on the responsibility of dealing with a loved one or friend’s estate and may be thinking of saving money by taking out a Grant of Probate and administering the estate without instructing a solicitor.

If you are in this position you should think twice;

1. You are personally liable to beneficiaries and creditors if you fail to carry out your duties.  It is important that you understand the statutory powers of an executor.  For example, if a beneficiary is under the age of 18 your duties and responsibilities towards that beneficiary have are different to those for adults.
2. If the relationships between you and beneficiaries are not good, the administration of the estate may be extremely difficult.
3. Then there is the tax man.  Do you understand the inheritance tax position?  This isn’t just a question of how much the estate is worth on death but also gifts of property and money made before death.  There is the income tax to sort out both before death and during the period you are dealing with the estate.  There may be capital gains tax to deal with as well.

Some estates are relatively small and uncomplicated.  Many are not.  It is usually cheaper in the long run to instruct an expert in the beginning than to start the process yourself, get into difficulties and then pay an expert to sort things out.

Instructing Ridley & Hall need not be expensive. You will be offered a range of options regarding costs which will be explained clearly.  We have a friendly, approachable team.  Please contact Jill Waddington (solicitor accredited by Solicitors for the Elderly) or our experienced paralegal Hilary Sisson for more information on 01484 538421.