Category Archives: Estate Planning

Lovely testimonial

Lovely testimonial…

We all love to receive affirmation of our kindnesses. With some people it really isn’t hard to be nice. Take this lady – Jean – who we helped with a recent legal matter. She sent us the most lovely letter, thanking us for the advice and support we’d given her in the last few weeks. She added:

“It made me feel secure and cared for.”

And that’s what we aim to do. Give good advice in a supportive and caring manner. And we hope Jean will join us soon for a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

Pitfalls of DIY Wills

The pitfalls of DIY Wills…

Latest figures reveal only 59% of the UK have written a Will. Of those people, 6% have written a DIY Will. While there are some advantages to create-your-own Wills, there are even more pitfalls. Here, we explore some of the reasons why DIY Wills may not be the answer…

Whilst most of us have come across DIY Will kits or online Will creation websites, have you ever asked yourself “are DIY Wills legal?” The short answer is yes, although they must still meet all requirements of a professionally written Will.

A DIY Will kit doesn’t provide sufficient help and guidance for the more complex circumstances in your life. This includes, for example, if you aren’t married to your partner, have children from a previous relationship or hold an inheritance in a trust until a child’s 18th birthday. Using the services of a Will writing professional means you have access to all the assistance you need, greatly reducing the risk of mistakes in your Will.

Although a DIY Will may cut costs initially, it could cost you in the long-term. All Wills must be written using the correct terms and language, as well as ‘witnessed’ by the right people. If this isn’t done properly, then the Will is invalid and could cost your heirs their estate, or money intended for them. Hiring a Will writing professional helps you to avoid this pitfall; a well-written Will is more robust when faced with any potential objections.

Even if your Will is still valid, there’s a bigger chance that distributing assets to your heirs could take a lot longer than usual. This can come with additional fees and, in some cases, unnecessary tax. According to the Co-operative Legal Services (CLS), 38,000 families a year experience prolonged probate ordeals for poorly written DIY Wills.

What’s more, up to 10% of your estate could be subjected to unnecessary fees if your Will is ineffective. The average value of a person’s estate in the UK is currently £160,000 – so this could incur costs of up to £16,000, a cost which could be avoided if a Will writing professional was used.

It’s also worth thinking about what could happen if your circumstances change during your lifetime. For example, if you get married, have children or grandchildren, someone named in your Will passes away or if your financial situation changes then your Will also needs to be altered. Significant changes to your Will means you’ll need a new one, whereas smaller changes call for a codicil (a document that allows you to make minor adjustments to your Will).

It can be daunting to make these changes, especially if you’re already going through a stressful time due to a death in the family, a divorce or financial issues. Calling on the help of a Will writer can greatly reduce stress and the worry of whether or not your Will has been rewritten correctly.

For help and advice on the potential pitfalls of DIY Wills, speak to one of the team at legalmatters today. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Our house

What happens to your house when you die?

While you might think it is easy to leave your house or flat to someone you love, bequeathing property is not always as straightforward as you would think. So, how can you ensure that your home is passed on as you would like?

When someone dies and leaves behind a home, there are a few things that need to be considered. Some things you’ll need to think about include:

Is there an outstanding mortgage?

Unless insurance is in place to pay off a mortgage in full when someone dies, the monthly payment will still need to be paid. If the remaining mortgage is small, the beneficiary may be able to take on that debt. But, if there is a large mortgage outstanding, and the beneficiary cannot afford the repayments, the lender is likely to require that the home is sold.

Whether the deceased owned the legal title to the property

When someone owns a property, the legal title – registered with the Land Registry – will clearly show their name as the owner. If the property is not registered correctly, an investigation will have to take place to prove how the title passed to the deceased before it can be given to the intended beneficiary.

How the property was owned

In England and Wales, when a property is co-owned (e.g. by a husband and wife), the way it is registered will impact what happens to it when one owner dies.

There are two ways to own a property with someone else:

  • As joint tenants: This means both (or all) owners own 100% of the property. So, when someone dies their name is removed from the title and the home automatically belongs to the surviving co-owner(s).
  • As tenants in common: This means each owner owns shares in the property. These shares can be for the same, or different amounts. When someone dies, that person’s share can be left to someone other than the co-owner.

Is the property freehold or leasehold?

If a home is a leasehold, there will be an agreement from the freeholder (sometimes called the landlord) to use it for a set number of years. With a leasehold, there might be conditions on who can own or occupy the property, and this can prove problematic when leaving it in a Will.

If the property is freehold, things are more straightforward. The property and the land it is built on are owned outright and can be passed on however the deceased wished (as long as they are the sole owner).

Is there a Will in place?

If someone dies without leaving a Will, the state decides how your estate is distributed. Often this does not reflect what you wanted to happen. As such, the best way to make sure your house goes to those you want it to, is to write a Will.

For expert advice on amending or drafting a Will, speak to one of the team at legalmatters today. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Critical Event Protection…

What is Critical Event Protection and is it relevant to me?

If you are a member of a Death in Service Scheme, if you have a separate Critical Illness and Life Insurance Policy or even if you have a Pension Plan, you should look at Critical Event Protection.

What are these schemes and policies for?

Death in service schemes are often part of your employers’ group policy scheme which provides a lump sum for family or to cover the death of a shareholder in a business.

Critical illness policies produce an income supplement in the event of a critical illness and on death there is usually a lump sum paid.

Life insurance policies may make provision to cover inheritance tax, provide a lump sum for family or to cover the death of a shareholder in a business.

An occupational or self-invested pension plan may have a lump sum which will be paid on death.

What happens to these assets when I die and why would I need Critical Event Protection?

These valuable assets usually only pass to your next of kin if you’ve nominated them. If you haven’t, they go into your estate and may then become subject to Inheritance Tax at 40%. In this way, sometimes funds are wasted or end up with people you don’t even know yet, for example if your current partner or next of kin starts a new relationship.

How can I protect these assets for my dependents?

Using a trust preserves the use of these funds for your dependents, avoids direct ownership, can avoid the need to incur estate administration costs and may save inheritance tax. A trust protects and ringfences these lump sum proceeds and means a quick claim by the trustees upon your death can make the funds available in a protected trust environment to meet family costs.

At legalmatters, we have put together a simple solution, which will enable you to deal with these valuable assets, called Critical Event Protection.

To find out more, download the Critical Event Protection Guide or speak to one of our legal team on 01243 216900 or e-mail info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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When did you last update your Will?

Over half of people have not updated their Will. That’s according to a recent online poll. The survey found that while people have started to recognise the importance of Wills when it comes to establishing their final wishes, the majority are still unaware of the need to review them.

However, life can change quickly, so it is recommended that you review your Will after any significant life event, or every five years.

When do you need to update your Will?

The poll shows that people are largely unaware of the impact legislative and domestic changes can have on the distribution of their estate.

For example, even where a Will already exists, most people don’t know that getting married automatically invalidates it.

Here are just some of the instances when you should check your Will:

  • The birth of a child or grandchild
  • When buying a home (or other property)
  • When getting married
  • If you inherit any money or property
  • If you get a divorce
  • If you remarry
  • If you sell a home (or other property)
  • If you start a second family
  • If you need care and assistance.

Each of these circumstances will have an impact on your Will and some could even nullify it. Likewise, increases (or decreases) in wealth also require a Will review as it is crucial to ensure it reflects your current financial situation. That’s why, even if everything else stays the same, it is important to review your Will at least once every five years.

Regulatory amendments, such as inheritance tax changes, should also prompt a review to make sure you are taking advantage of all available exemptions and allowances.

Updating your Will is easy

Efficient and regular planning will give both you and your family peace of mind, and minimise the amount of inheritance tax due. By speaking to one of our expert team and taking the time to update your Will, you can help to ensure that your wealth is passed on in-line with your wishes.

We can provide all the guidance you need to update your Will so that it accurately reflects your wishes. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Successful succession…

Thinking about the future and what will happen to your family after you die, is not exactly a fun thing to do.

However, if you want the wealth that you have built up to continue on through your children and grandchildren’s generations, then it’s important to take a proactive approach.

So how do you ensure a successful wealth succession? Here are a handful of simple steps that are worth bearing in mind.

Initially, it’s worth discussing with your family how you see the wealth being used in the future – essentially, what is its purpose? Is it simply there to provide them with a comfortable lifestyle or do you have other grand hopes and aspirations?

Ensuring that the distribution of your assets is fair is another key factor. That doesn’t necessarily mean splitting them equally – this may not be desirable nor convenient.

Being open with those who will inherit on how you see the assets changing hands, and why, will likely help quash any potential resentment.

It’s important to get your family prepared for how they will handle that wealth too. If this represents a big change for them, there is a greater chance of the wealth being squandered.

So give them the opportunity to at least see how you manage those assets, if not giving them the chance to do so themselves in a controlled environment. With this level of preparation behind them, they will be better equipped to ensure the wealth continues on through future generations.

Finally, be on your guard for future risks. From economic crises to changes to the tax infrastructure, there are plenty of as-yet unknown dangers which could diminish that wealth.

Protecting against them will often involve the use of advisers, so get your loved ones used to working with them in advance of any actual succession.

Nobody likes to think about dying or how our families will cope after we have gone. But it is important to make sure they are prepared to handle the wealth left to them, in order to ensure it lasts throughout further generations, and that means talking openly about it.

Of course, the best way to ensure that your assets are divided precisely to your wishes is to write a comprehensive Will. Speak to one of the team here at legalmatters to make sure that your Will reflects your wishes. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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A right royal birth…

Unless you have managed to avoid all forms of media – both social and otherwise – this week, it can’t have escaped your attention that the newest addition to the House of Windsor has arrived.

The son of the future king of England was born, with exceptionally patriotic timing, on St George’s day. What a gloriously poetic and symbiotic meeting of all things English. Only Hugh Grant Morris dancing to God Save The Queen could have made the event more of a celebration of the Empire.

Within hours, both parents appeared at the door of the Lindo Wing looking impossibly flawless and presenting their gorgeous squishy bundle to the world’s expectant press. Catherine exchanged surgical stirrups for sling backs in less time than it takes the average mama to savour her buttery NHS toast and post natal cup of tea. Whilst undoubtedly proud, healthy and happy, not a single person would blame the Duchess if she were to scrape her hair back in a top knot, chuck on some comfy pjs and settle down with her newborn, a box set and a family size packet of Hob Nobs as soon as the doors of Kensington Palace closed behind her.

The Duke and Duchess are now officially outnumbered and life will be all the busier, noisier, messier and more filled with love as a result.

Any life changing event, especially the arrival of a new addition, is an excellent opportunity to consider your current legal arrangements. Future generations can even be catered for, without having to specifically name them within your estate planning documents. Which is handy when it takes a little while to decide on a moniker (although ‘Prince Gus’ certainly has a majestic ring to it if the Cambridges’ are looking for some suggestions).

Legalmatters are always available to review any existing documents in place or advise on new arrangements, to ensure that your family are considered and looked after in your lifetime planning and in your Will. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

Bitcoins – are they properly covered in your Will?

Digital currency such as bitcoins are relatively new. However, they still form part of your estate when you die. They’re classed as “digital assets” similar to frequent flyer points or gaming credits. They might have dipped in value recently, but they are still worth money so you want to make sure they’re included in your will.

There are two key things to consider about this digital legacy.

The first thing relates to bitcoins being properly defined in your Will. If you already have a Will in place, you should check this. If they’re not covered, then you need to make an amendment. If you’re writing a new Will, then a professional Will-writer will be able to advise you on this from the start.

The other important factor to consider is how your beneficiaries are going to access your bitcoins. Passing on digital currency is more complex than passing on money stored in a traditional way such as a bank or savings account.

Bitcoins are stored in an encrypted electronic wallet which can be accessed only by an electronic key or password. Unlike banks and building societies, cryptocurrencies do not store names and addresses against the electronic wallets, so aside from the electronic key there is no way to identify who a wallet belongs to.

It’s vital then to make sure that you keep a secure copy of the key for your executors. Without it, it will be virtually impossible for them to access the wallet and the money will be lost.

You could consider entrusting the key with a secure storage service, in a safety deposit box or with your executor or a trusted family member. The main thing here is that it needs to be someone you trust as you are handing them access to your money.

For help with this or any aspect of Will writing, please give us a call at legalmatters on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk for further details.

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Trusts vs Prenups

Some recent research indicated a rise in families using discretionary trusts instead of pre-nuptial agreements to protect family assets.

Typically, people think of pre-nuptial agreements as the standard approach for couples to take when considering marriage. They are designed to separate personal property and wealth accumulated prior to marriage and safeguard it in the event of a divorce.

However, although a court will take a prenup into consideration if a couple are divorcing, they are not legally binding in the UK.

Whilst courts tend to uphold them, there are many factors which can result in them not being upheld, perhaps if the court deems the agreement unfair, if the couple did not receive independent advice, for instance.

Equally, prenups still hold a certain stigma and couples and families can often feel uncomfortable discussing them.

On the other hand, discretionary trusts are viewed more as a planning tool and allow parents to protect family wealth and assets against a future divorce.

Typically, in this type of trust, the parents will set themselves up as trustees. As well as having full control over the assets, they can also decide who can benefit from the trust whilst maintaining discretion to make payments or transfer assets from the trust if they wish.

Each parent can put up to £325,000 into a discretionary trust during their lifetime. (This figure may be reduced if other gifts have been made). As long as the value of the gifts made and the value being put into the trust do not exceed £325,000 in the last seven years there will be no immediate inheritance tax to pay either. If the parents live for another seven years, these assets will not form part of the estate for inheritance tax purposes.

In light of these factors, discretionary trusts are certainly something that families should consider. Not only can it protect family wealth in the event of a divorce later on, it can also help to reduce a future inheritance tax bill.

Whilst they are complex, setting up a trust can be straightforward if you received the right advice. As well as minimising tax responsibilities a trust can also help to protect your assets in the future.

To find out how you could benefit from a prenup or a trust, give us a call at legalmatters on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk for further details.

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Could you be a royal legacy?

Most of us at some point have probably wondered about our family history. Sure, you may know about your grandparents’ roots and perhaps even a generation or two before that, but where does your family line start?

What sort of riches or scandal have your ancestors seen? It’s because of this curiosity about our family histories that shows like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ have become so popular, as have websites helping you to trace your family tree.

So could you have royal blood? According to a study from researchers at the University of California and the London School of Economics, your last name could be a good indicator of whether you are one of the top 1%.

The study looked at unique surnames among the richest – names like Atthill, Bunduck, Balfour, Bramston, Cheslyn, and Conyngham – and found that when it comes to social mobility, moving in and out of the upper classes takes centuries, not just generations.

In fact, on average upper-class families took between 300 and 450 years before their descendants dropped into the middle classes.

Fascinatingly, of the people who died between 1999 and 2012, if they had one of the 181 rare surnames of wealthy families in the mid-19th century, they were generally three times wealthier than the rest.

Whether you come from generations of wealth or are completely self-made, it is vital that you take steps early on to ensure that you pass it on to your family members as seamlessly as possible.

That may mean considering your likely inheritance tax liabilities, but you will also need to write a Will.

After all, writing a Will is the best possible tool at your disposal to ensure that your assets are divided precisely as you wish after you pass away. If you don’t, you may be exposing your family to unnecessary heartache at an already difficult time.

For help and advice on writing your Will, get in touch with us at legalmatters by calling us on 01243 216900 or emailing us at info@legalmatters.co.uk for further details.

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