Category Archives: Wills

Pension when you die

What happens to someone’s pension after their death?

Pensions are notoriously complex and different rules can apply to different pensions held by different companies.

After someone’s death, the benefit of their pension may be payable to the person they nominated when the scheme was set up.

Workplace and private pensions

Sometimes a workplace or private pension scheme will provide a lump sum and/or income to your beneficiaries after you die. This will be paid to the nominated person, but it is possible for a dependant to make a claim on the funds if they have been excluded.

When you reach retirement age, you may choose to remove a lump sum of 25 percent of the value of the fund from your pension. If this is still in your estate at the time of your death, then Inheritance Tax may be payable on it, depending on the size of your estate.

You can gift this during your lifetime if you choose, but if you were to die within seven years of making a cash gift, then all or part of its value will be taken into account when Inheritance Tax is calculated.

Leaving pension funds to a beneficiary

Where a joint annuity is held, payments, usually to a spouse or partner, can continue after the death of the pension holder.

If the pension guaranteed annuity payments for a certain period of time, then these will continue to be made to a beneficiary for that period of time.

The pension may entitle beneficiaries to receive a lump sum payment. If the deceased left children under the age of 18 or a dependent partner or relative, then the pension trustees may make the decision to award a payment to them.

Payment of Inheritance Tax

Pension funds are paid at the discretion of the pension trustees and do not usually form part of the deceased’s estate, in which case Inheritance Tax is not payable on their value.

However if the pension trustees are not able to make a decision as to who the pension funds should be paid to, they may make the payment into the estate, in which case the money would be included in the Inheritance Tax calculation.

Following someone’s death, you should speak to their pension provider to find out how and to whom any payments will be made.

Because pensions are such a complex area, it is advisable to take independent advice when writing a Will, dealing with pension funds or administering an estate.

If you would like to discuss your Will or a probate matter with one of our expert team, ring us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Jointly owned property

Leaving a jointly owned property in your Will

If you own a property jointly with someone else and you want to leave it in your Will, you need to understand the different types of joint ownership.

When you buy a home with someone else, you will either own it as joint tenants or as tenants in common. This affects who the property will pass to in the event of your death.

Joint tenants

If you own a property with someone else as joint tenants, then on the death of either of you, the property automatically passes to the other, whatever the terms of your Will.

Tenants in common

If you own property as a tenant in common with another person, then your share in the property will pass in accordance with the terms of your Will.

This type of ownership also allows you to own a property in unequal shares. If you hold a property as a tenant in common, you should ensure you have a valid Will in place so that your interest passes to your choice of beneficiary.

If you don’t have a Will

If you haven’t made a Will, then your share of any property owned as a tenant in common will pass in accordance with the rules of intestacy. This leaves your estate to your closest family members, in strict shares.

If you are married, then your spouse will receive the first £250,000 you leave, together with all of your personal possessions. Of the remainder, half goes to your spouse, with the other half being split equally between any children.

Leaving a life interest in your home

If you own a property jointly, you might want to leave your share to your children, but allow your spouse or partner to live in the property during the rest of their lifetime.

This can be done by severing the joint tenancy, if there is one, and setting up a life interest trust in your Will. It means that the joint owner won’t have to leave the property, but once they no longer need to live there it will pass to the beneficiaries named in your Will.

This prevents any children being disinherited in the case of second marriage, and can also protect your share of any property from care home fees that the co-owner may incur in later life.

Whatever method of property ownership you have, it is always advisable to put a Will in place so that you can be sure your loved ones benefit from your assets after your death. It can also prevent disagreements arising between family members.

If you would like to talk to one of our expert lawyers, ring us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Executor vs Trustee

The different roles of an Executor and a Trustee in probate

As well as naming the people who are to receive money from your estate, a Will can make various appointments, including those of Executor and Trustee.

When you make a Will you need to consider who you would like to administer your estate and be responsible for any money that is to be held in trust. These can be onerous roles and you should be aware what they involve so that you can discuss them with the people you would like to act on your behalf.

The role of Executor

An Executor is responsible for the administration of an estate in accordance with the terms of the Will. Duties are likely to include making funeral arrangements, valuing assets, collecting them in, arranging for their sale, calculating tax payable, drawing up estate accounts and distributing the estate to the named beneficiaries.

The job can be extremely time consuming, particularly if the deceased held a variety of assets with various stakeholders. Each will need to be notified and will have their own requirements for releasing funds. If there is a property, it will need to be insured, valued, cleared and a sale arranged.

Debts will need to be paid, including Inheritance Tax, which the Executor will be responsible for calculating, based on the value of the estate.

Because the job of Executor can be difficult and they will be personally liable for any errors they may make, you should discuss it first with anyone you might wish to appoint. If you do not have anyone who is willing and able to act, you can choose to appoint a professional executor. This is someone such as a probate solicitor who is experienced in the winding-up of estates and who will be able to prepare the necessary tax returns and estate accounts.

The role of Trustee

If your Will creates a trust, then you also need to appoint Trustees to administer it. You may want to leave money to children under the age of 18 or leave a life interest in a property or a sum of money to a spouse or partner.

A Trustee’s role can include dealing with the investment of money as well as taking decisions as to where it should be spent. For example, a child’s guardian may ask for a contribution towards maintenance or education and the Trustee will need to consider whether the request is reasonable and in accordance with the intentions of the deceased.

As well as looking after the assets included in the trust, a Trustee will also need to keep clear records and prepare accurate trust accounts.

The role of both Executor and Trustee can be demanding, with consequences for inadequate performance, so it is essential that your chosen appointees understand the job they are taking on and believe they are capable of carrying it out.

If you would like to talk to one of our expert probate lawyers on on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Lost Will

What happens after a death when you can’t find the deceased’s Will?

When someone has died and their Will can’t be located, although you are certain there is one, there are several courses of action you can take to try and locate it.

If you make a Will, you should ensure that your loved ones know where it is being stored. Otherwise, there is a risk that they won’t know whether you had a valid Will in place or where it is located.

When you have a Will professionally drafted, your solicitor is likely to be willing to store the document for safekeeping for you. You will be given a receipt with their details on it, which you should keep with your important papers.

Searching for a lost Will

When a Will can’t be located, you should first search the deceased’s property and go through their paperwork. Even if you don’t find the Will itself, you may find some information about their solicitor, a receipt for the Will or even a copy of the document.

It is possible that the firm of solicitors that originally held the Will no longer exists, in which case you can contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority Intervention Archives department who store all documents held by firms which they close down.

The London Principal Probate Registry also store Wills that can no longer be held by the original law firm involved.

Finally, a firm called Certainty have a register of a certain number of Wills and will search that for you for a fee.

If you are acting as executor or administrator, it is important that you make an attempt to find a valid Will. By undertaking these searches, you will be able to show that you did everything reasonable to locate any Will, which could be important if potential beneficiaries raise any queries about your actions.

Using a copy of the Will

It may be that a signed copy of the Will is found. Application for grant of probate can be made to the Probate Registry using the copy, but it will need to be accompanied by a sworn affidavit detailing the attempts you have made to locate the original.

You will also need to explain the circumstances under which the Will has been lost and also provide information regarding anyone who would inherit under the rules of intestacy but not under the terms of the copy Will.

When the Will can’t be found

If neither the original Will nor a copy can be located then it will be necessary to proceed with administration of the estate under the rules of intestacy. These provide a strict order in which close relatives of the deceased will inherit, starting with any spouse, who will be entitled to the majority of the estate, and followed by any children.

If you would like to speak to one of our expert Will experts, call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Is it possible for a single executor to act in probate?

While it is possible for a single executor to administer an estate, it is usually recommended that two are named when a Will is written.

One of the main reasons for naming more than one executor is in case someone is unable or unwilling to act when the time arises. If a single executor is named in a Will, there is a risk that they may die first, or over time may lose mental capacity. In that event, it would leave the estate without a named executor.

Acting as a sole executor

If an estate does have only one executor, the administration will usually be possible in the ordinary way.

If the winding-up is simple, for example with everything left to the remaining spouse, then a single executor will be able to deal with matters fairly easily.

The benefits of a second executor

With a more complicated estate however, it can be beneficial to have more than one executor. The job of administration can be long and complex, involving the collecting in and valuation of assets, arranging for clearance and sale of any property, calculation and payment of Inheritance Tax, preparation of detailed estate accounts and distribution of the estate to beneficiaries.

It can be helpful for executors to share the burden, particularly if the winding-up takes many months and involves a large amount of correspondence. It can also be good to involve more than one family member to help avoid disagreements and distrust arising at what will be a difficult time.

If the Will creates a trust, then a sole executor is advised to take legal advice in respect of the appointment of trustees. It is always recommended that a second executor be appointed in the case of a more complicated estate.

A joint executor acting alone

If the Will appoints executors to act together, then they are known as joint executors. It will not then be possible for a joint executor to act alone in the estate administration unless the other executor(s) give their agreement.

If the other executor(s) are happy for one person to act solely, then they can either be served with a Notice of Power Reserved, meaning they can take up the position later on, should they choose to, or they can renounce their powers completely. It is advisable for executors to take legal advice before stepping aside.

Choosing your executors

When having your Will drawn up, you should ideally select two executors who you believe will be able to do a good job in estate administration. If you are unable to find suitable candidates, it is possible to appoint a professional executor to act.

If you would like to talk to one of our Wills experts, call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Leaving a jointly owned property in your Will…

If you own your home jointly with someone else, you should think about how you want to leave it when you write your Will.

There are two different ways in which you can jointly own a property. Only one type of ownership allows you to leave your share of your home to someone in your Will.

Owning your home as a joint tenant

If you and your spouse or partner own your property as joint tenants, then on the death of either of you, the property automatically passes to the survivor. Even if you leave all of your estate to someone else in your Will, a property owned by you as a joint tenant will become solely owned by the other joint tenant.

Owning your home as a tenant in common

If you hold your property with someone else as tenants in common, then your share of that property passes in accordance with your Will. If you don’t have a Will, then it will be subject to the rules of intestacy, which specify which of your relatives will inherit your estate.

This means that if a tenant in common dies, the surviving owner may be forced to leave the home if the person who inherits the other share wishes to sell.

Writing your Will as a property owner

It is always preferable to write a Will, whether or not you own a property, to ensure that your estate passes to those whom you would wish to benefit from it. If you do own a property jointly with someone else, think about what you want to happen after your death.

If you would like to leave your share to someone else, but you currently hold the home as joint tenants, it is possible to sever the tenancy so that ownership becomes as tenants in common. When you own a property in this way, it is also possible to hold unequal shares, for example one-quarter owned by one person and three-quarters by another. This needs to be put in writing at the time the tenancy is created. You can also put details of how you will agree any sale of the property into this document.

Creating a life interest trust

If you want your spouse or partner to live in the home after your death, but don’t want to give them your share of the property outright, your Will can give them a life interest in the home. This would give them the right to live in the property for as long as they want, but ultimately the house would pass to your choice of beneficiary.

This prevents the ‘sideways disinheritance’ trap, where a second spouse could choose to leave the property to their children, excluding the children of the first marriage.

If you would like to talk to one of our property experts or Will writers, ring us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Can you leave someone a legacy in your Will and also name them as your Executor?

When you’re writing your Will, you will need to choose the right person to be your executor. We look at what being an executor entails and whether that person can also be a beneficiary.

It is important when writing your Will that the executor you name is someone you trust to deal with your affairs after you’ve gone. Estate administration can be a long and sometimes complicated matter and you need to be sure that the person you have chosen is willing to act and capable of doing so.

It is perfectly acceptable for your executor to be a beneficiary as well, in fact this is often the case.

The role of executor

Your executor will be responsible for all administrative matters, starting with funeral arrangements and registering the death with the appropriate authorities. You can choose more than one executor should you wish.

They need to notify all asset holders and other organisations and then collect in and value the assets.

Other ancillary jobs such as putting vacant property insurance in place and making arrangements to check on any property regularly also fall to the executor.

Once the estate has been valued, tax needs to be calculated and paid. This includes Inheritance Tax, Income Tax and in some instances Capital Gains Tax.

Once the estate is in funds, outstanding debts need to be paid and estate accounts prepared.

The final job is to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries. This may involve transfer of assets and gifts of personal possessions as well as cash payments.

The role of beneficiary

A beneficiary will be notified that they have been left something in the Will, but won’t necessarily be regularly updated on the probate process unless there are delays. As well as receiving their named gift, they are also entitled to see the estate accounts.

If no valid Will exists

Where the deceased didn’t leave a Will, their estate passes under the Rules of Intestacy, which state that assets pass to close family members in a strict order. The spouse is at the top of the list, with children next. The person heading the list is entitled to act as executor if they choose. If they do not wish to take on the role, then the next person has the option of doing it.

By ensuring that you have a valid Will in place, you have the chance to appoint your choice of executor as well as ensuring that your assets are left to those you wish to benefit.

If you would like to talk to one of our expert Will writers, ring us on on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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What to put in your Will

What to put in your Will…

Writing a Will involves more than simply choosing who to give your money to. We look at what you should consider when making a Will.

Your Will is the document that tells people what you would like to happen to your estate after your death. If you have young children, it can also ensure that they are cared for and provided for.

The following are points to think about before having your Will drawn up:

Executors

Executors are the people responsible for dealing with the administration of an estate. They will need to collect in and value the assets then arrange for transfer or sale of them and distribution of money to your beneficiaries.

It can be a complicated and time-consuming job, so it is important to choose people who you believe are capable of carrying it out, as well as those you trust implicitly. It is possible to appoint a professional executor, for example a solicitor.

Guardians

If your children are under 18, you should use your Will to appoint a guardian for them in the event of your death.

If you don’t choose someone yourself, then it will be for the court to decide who should raise them.  You should speak to your choice of guardian and make sure that they are happy to take on the role.

Funeral arrangements

If you wish, you can include funeral arrangements in your Will, however bear in mind that they will not be legally binding. It can give your loved ones an idea of what you would have wanted however, so it can be of comfort to them. You should make sure that you have also told them that your wishes have been included in your Will in case they do not have sight of it straight away.

Specific legacies

You can leave gifts of money or items in your Will, known as specific legacies. These can be given to named individuals or charities.

Residuary Estate

This is the portion of your estate that remains after all expenses, debts and specific legacies have been paid. You can leave it to one person or split it between several, giving each one a named share, for example a third.

The important thing to bear in mind is that if your estate ends up being smaller than you had anticipated, then the residual amount may be far less than you wanted to give to someone. Those receiving specific legacies will still receive their money first, and those sharing the residuary estate may be left with very little.

To speak to one of our expert Will lawyers, ring us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Mental Capacity

Testamentary capacity – an essential requirement in making a legally valid Will…

When making a Will it is essential to have the legal and mental ability to understand the document and its effect. Without this, a Will is invalid and cannot be used. In the absence of any other Will, the estate would then pass under the Rules of Intestacy.

A survey of family solicitors carried out by insurer Direct Line found that lack of testamentary capacity was a common cause of a successful challenge to a Will’s validity.

We look at the legal requirements to satisfy this requirement.

The criteria for testamentary capacity

The person making the Will must firstly understand the nature of making a Will and its effects.

Secondly, they need to understand the extent of the property of which they are disposing.

Thirdly, they need to be able to understand and appreciate the moral claims that people may have on their estate, for example those who they support or those who have been promised something and who may have acted on that promise to their detriment.

Finally, they need to have no disorder of the mind that prevents them understanding what is right or stops them exercising their natural faculties.

When testamentary capacity is challenged

If testamentary capacity is challenged in court, then evidence would be needed from witnesses who could attest to the deceased’s mental capabilities as well as their ability to understand the Will and the claims others might have on their estate.

Expert witnesses could be called, such as doctors, who may have known the deceased at the time the Will was written.

The court will also look at anything the deceased may have said with regard to distribution of their estate.

Avoiding a legal challenge for lack of capacity

Court action can be lengthy and expensive for all involved. It is worth taking the time and trouble to put a valid Will in place before there are any doubts as to testamentary capacity.

If a Will is drafted professionally, then the Will writer will take the time to discuss matters thoroughly with you and make their own assessment of your capacity. They can make filenotes, to be kept at their offices in case they are ever needed, confirming their belief that you were capable of making a valid Will.

If the case ever came to court, they would be able to give evidence as an experienced Will writer that in their assessment you had testamentary capacity.

Should they believe that a case is borderline, they may also ask for a medical professional to become involved to provide additional evidence.

If you would like to talk to one of our expert Wills lawyers, call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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Big rise in contested estates attributed to DIY wills…

The continuing rise in numbers of contested Wills is being attributed to more and more people attempting to write their own Will.

The number of cases heard by the High Court went up from 227 in 2016 to 282 in 2017 and 368 in 2018.

Drafting a Will

Drawing up a valid Will can be a complicated undertaking. Matters to be considered include whether to leave beneficiaries lump sum gifts or a percentage of the estate, who will inherit first if your estate is smaller than expected, how to ensure first and second families are both provided for, even if you die before your new spouse and how to minimise Inheritance Tax liabilities.

A small error made in drafting a Will can mean that it is invalid. If this happens, then there is a risk that the estate will pass under the rules of intestacy. This details which relatives will receive the estate and in what proportions. Unmarried partners and stepchildren do not inherit anything under the rules.

Why a Will might be challenged

If the wording of a Will is ambiguous or the wrong terminology is used, there may be an opportunity for someone to challenge it in court. Even the incorrect execution of a Will by the signatory and witnesses can mean that a Will is invalid. Mistakes are easy to make in this complicated area, with the risk that will result in a long and expensive court case.

What happens if a Will is challenged

Dealing with a death can be difficult and when family members feel that they have not been left what they felt they were entitled to, problems can arise. When emotions run high, if there is ambiguity or an error in the Will, then they may take the opportunity to bring a legal case. These can take years to resolve and are likely to be expensive. Saving a few pounds now by drafting your own Will can result in the loss of thousands later on if the Will is proved to be invalid or ambiguous.

Why a professionally drafted Will is always recommended

Speaking to an expert Will writer allows you the opportunity to explain exactly what you would like to happen to your estate. If, for example, you have remarried and you would like your spouse to live in your home after your death, but ultimately want it to pass to your children, a professional will be able to explain to you how this can be done and draw up a Will that you can have confidence in.

They will be able to help you avoid pitfalls, such as leaving cash gifts that might reduce your residuary estate far lower than you anticipate and will be able to translate your wishes into a legally binding Will. When a Will has been clearly thought out and well drafted, it significantly reduces the risk that your family will start to wonder if it was exactly what you meant to do.

To speak to one of our expert Wills lawyers, call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

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