Category Archives: Wills

Common law marriage or common misconception…

Common law marriage? That old chestnut!

Whether you are familiar with the specific term or not, you may be aware of the concept. The idea that if you live with someone, your assets will simply pass to your partner upon death.

Whilst this is certainly one of the most common assumptions amongst the population at large, unfortunately – and more specifically, legally – it is simply not the case.

Like many things in life, assumptions such as this tend to form over time, passing unquestionably into the general conscious until they have become ‘fact’. Chinese Whispers that have gradually become engrained as folk-law and accepted as true; such as the Great Wall of China being visible from space, goldfish having 3 second memories or Eastenders actually being any good. All faux-facts. It is important to challenge these misconceptions as relying on this misinformation can have potentially damaging consequences.

Given the proportion of people that are cohabiting, the potential extent of the problem is even more worrying.

Survey results from the Office for National Statistics recently showed that cohabitees are the second most common type of family, with the total for 2017 standing at 3.3 million. Cohabiting families are the fastest growing type of family, with the most recent figure being more than double that which was recorded in 1996.

In addition to showing a clear shift in values towards the ‘traditional’ family structure, it also represents an increasing number of families who may be unaware of the consequences when it comes to later life planning.

So, is common-law marriage a myth?

In short, absolutely.

Without a Will, ‘the rule of intestacy’ will step in and your assets will be distributed according to it. Under these rules, only spouses, civil partners and close relatives will automatically be able to inherit your wealth – cohabitees not included. Even if you have been living with a cohabiting partner for many years, this will not increase their right to your estate.

The concern regarding cohabitees is further supported by figures from family justice organisation, Resolution. They reveal that over two-thirds of cohabiting couples don’t know that ‘common-law’ marriage has no legal grounding in the UK – a worrying statistic.

The only way to ensure that your possessions are passed on in line with your wishes is to write a Will.

Though it might seem like a hassle, writing a will can be easy when you’ve got experts to help you, not to mention give you priceless peace of mind.

To assume is to make an ass of u and me.

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 to find out more.

Celebrities we loved but lost in 2017…

So why was 2017 such a good year for the Grim Reaper when it comes to celebrities?

Experts have come up with a few reasons. Thanks to the proliferation of media over the past few decades, there are more stars around these days and more claiming fame faster.

Social media plays an important role in this process. As well as creating new stars, it also means that we hear about celebrity deaths far faster than in the past, as well as providing everyone with a platform to publicly share their grief. In fact, in the early part of the 20th Century, before television, the only celebrities were film stars.

We said goodbye to some of the best:

  • The legendary Bruce Forsyth
  • Socialite and television presenter Tara Palmer-Tomkinson
  • We lost a Bond; Roger Moore
  • Rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry
  • Star musician of the band Linkin Park, Chester Bennington
  • Michael Bond, writer of the Paddington Bear books
  • Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace in the Oscar-winning animated hit Wallace and Gromit and “Cleggy”

The question is, did these celebrities make plans for their assets to go where they wanted them to?

2017 was the year that reminded us that death is inevitable, regardless of how rich and famous we are. It also reminded us of the importance of writing a will.

Contact us at legalmatters to get your estate in order – even if it’s not of A-list proportions it’s still important! Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at

Will water cremation become a reality in the UK?

Water cremation is already offered as a service in several US states, but has yet to receive approval in the UK. Will it become an alternative to traditional cremation in the UK?

Before you consider it as an option, you need to know what it involves…

The Water Cremation method involves a body being placed into a metal chamber, where a process called alkaline hydrolysis breaks the body down into liquid and ash.

Many proponents of water cremation claim that the process is environmentally friendly, with there being no human DNA in the waste water produced. The process is supposedly kinder to the environment than traditional cremation. Companies looking to offer the service here in the UK claim that the process produces less than two thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions and requires just a seventh of the energy used during the cremation.

The process used for Water Cremation also allows for bodily implants to be completely separated along with dental amalgam. This means that mercury (found in tooth fillings) can be removed safely. If the Water Cremation service was offered in the UK, and it proved popular, this would help to reduce the UKs airborne mercury emissions. It is thought that currently approximately 16 percent of such omissions originate from cremation.

Although this sounds positive, there have been some objections. Sandwell Council have been awarded planning permission to enable them to offer this service (through a partner company). Severn Trent Water have however refused the Council a trade effluent permit, which has stalled the process.

Severn Trent Water say they are currently looking to the government for guidance. Water UK has also stated they are “not convinced”, with a spokesperson telling The Sunday Times: “It is the liquefied remains of the dead going into the water system. We don’t think the public will like the idea.”

The Council’s reasoning for wanting to offer the service is that they would like to provide more choice for the public, giving them greater control over what happens to them after they die.

While water cremation may not currently be an option, it could be a reality in the UK in the very near future. The popularity of any future water cremation service remains to be seen.

Whilst you may not want to think about it, it’s important to plan for your future. Whatever your wishes, it’s important to consolidate them in one place.

Having worked in estate planning for many years, legalmatters are experts in the industry. As well as advising you on providing for your loved ones, our professional team can ease any worries you may have. Speak to legalmatters today to make sure that your final wishes are carried out. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at

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Grandparents and gifting options…

Many grandparents are intending to gift their grandchildren financially, with recent research from Saga suggesting that more than £37bn has passed from grandparents to their grandchildren.

Part of this is down to the fact that older people are worried about their grandchildren’s future. The increase in cost of houses, cars and the day to day necessities mean they’re likely to suffer financially and be much worse off than those of generations gone by.

So how could you go about helping out your younger relatives?

Skipping a generation

According to the research, around 14% of parents are skipping a generation and are instead looking to leave assets to their grandchildren.

Making use of a gift allowance

In certain scenarios, grandparents are choosing to give money without causing a tax event such as a £3,000 annual gift allowance. This can cover financial gifts which can be passed over each year, free of Inheritance Tax. Additionally, grandparents can also give away up to £250 to any number of people each year.

Putting it in a trust

With a discretionary trust, it is up to the trustees to determine how and when any potential beneficiaries may be able to access the cash. You can appoint yourself as the trustee, so that you have final say over where the money goes, or you can go for an independent trustee. What’s more, the money within the trust is classed as separate from your estate, so it’s free of Inheritance Tax.

There are also bare trusts, which mean the grandchildren would be completely entitled to whatever is in the trust once they reach 18. Unlike the discretionary trust, the beneficiaries are fixed, so once the trust is declared it is not possible to add (or remove) beneficiaries.

It’s important that you consider where and to whom you want your assets to go to – a comprehensive will is the only place where you can formally set this out.

Don’t keep putting it off. Speak to legalmatters today to make sure that your final wishes are carried out. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at

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Importance of business succession planning…

You’ve spent years building up your business, but have you given any thought to what will happen when you die?

Do you have an exit plan, and if not, how do you go about building one?

First of all you must decide what you want to happen.

Do you want it to be sold? If that’s your goal then how do you make it as healthy and profitable as possible to get the best price when the time comes to sell?

If you have children, do you want them to take over your business, are they able to and do they want to? If you have more than one child, do you want all your children involved; should they own it and someone else manage it?

If you are handing the business on, then you still want it to be in good shape but you also need to think about who will take it over, what training they might need and whether you need to mentor them.

It’s obviously very important to have a Will in place which will detail how you want the business to be passed on and to protect it from inheritance tax. Your business assets may qualify for relief from inheritance tax or there may be things that you can do to reduce the impact of the tax.

For instance, did you know that business relief for inheritance tax reduces the value of a business or its assets for inheritance tax purposes when you die?

The proceeds could one day become taxable for your beneficiaries, so it may well be wise to establish a Business Property Relief Trust which will ensure that the relief is protected.

If you’d rather your family receive money than the responsibility of taking over your company, then have you considered a share purchase agreement? This allows surviving business owners to buy your shares when you die.

To find out more about the different approaches to ensuring your business is protected for your beneficiaries, contact legalmatters. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at to discuss your particular situation.

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

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 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 for further details.

Don’t make inheritance tax taxing…

Whenever Brits are polled on their most hated tax, without fail, one tax in particular always finishes top – inheritance tax. As a nation, we want to leave as much as we can after death to our loved ones and the thought of the taxman taking a slice evidently gets our goat.

Here are some simple and efficient ways to reduce your inheritance tax liability and to ensure you leave as little as possible to the taxman.

Making a Will

Did you know that failing to write a Will generally means you will end up paying more inheritance tax? Without a Will in place, your estate will be doled out according to the rules of intestacy, and chances are the taxman will help himself to a healthy chunk of it.

Did you also know that one simple way to reduce your inheritance tax via your Will is to leave some to charity, as these gifts are free of tax?

Understand the thresholds

Inheritance tax is charged on estates once they pass £325,000 in value, at a rate of 40% on everything above that value. However, couples are able to pass their allowance over in full to their partner – in other words, couples have a £650,000 allowance overall. If their combined estate ends up being worth less than that, there will be no tax to pay.

There is also a new additional element to bear in mind here. The ‘main residence’ allowance allows you to pass on your family home to a direct descendent, with an additional tax-free allowance included. For this year it stands at £100,000 and will increase each year until 2020/21 when it hits £175,000. As this allowance applies per person, it will mean a total tax-free allowance of £1 million for couples.


Even if you give something away, the taxman will still class it as being part of your estate if you die within seven years of making the gift. It’s a way of preventing people from handing over their home on their deathbed and avoiding the duty. Live longer than seven years and there’s no tax to pay.

However, there are certain gift allowances anyway which are free of tax. Everyone has a £3,000 limit each year, and what’s more this limit carries over to the following year if you don’t use it, to a maximum of £6,000.

On top of that you can give away £250 to each of any number of people every year, while further allowances are in place for wedding gifts to family members, friends and even political parties.

Write your life insurance policy in Trust

Lastly, it’s a good idea to write your life insurance policy in Trust, as this essentially separates it from the rest of your estate.

Usually your life insurance payout will be added to the value of your estate before it is paid out to your loved ones, meaning they have to wait a while in order to receive anything and then may have to pay tax on that payout too.

But writing it in Trust means it is viewed as being outside of your estate, ensuring that your loved ones get every penny and likely get the money quicker to boot.

If you need some help in making the most of your allowances, writing a Will, setting up Lasting Powers of Attorney or Trusts, then speak to a member of the team at legalmatters on 01243 216900 or email us at to find out more.

Can a Will be challenged?

We all know that writing a Will is the best way to ensure your assets are passed on exactly as you choose after you die, but there are some instances when a Will might be challenged. They say knowledge is power, so now you know…

‘Lack of testamentary capacity’ – in other words, challenging whether the person was of sound mind when writing the Will. Essentially, in order to pass this test, it should be demonstrated that the person was aware that they were writing a Will, the value of the estate and that they understood the consequences of including or excluding people from the Will.

There are grounds to believe that it is invalid. There are all sorts of different reasons that can be given, from failing to sign it, failing to ensure it is witnessed and precisely who those witnesses are.

‘Lack of knowledge and approval’, which is where it’s believed that the person was not completely aware of the contents of the Will. An example here may be if a person who helped to prepare the Will is left a substantial gift.

Written under undue pressure or duress, or if you believe it is fraudulent or has been forged.

It does not reflect the actual intentions of the testator (the person whose Will it is) – perhaps because of a clerical error, or because the person preparing the Will failed to understand their wishes.

‘Reasonable financial provision’ has not been made for those left out of the Will. However, success of such a claim is dependent on proving that they could reasonably have expected that their living costs would have been met by the deceased.

To avoid challenges to your Will, it’s always best to work with those who really know what they are doing. Legalmatters can help, we’re always happy to discuss your needs and to draw up a properly written Will which will reduce the chance of dispute. Call us today on 01243 216900 or email us at for further details.