Monthly Archives: December 2017

Help! I’ve been asked to be an Attorney!

The number of people making use of Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) agreements has increased enormously in recent years. In fact, according to data from a Freedom of Information request, the number of LPAs has increased threefold since 2010.

This is undoubtedly a good thing; LPAs allow you (the “donor”) to nominate an “attorney” – perhaps a relative, a friend, a professional (for example a solicitor), your husband/wife/partner – to step in and make decisions on your behalf should you no longer be able to do so.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society there are currently 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, and that’s expected to pass the million mark by 2025. As a result, an LPA is an excellent piece of planning, ensuring that someone you trust will be making decisions in your best interest should the need arise.

But what about the people that are asked to be an attorney? What does it mean for them?

  • It’s a significant responsibility, so generally people are advised to select good friends or close relatives to be their attorney.
  • As there may be a lot of administration involved – such as sorting out a care home, paying the care fees and keeping up to date records of the donor’s affairs – they need to be reliable.
  • At all times, the attorney will be expected to act in the best interests of the donor, acting in accordance with the terms of the LPA.
  • What’s more, the attorney cannot ask anyone else to take over their duties unless the donor has authorised them to do so.
  • All of this will be unpaid, although the attorney will be able to claim reasonable expenses.

For anyone who’s been asked to be an attorney but believes that it may be too much for them, it’s important to speak to the donor in advance of the LPA being registered, when it would be too late.

LPAs can give donors peace of mind that someone they trust is making decisions on their behalf. However, selecting the right attorney may be more complicated than it first appears, and it’s vital that attorneys are clear on their responsibilities before taking on the role.

For help preparing an LPA – or to discuss the responsibilities of an attorney – call legalmatters on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

The winter of our discontent…

Ah, winter. The most wonderful time of the year! Unfortunately for those professions who deal with death and its aftermath, it is also the busiest time of the year.

Last year, the Office of National Statistics reported 525,000 deaths in England and Wales. Over half a million. Statistically, the winter months see an average of 27% more deaths than the non-winter months, with the majority of deaths occurring among those over 75 years old.

The fact that more people die during the chilliest season probably won’t come as much of a surprise, but the reasons behind it might.

It would be an easy assumption to make that this is down to the Great British Weather, however research has shown that it is not as simple as to blame a drop in the thermometer readings. So let’s consider what are the likely suspects for this increase? Why is it that an individual is more likely to be “no more” from December to March? To cease to be; to be bereft of life, to rest in peace; to be an ex-parrot. Too many sausage rolls? Drinking nothing but fortified wine? Can’t face yet another repeat of Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special? All potentially contributory factors but none of which are cause alone.

In fact, globally, the majority of countries suffer from “excess winter deaths” compared to their more temperate counterparts.

Whereas it would be a not unreasonable assumption to think that when the weather is cold outside we’re going to be much more likely to get ill, research has shown that is not actually the case. Indeed, there is no overall correlation between a cold winter and a rise in excess winter mortality.

“If we look at Scandinavian countries, which generally have much, much colder winters than we do, the number of excess deaths in those countries is much lower,” says Claudia Wells, head of mortality analysis at the Office for National Statistics. Indeed, the excess deaths in warmer countries such as Portugal and Spain are much higher. Yet both the Scandinavians and Southern Europeans have similar overall life expectancies.

Neither are winter deaths linked to socio-economic status. Whereas when you look at the year round average of mortality rates, there is a clear correlation between the deprivation in an area and the number of deaths, but the seasons alone do not have a monopoly on these statistics. Geographical evidence analysed by the BBC showed that in 2012, the relatively affluent county of West Sussex saw 48.3% more deaths occur during winter than the rest of the year. By contrast, there were no excess winter deaths that year in Ceredigion where one in five people are in fuel poverty.

While they say more research is needed to confirm the true cause, the researchers suggest a combination of medical care and will power could be at play.

Many studies have attempted to explain the phenomenon, with contributory factors varying from additional emotional stress, changes in physical environment (such as those travelling away from home to stay with friends or relatives) and changes in diet and alcohol intake to be to blame.

In a study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that many patients delay medical care while the Christmas holidays are underway, and some may even hold off death to experience the festivities one last time. As a result, this could contribute to a delay in seeking treatment and exacerbating an illness.

So, whilst it would be foolish to say that the cold weather doesn’t play a part, it is perhaps not as deadly as some might expect. However, in general, it does remain true that if you live in the North East of England you have a higher risk of dying than if you live in London, where the death rate is the lowest in the UK (must be something in all those jellied eels and chim chiminey-ing).

It’s never too early to plan for the future and prepare your Will. Speak to a member of the team at legalmatters on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

It’s a Wonderful Life; RIP Tara Palmer-Tomkinson…

Whilst half the country shivered under a blanket of snow (or rather less romantically, sat gridlocked on ungritted motorways), there’s no denying that winter is finally upon us this week.

As the year draws to a close, and with Christmas around the corner, the old adage goes that we bring our loved ones near and take stock of our lives during this festive season.  Perhaps because of this, there has been a certain whimsical tone of late to the separate reporting of the Will contents of two recently departed celebrities; Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and ‘Partridge Family’ heart throb, David Cassidy.

Whilst apparently having little in common, other than their ability to generate content for the tabloids, their last Will and Testaments are both seemingly laced with regret.

The former ‘IT’ girl had notoriously lived through highly publicised battles with addiction and substance abuse and ultimately lost her life ‘peacefully in her sleep’ from a perforated stomach ulcer. Following her death in February 2017, it has been reported that her most recent Will was drafted and executed in 2004. Whilst a 13 year old Will is by no means unheard of, the contents were considered newsworthy due to the clause that stipulated Tara’s estate was to go to any children she may have. The papers were quick to lament that the fact that she had died without having children was a ‘tragedy’ and instead, her estate has been left to her nephews and nieces (as instructed by Tara) to inherit as her plan B.

There is little doubt that the death of any 45 year old woman is a tragic event.  However the main body of the reporting seemed to focus on the clause making provision for her children that never were. That the tragedy was to be found in the unfulfilled expectation; assuming that her life was less rich, less fulfilled as a result. Whilst this is most certainly up for debate (and potentially says more about the attitudes of those writing such articles) it is common planning when writing a Will to not only state who you would like to inherit based on your current circumstances (her nieces and nephews for example) but to make provision for future events to ensure that all bases are covered to reduce the need for costly re-writes in the future. Indeed, we would still encourage this school of thinking when taking Will instructions from our own clients today.

However, whilst consideration of all future ‘what ifs’ is always encouraged, it is also imperative to update your Will following any significant changes in your personal circumstances. This is where David Cassidy’s Will comes in.

Once again, relying on a document created in 2004 (presumably a bumper year for Will drafting?), the actor-singer had seemingly cut his daughter, Katie Cassidy, entirely and unequivocally out of his Will, ensuring that she did not receive any benefit from his estate following their estrangement. In itself, and should the circumstances have remained the same, there would potentially be no problem with relying on the 2004 Will. Yet in recent years, David had reunited and reconciled with his daughter. There is nothing to say that he would have made any changes to once again include her in his inheritance as a result, but in any case his death from organ failure came before any amendments were made.

We live in a country that allows for testamentary freedom and the ability to leave your estate to whomever you choose. Yet as Spiderman warns, with great freedom comes great responsibility. To all our clients and beyond, we stress the importance of regularly checking the contents of your Will to ensure they still reflect your current wishes.

Je ne regrette rien. Except possibly that last mince pie… Merry Christmas all.

If you need some help in writing your Will, then speak to a member of the team at legalmatters on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk to find out more.

Estate Planning – Who’s Who?

There are some fairly obvious legal words used when writing a Will but here’s a definition of some of those which might otherwise be misunderstood.

Administrator (sometimes administratix for a woman) – the person appointed by law to settle the affairs of someone who dies without a Will, so usually their next of kin.

Beneficiaries – this is anyone – a person, organisation or charity – left an inheritance (legacy, gift, trust) in a Will, or if there is no Will, under the intestacy rules.

Substitutional beneficiary – if a beneficiary dies before the person making the Will, a substitutional beneficiary will receive a gift in their place.

Bereaved – those surviving the deceased.

Crown or Treasury – this refers to the Government. If you don’t have a Will and have no next of kin, the Crown receives your estate.

Deceased – the person who has died.

Dependents – anyone who is cared for by the person making the Will. It normally includes children, spouse or elderly/sick relatives.

Executor (sometimes executrix for a woman) – the person or people you choose to make sure the instructions in your Will are carried out. You can choose a family member, a friend or a probate professional. An executor may also be a beneficiary of the Will.

Guardian – someone named in a Will who is appointed to take parental responsibility for any children aged under 18 at the time of the person making the Will’s death. They are known as a testamentary guardian.

Issue – this refers to a person’s lineal descendants. So their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It does not include step-children.

Personal Representative – a general term for anyone in charge of administering a deceased person’s estate. It could refer to an executor or administrator of the Will.

Power of Attorney – a Power of Attorney may be given by executors and administrators to probate professionals to allow them to sort the Will without having to ask the executors to sign everything.

Trustee – a person or a Trust corporation (such as a bank) appointed to administer any Trusts created by a Will or arising under the rules of intestacy (so when there is no Will).

Testator (sometimes testatrix for a woman) – the person making the Will.

Child of the testator – in law this refers to children of the testator and includes legitimate, illegitimate, adopted and some surrogate children, but not automatically step-children.

Wards of Court – orphaned children with no appointed guardians are made wards of court. The court then decides what happens to them.

Witness – you must have two witnesses to see you sign your Will. You must watch them sign it and they must also watch each other sign it. You can’t choose a beneficiary (or their spouse) to witness your Will.

It’s important to be clear when drawing up legal documents. Legalmatters can help, we’re always happy to discuss your needs or answer your questions. Call us today on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk for further details.