Daily Free Advice Line Opens Adoption Advice

This year’s National Adoption Week is focusing on siblings.

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall and senior legal advisor with Adoption Legal Centre said: “I am one of four children – so is my wife! We have three children of our own!

Those of us lucky enough to have brothers and sisters know how special the relationship between siblings can be.

For many brothers and sisters, the mutual support they give each other and their shared histories are real gifts that help them during their journey through life. Adopted children have usually had a tough start in life. It is even more important for them to experience the stability and support that being with their brothers and sisters can bring.

All the statistics show that sadly, sibling groups are amongst the children who wait longest to be adopted. There aren’t enough adopters who are able to give these children a loving, secure and permanent home together. Brothers and sisters are having to wait longer for a family or may even have to be split up and adopted separately.

Being placed with their siblings may not always be the best option for every child, but it is a tragedy if the shortage of adopters willing and able to adopt siblings when it is in their best interest is the only reason why brothers and sisters cannot stay together. Sometimes people just need to know what support they are entitled to if they go ahead.

At the Adoption Legal Centre we understand the challenges that may face adopters considering taking on a sibling group. If prospective adopters need some free advice to reassure them –  in National Adoption Week they can get it. All week 3rd – 7th between 12.00 and 1.00pm our phones will be manned.

We are happy to advise anyone who needs advice on any adoption issue. We will signpost where to get support and if we can’t give an answer immediately we’ll come back to those who need advice. This might be adopters facing the challenges of caring for sibling groups. It could be prospective adopters who need advice on the responsibilities of Local Authorities to provide support.

Simply call 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Adoption Legal Centre team.

The Human Cost of Payday Loans

On 2nd October 2014 the BBC reported that the payday loan company Wonga had written off £220m in loans for 330,000 customers after putting in place new affordability checks.

Debt specialist, Jacqui Scott of Huddersfield-based Ridley & Hall Solicitors is deeply concerned about the easy availability of payday loans.   Applying for loans can by done via text, email or over the telephone with no investigations into personal financial circumstances.  Jacqui’s client, Malcolm Squire, is prepared to talk publicly about his experiences.

Jacqui comments. “Mr Squire’s experience with Wonga and companies like them was that it was like having a carrot dangled in front of him.”

Mr Squire, from Mirfield found that his troubles began when he was made redundant.  He quickly found that his debt problems started spiralling out of control:

“I was amazed at how easy it was to get loans – a 30-day loan would be offered straight away often by a phone call or text.  Money would be in my bank account within 15 minutes.”

No affordability checks were made and in the end Mr Squires had over 11 payday loans.

Jacqui Scott says, “My client borrowed £270 from one lender. He repaid £127 but still owes £385 – he was always in debt because of the interest that was being added on a daily basis.”

When things started to go wrong, he was pursued relentlessly; “I would receive telephone calls on a daily basis demanding money. I never realised how quickly things would get out of control.  I started with one pay day loan and when it came time to pay it back I needed to take out an additional loan to cover what I had borrowed but also more because of the interest.  In one year whilst I was working I paid £13,000 in interest alone. This just went on and on until it came to the point that I had to pawn items. I took my camera to be pawned and received £25 for it.  For each month that it was in the pawn shop I had to pay £15 interest and I needed to pay £40 to get it back.”

Mr Squire may have his debts written off but the stress over the last two years has taken its toll. He is grateful to Jacqui Scott for her help:

“I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for Jacqui helping me to sort all this out.  At times I was frightened by the phone calls and letters that I was receiving but she reassured me of my rights all the time and how to handle things.”

Jacqui has this warning for anyone considering taking out a payday loan, “The cost of a payday loan is significantly higher than other forms of borrowing.  Typically payday loans have APRs of between 390% and 900% and should only therefore be used with caution and not as a general form of credit.

“Do not borrow more than you will be able to repay and do not rely on payday loans for long term or large scale borrowing.”

Jacqui Scott is a paralegal at Ridley & Hall Solicitors who specialises in debt and landlord and tenant advice.  For further advice please contact Jacqui on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

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.

Is Universal Credit Coming Soon?

Sangeeta Enright sets out the up to date position on the government’s flagship policy.

Universal Credit is one of the government’s biggest welfare reforms and was introduced in April 2013. It has since been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee due to the problems with the technology. However, the project has now been ‘reset’ and official figures show that there are 11,000 people on Universal Credit currently with an accelerated roll-out plan just announced for single jobseekers making new claims.

It will merge six means-tested benefits – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, and Housing Benefit – into a single payment.

If you already receive one of these benefits; you will stay on them unless your circumstances change and you are in a roll-out area, or if the transfer process applies to you.

Broadly speaking, many have welcomed this change as the payment of Universal Credit seeks to remove the barriers that claimants have when they move in and out of work, including part-time work. It also seeks to use ‘real-time information’ about wages.

One of the biggest changes will be the ‘claimant commitment’ and those already working part-time will come under pressure to gain more hours, where previously on Tax Credits, this would not have happened.

A big difference is the move to monthly payments which the government hopes will teach claimants about budgeting in the same way as if they receive wages.

Another potential problem is the plan to make claimants wait 7 days until they are entitled to some benefits, including Universal Credit. Charities and campaigners are concerned that this will lead to further reliance on food banks and unaffordable loans from certain lenders. The Social Security Advisory Committee has launched a public consultation on this, with submissions welcome by 17th October 2014.

Migration to Universal Credit for the majority of benefits and tax credits claimants is not imminent but continues to cause concern as a project riddled with delays and huge expense, especially as we get nearer to the general election.

For advice with regard to welfare benefits, please contact Sangeeta Enright either on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

Secrets and Lies; the Will of Lucian Freud

A court battle over the estate of the late artist Lucian Freud has put the spotlight on the little known area of law of secret trusts.  The artist had 14 children.  After he died on 20th July 2011 it quickly became apparent that his estate of some £42m had been left to his solicitor and one of his daughters (who were also appointed as executors of the Will).

Lucian Freud’s son Paul challenged the validity of the Will; if it was found to not be valid his father’s estate would pass under the intestacy rules which would mean that it would have been divided equally between all 14 children.

The executors of the Will argued that the £42m was being held by them under a “secret trust”.   A Will becomes a public document as soon as a grant of probate is made (this is a document that gives an executor power to deal with a deceased’s assets after their death). Freud wanted to keep his wishes entirely private and, on legal advice, used the little known option of creating a hidden trust.

The solicitor and daughter said that before his death Lucian Freud had told them what he wanted them to do with the money – and that he didn’t want his other children to know what that was.  It was made clear to Paul Freud by the executors that he was not to benefit under the trust.  So what is a secret trust? Simply put, a trust can be described as a relationship created at the direction of an individual, in which one or more persons hold the individual’s property subject to certain duties to use and protect it for the benefit of others.  The person who holds the property for another’s benefit is called a ‘trustee’ and the person who benefits from the trust is the ‘beneficiary’.

In a fully secret trust the Will does not reveal that a trust exists at all. It is simply an earlier agreement between the maker of the Will and the trustees during their lifetime.  Half secret trusts arise when a Will refers to a trust but is silent about any specific instructions – for example A might leave a bequest to B “for the purposes for which I have told him.”

Paul Freud argued that in fact, his father had tried, and failed, to create a half secret trust, which made the Will invalid.  However, at court, the executors of the Will successfully established that a fully secret trust had arisen.

The drama may not be over because Paul Freud and his siblings could bring a separate challenge under the Inheritance Act 1975 to say that the Will did not make “reasonable financial provision” for them.  It is possible for adult children to bring claims against a parent’s estate but these claims are not easy to pursue unless, for example, the adult child was financially dependent on their parent at the time of their death.

Ridley & Hall Partner Sarah Young comments:

“Fully secret and half secret trusts are rare – and it’s easy to understand why the artist’s son in this case was suspicious. On the face of it his father was leaving his incredibly large fortune to his solicitor and one daughter.  But it is clear that Lucian Freud had received professional advice and the law does permit secret arrangements like this. Historically, in Victorian times, men who had a mistress and illegitimate children wanted to be able to provide for them without their legitimate family finding out after their death; secret trusts provided an opportunity for them to retain a veneer of respectability.”

She went on to add:

“Generally speaking it’s not a course of action that would be recommended by solicitors because of the risk of a dissatisfied family member challenging the trust.  Also, of course, the Will maker is relying heavily on his trustees to do what they are asked to do after he has died!  The best way to try to prevent disputes after your death is to make a Will with the benefit of expert legal advice from a solicitor.”

Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley and Hall solicitors in Huddersfield. She specialises in inheritance disputes and has a particular interest in cases involving missing people and financial abuse.

For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley & Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on her direct dial 01484 558838 or her mobile 07860 165850.

BBC South Presumption of Death Act news feature – interview with Sarah Young

Sarah YoungRidley & Hall Partner Sarah Young was interviewed by BBC South on 2nd October 2014 as a national expert on cases involving missing people (see news feature video) clip below. The Presumption of Death Act 2013 came into force on 1st October and transforms the legal landscape for families seeking to resolve the affairs of a missing person who is believed to have died.

Sarah has a particular expertise in missing person cases and assisting family members throughout England and Wales to deal with the difficult and often complex issues that can arise in such circumstances. For further information or advice please contact Sarah on 01484 538421 or email sarah.young@ridleyandhall.co.uk

Nephew Wins High Court Battle with Animal Charities

Seven animal charities who were beneficiaries of an estate have lost a High Court battle with the deceased’s nephew.

June Fairbrother died in April 2011. She had made a Will in 1998, leaving her home, valued at £350,000 to charities.

Ms Fairbrother’s nephew, Kenneth King, moved in with his aunt during her final years to care for her and he argued, successfully, that she had gifted the property to him shortly before her death to enable him to remain there and care for her cats and dogs.

Mr King relied on an unusual legal doctrine called ‘donatio mortis causa’ which is a gift made in contemplation of death. The gift only takes effect on death and there must be a delivery of the gift or something representing the gift which is accepted by the recipient of the gift. In this case, Mr King stated that his aunt had handed him the title deeds and said the house would be “yours when I go”.

The deceased had signed documents which although not valid wills, had left the property to Mr King. The judge decided that this was ‘powerful and corrobative evidence’ that her intentions had changed from what was set out in her last valid Will.

Lawyers representing the charities argued that Mr King was unreliable; he had twice been made bankrupt and had been jailed for acting as a company director when disqualified. They alleged his argument was “too convenient by far”.

It is thought that the animal charities are considering appealing this decision.

Disputes such as this, which commonly involve estates being left to charities, are not unusual. Ridley & Hall have an expert contentious probate department who can offer specialist legal advice in inheritance disputes.

Helen Dandridge is a contentious probate solictor at Ridley & Hall. For an initial consultation if you need advice on inheritance disputes please contact Helen on 0843 289 4640 or by e-mail.

Ridley & Hall Re-accredited Lexcel and Conveyancing Quality Scheme

September proved to be a successful month as Ridley & Hall were re-accredited with both Lexcel and the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS).

Adam Fletcher, Managing Partner, said, “I am delighted to announce that we have been successfully reaccredited Lexcel status. Although Lexcel is well established within the firm, our continued success is as the result of all the staff’s hard work throughout the year, from the office administration staff through to the Senior Partners.

“The Property team has also today been re-accredited for a fourth year under the Conveyancing Quality Scheme. This will ensure that we will remain on all mortgage company panels when acting for our conveyancing clients.”

In 2011, Ridley & Hall became one of the first law firms in the country to receive the CQS accreditation.


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.”

Adoption Numbers Show Rise to Record High

The Department of Education has recently announced a record number of children adopted in 2013/14.

Full details can be found in this BBC news article.

Nigel Priestley, specialist solicitor at Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre commented,

“It‘s good news that adoption levels are at an all time high, meaning the children are getting the care and attention they so desperately need. However, there is clearly more work that needs to be done by the government to ensure that children over 4 years are also receiving this care. The key increase in adoptions has been in the 1-4 years age bracket.

“The Government must also make sure that more specialist support is available for adopters. The increase in adoptions will almost certainly lead to increased demand for support.”

The team at the Ridley & Hall’s Adoption Legal Centre are specialists in advising both adopters and potential adopters. We can help when adopters are facing challenging problems. We advise about what they need to do and what steps they should take to obtain support and advice when they face difficult problems.

For more advice with regard to any adoption issues, please contact us on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.