What Happens when the Queen Dies?

Queen Elizabeth II has been alive for longer than most of us and yet it seems hard to believe that she will one day die. However, there are many plans already in place to deal with this eventuality.

The responsibility for dealing with the news first falls to the Queen’s private secretary, who will inform the Prime Minister. From there, the Foreign Office will notify the Commonwealth nations.

The national and world press will also be told and shortly afterwards a footman at Buckingham Palace will pin a notice to the gates announcing her demise. This will be replicated on the Palace website too.

Television and radio programmes will be interrupted with an announcement of her death. Similarly, to the deaths of Kennedy and Princess Diana, you will undoubtedly remember where you first heard the news.

Social media will likely erupt and you may well hear it here first.

The country will enter into an immediate period of mourning. Parliament will be recalled and Charles will become King – unless his mother outlives him and then it will fall to the next in line, William.

Under common law, the wife of a King is automatically referred to as Queen, so despite any question marks over Camilla’s role, she will become Queen Camilla.

In the event that the Queen dies abroad, she will fly home by an RAF jet. From Balmoral, she will travel back on the Royal Train.

She will return to Buckingham Palace, flags will lower and bells will toll across the nation.

In the time between her death and funeral, thousands of people will be involved in the myriad of activities surrounding a monarch’s death.

Invitations will be issued for her funeral. Government departments will coordinate with the police, security, armed forces and transport to ensure the safety of the politicians, heads of state and public that will be attending and lining the streets.

The words to the National Anthem will be amended and new postage stamps and currency will be created.

Charles will be expected to make his first address as Head of State on the evening of his mother’s death. He will be proclaimed King the following day and will then commence a tour visiting Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff to attend remembrance services.

Television schedules will change. Some sporting fixtures may be cancelled and books of condolence will appear in town halls nationally and embassies around the world.

The Queen will be moved to Westminster Abbey to lie in state for several days. Four soldiers will guard her at all times and it’s thought the Queen’s children and grandchildren will arrive unannounced to stand vigil as well.

The day of the funeral will be a national day of mourning and a public holiday. The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead the service and afterwards her coffin will be taken to Windsor to be interred in the royal vault.

These plans will ensure the event will occur as smoothly as possible. If you’d like to ensure you have the right plans in place for after you’re gone, call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

Selling A Property in Probate – Online vs High Street

Often when someone is left a property by a deceased relative, they will want to sell it quickly. This may be for emotional reasons, but there are also financial concerns to take into account too – maintenance costs can quickly mount up.

Given these difficult circumstances, what do you need to consider when selling a property in probate?

When can I sell?

You cannot sell the property until probate is formally granted. This will generally take around eight weeks, though there’s nothing to stop you putting the property on the market before that date.

Valuations

When the executor applies for the grant of probate, they will need to detail all of the deceased’s assets, with valuations. It’s therefore a good idea to get the property valued by a couple of different estate agents to give you a decent idea of what it is worth. Alternatively, you could get it valued by a surveyor.

Title and deeds

If the property has been registered with Land Registry, downloading a copy of the title entries for the property to ensure that it was in the deceased’s name, should be straightforward.

However, if it wasn’t registered then you will need to locate the paper title deeds.

How to sell it

Traditionally, high street estate agents have been the method of choice for selling property. However, recent years have seen the emergence of a number of big online estate agents, which may be worth considering.

One big plus point with online estate agents are the fees, which are usually much smaller than dealing with a high street estate agent. You will often only have to pay a single, flat fee with an online estate agent. However, with a traditional estate agent, the fee will be a percentage of the eventual sale price – on expensive homes, this can be quite significant.

There are downsides to online estate agents though – you may need to do the viewings yourself and sort out photographs to go with your property’s listing on the various property portals.

Remember, the fact that there is no chain involved with the property will be an added selling point too, as it should represent a relatively straightforward purchase.

Probate can be a difficult, stressful time so it is important to work with experts who can ease the burden.

At legalmatters we can guide you through every part of the probate process. Call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

How to keep your documents safe – Digital vs Paper

Keeping your important documents organised and secure will make it easier for you or your loved ones to access them when needed.

First, give some thought as to which documents need to be stored securely. The simplest way to do this is to think in terms of how easy or difficult it would be to replace the document in question and what would be the impact of it being missing.

Top of your list should be items such as your Will and Power of Attorney but also include birth and marriage certificates, divorce or other legal documents, and house deeds.

The original copies of these items should ideally be kept in a lockable fireproof, waterproof safe or box. It is prudent to have at least one and preferably two backup copies which should be held in different locations. This is the ideal time to consider whether to store physically or digitally, each having different benefits.

At home (hard copy)

This option provides you with cheap and easy access to your documents. Depending on what storage you use you may be vulnerable to theft, fire or flood.

Solicitor

Most solicitors will store your Will for you. Some also provide a document storage facility for your important documents. With legalmatters, there is no fee for this.  Solicitors’ storage is regulated so you can expect redress if something goes wrong.

Probate Service

You can lodge your Will with the probate service. There is a flat rate fee for this and you are the only person who can access your Will while you are alive. Upon your death, your executor can access it.

Document storage facility

There are many companies, including some banks, that provide document storage.  Prices vary quite considerably so it’s worth shopping around.

Remember though that legalmatters don’t make a charge for storing your documents; we are content that your documents are safely stored and are easily accessible.

Safety Deposit Box

Many banks no longer provide this service. However, if they do, never store your Will in one. Your executor will not be given access to it until they gain probate, which they cannot do without your Will.

Storing items digitally is straightforward. First you will either need to scan or photograph the document and then decide where you want to keep it.

On your PC

This gives you easy access and can be done securely. You must password protect your PC, have a reputable, up-to-date, anti-virus software running and consider encrypting your files to protect against theft, hacking or viruses.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage – either personal or online – allows you to access your documents from any device anywhere. Again, make sure you have the same security protections in place as above.

Remember also to completely clear the hard drive before you sell or give your computer away.

Finally, wherever you store your documents make sure your loved ones and executor know where to find them.

For advice on storing legal documents and which ones that will be needed to write your Will or during probate, please call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

How to prevent things going wrong with your LPAs

With dementia continuing to rise, the importance of Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) cannot be overstated. An LPA can be a vital tool, giving a friend, loved one or solicitor the power to make decisions on your behalf should you reach a position where you are unable to.

Safeguards are built into them to ensure they are used appropriately, but there are steps you can take to ensure things do not go wrong.

Choose the right attorney

If you want to prevent any future issues with an LPA, then choosing the right attorney at the outset is crucial. There are many duties involved in acting as an attorney for someone, so you need to pick someone responsible and organised, as well as someone who knows you well and can be trusted to act in your best interests.

You may want to select more than one attorney – this will make abuse of the powers associated with an LPA much harder.

If you do choose more than one attorney, you can set out whether they need to act together or separately for certain issues.

Informing loved ones

One important safeguard is the fact that the ‘donor’ (the person handing over their powers to their attorney) can name up to five people who must be informed before the LPA is registered. It’s important to do this – these loved ones can then step in and dispute the registration, should they believe that the donor was put under undue pressure or the attorney is set to behave in an inappropriate way.

It’s a good idea to speak to your friends and loved ones who aren’t named on the document in advance of organising an LPA too. You can explain why you are doing it and how you want the powers to be used – this can help reduce the chances of fraud and should also reduce the chances of conflict between family members later on.

Guidance

Another safeguard is the ability for donors to have certain guidance for the attorney written into the LPA. For example, this may suggest that they meet a couple of times a year to go through bank details and discuss financial arrangements for the next six months. This should also make it harder for any fraud to take place.

Organising an LPA can give you peace of mind that you will have someone you trust making decisions for you, should you lose the ability to do so.

Choosing the right attorney, and getting the right LPA in place, can take some time, but it is time well spent.

If you’re struggling to choose an LPA or would like advice on how to appoint one, call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

What If There Is A Death Tax Introduced

Before the snap General Election, the Government was planning to introduce a new fee structure for applications for Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration (for when someone dies intestate).

The new fees would have taken effect last month (May 2017), but the election has put these changes on hold.

When somebody dies, the executors must apply for a Grant of Probate from the probate registry.  This needs to be done to allow them to administer the estate according to the terms of the Will.

Previously, the fees for this application were set at either £155 if probate was applied for by a solicitor or £215 if it was applied for by friends or family. There were no fees if the value of the estate was less than £5,000.

If the Government were to now make the fee changes as planned, the first change would be that estates below £50,000 would no longer have to pay any probate fee. This significantly increases the number of estates exempt from the fees. Unfortunately, everyone else would see an increase.  Those with the largest estates would see fees of up to £20,000.

The fees would be tiered depending on the value of the estate.

£50k – £300k               –           £300

£300k – £500k             –           £1,000

£500k – £1M               –           £4,000

£1M – £1.6M               –           £8,000

£1.6M – £2M               –           £12,000

Above £2M                 –           £20,000

These fees would be in addition to inheritance tax.

The probate fees need to be paid up front. It may be difficult if the executor is not able to release cash from the deceased’s bank account and/or the executor is on a low wage or benefits. Previously they may have been able to apply to get help with the fees. However, the Government may also now remove probate applications from the general fees remissions scheme and financial help could no longer be available if all the scheduled changes were to go ahead.

If these changes were to happen, there are things to consider which may reduce the amount of probate needing to be paid. In particular, married couples or those in a civil partnership could consider the nature of any property ownership agreements they hold.

Another way to reduce the cost of probate is to consider setting up a Trust. This may lower the value of the estate (from a probate point of view) and drop it from a higher tier rate to a lower one. Trust law is complex. You will need advice from a qualified advisor to ensure that you are setting one up in the most tax efficient way, so that it doesn’t end up costing you more than you hope to save.

For advice on this or any aspect of planning a Will please call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

Retirees Seek Advice After Brexit

When the UK made the decision to depart the European Union last year, the actual departure seemed a long way off. Although the thought of leaving loomed, the process of exiting was thought of as distant – simply another thing for politicians to worry about.

As we begin to enter the negotiations, however, it seems that the ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude is faltering, especially among retirees.

According to recent research, 14% of those who have retired are worried about the impact of Brexit on their pension, with 19% saying they are now much more likely to seek financial advice.

Although market volatility was almost certain in the initial aftermath of the referendum, most believed that the markets would calm after the storm. However, retirees believe that the clouds haven’t cleared just yet; over one in four predict that any negative impact on their pension will be for the long-term.

It’s obvious that people are worried about the consequences of leaving the EU, but some have gone further than just expressing their concern. Due to Brexit anxieties, just over one in ten of those who had made plans to retire in 2017 have actively postponed their retirement, with 6% even changing the country that they planned on retiring to.

Having looked at these figures, you might be under the impression that just about everyone is worried about the impact of Brexit on their pension. It is though important to balance the numbers of those who are concerned, against those who are less so. In fact, the figures show the majority of people (67%) felt their retirement plans had not been affected by Brexit at all. One in eight even thought that leaving the EU would impact their pensions in a positive way.

Retirement expert at Prudential, Kirsty Anderson, commented on the concerns of retirees, as well as the importance of seeking advice:

“As you would expect, for many people who have been planning and saving for their retirement for most of their working lives, even the biggest of political upheavals won’t make a difference to their long-term plans. But with one in three new retirees telling us that their retirement plans have been affected by the referendum result, it is clear that uncertainty is having an impact for some.”

Although worrying is a natural reaction to being unsure about something, it’s rarely helpful. Rather than providing an answer, it just allows the concern to escalate and often causes us to worry even more. It might be impossible to know how Brexit will affect you exactly, but adequate planning will at least make your financial future a little more certain.

As well as guiding you through the process, talking to an expert at legalmatters can help clear up any concerns you may have. Be more certain about your future by speaking to one of our professional team today – call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

Problems With The RNRB

The new Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB) that has now come into effect is good news for many. However, not for everyone.

In summary, the new rates effectively add another allowance in addition to the inheritance tax (IHT) threshold of £325,000 for a single person.  This additional allowance is £100,000 per person, rising to £175,000 in 2020. These rates double for a married couple or civil partnership. There are, however, a few complications that may mean you won’t qualify and it’s important to understand these, as they may affect how you structure your Will.

First of all, the RNRB only applies to a property that the deceased has lived in and a qualifying share of it must be passed on to direct descendants.

If you have no direct descendants i.e. no children or step-children, fostered or adopted children, or children you have become legal guardian for, it doesn’t apply. You can still leave your property to siblings or nephews and nieces, but they won’t benefit from the RNRB and their inheritance tax bill may be greater because of it.

The property needs to form part of your estate when you die or to have given it away but reserved a benefit in it.

If you have more than one property, the RNRB can only apply to one of them. Your descendants can choose which one is to gain the benefit. If you have a couple of low value properties, your estate may benefit from a smaller amount of RNRB than if you had one larger property.

At the other end of the scale, if your estate exceeds £2 million, the RNRB tapers away by £1 for every £2 over this threshold. The threshold this year is £2.2 million. Estates above this level will not benefit from RNRB.

It’s possible to reduce the value of your estate by making certain gifts. As mentioned previously, you need to be careful when doing this as it could have adverse consequences. Alternatively, you could set up trusts to bring down the overall value of the estate. It may be worth considering leaving your property in trust to your partner to avoid the threshold being exceeded upon their death.

However, if you plan to leave any property in trust to your descendants, then aside from some exceptions, the RNRB again will not apply.  It does depend though on the types of trust and so specialist advice is needed.

It sounds quite complicated, but a good solicitor, can talk you through your options to structure your Will to take advantage of the tax benefits available to you.

For advice on preparing a Will and the RNRB please call us on 01243 216900 or email info@legalmatters.co.uk.

What Are You Paying For When Writing A Will?

Money is tight for many of us today, with the economy far from stable. As a result, we all look to save money wherever we can, whether that’s cutting our food bill, changing the Sky package or moving energy provider.

Wills are one area where some will look to make savings, perhaps by going the DIY route with the Will packs you can purchase in places like WHSmith.

However, doing so can be a costly mistake.

An invalid Will

The problem with the DIY approach is that it is very easy to make a mistake. This can be very difficult to correct, while if certain conditions are not met, the Will itself may actually be invalid.

This can cause significant delays that not only cause heartache for your family, but also costs them money. According to research from the Co-op, poorly drafted or ineffective Wills are responsible for a prolonged probate for up to 38,000 families a year. This could result in up to 10% of the estate being wiped out in unnecessary legal fees.

What do I get from a professional Will writer?

If you employ a professional Will writer to do the job for you, you will skip these troubles.

Generally the Will writer will make an appointment to come to your home to discuss your circumstances face-to-face. This will cover your assets and who you want them to go to if you pass away, as well as things like who will be the executor of your Will. This is the person or persons who will collect together your assets, pay any debts and tax you owe and then oversee the distribution of your assets to your loved ones.

The Will writer can guide you on some of the decisions you need to make based on their own experience and then will go away and draft it for you.

Some may also have storage options for you, so that you know your Will is kept in a safe and secure place.

I don’t know what it will cost

Currently, it is not always easy to compare what it will cost to have your Will written by one professional compared to another. That is changing though, with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) pushing for legal firms in particular to be more transparent about their charges, for example by publishing hourly rates.

Do bear in mind though that these changes will not cover all professional Will writers, only legal firms, as it is an unregulated profession. There are many high quality professionals who specialise in Will writing and can provide a dedicated service as a sole practitioner. In these instances, it is always useful to seek referrals from friends or family, read reviews and contact for individual quotes.

We know the value of using a professional to write a Will; it offers real peace of mind, knowing that it has been done properly and your wishes will be carried out. However, we know that it can be difficult for some people to establish just what it will cost. We are always happy to discuss our services and what we charge. Call us today on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

How Can Trusts Help With Inheritance Tax Burdens?

There are few taxes more unpopular than inheritance tax. A poll by the financial website, loveMONEY last year found that an incredible 90% of Brits believe it is unfair.

However, there are a number of perfectly legitimate ways to reduce the amount of tax your estate will have to pay. One of those is making use of a Trust.

What is a Trust?

A Trust is a legal arrangement where your assets – such as property, cash or investments – are given to trustees, who will oversee them for the benefit of a third person. For example, you might want to put some savings into a Trust which your children can then benefit from at a later date.

When you place items into a Trust, they technically no longer belong to you. As a result, when it comes to working out the inheritance tax due on your estate, they aren’t included.

Instead, the assets belong to the Trust. The trustees are charged with managing those assets in the interest of the beneficiaries you have named, until some time when those beneficiaries can take control.

The many different types of Trust

Trusts come in a variety of different forms, which will suit different circumstances.

The simplest form is a Bare Trust – this basically hands over ownership of the assets to the beneficiary immediately, so long as they are over the age of 18.

Alternatively, there is an Interest in Possession Trust. This gives the beneficiary income from the assets held within the Trust, but they don’t have a right to the assets generating that income. An example of this is that you might put shares in this form of Trust which would pay an income to your partner, but your children would get ownership of the shares themselves once your partner died.

Then there is the Discretionary Trust, which is where the trustees have responsibility for deciding how the assets within the Trust are distributed. You could therefore leave assets in the Trust for your grandchildren, with your children named as the trustees. They could then determine who gets what at a later date.

Dividing your assets

Trusts are a useful way to take control of passing on your assets to your loved ones and can serve as a complement to a comprehensive Will. Without a Will in place, you have no say on who will get your assets and could put your loved ones through further heartache after your passing.

To discuss your Will and estate planning needs today, call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.

Is One Lasting Power Of Attorney Enough?

How we look after older people requiring care is at the top of the national agenda at the moment, as the Government grapples with the care funding crisis.

More people than ever before need care in their old age, with dementia a growing problem. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are now 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, and that’s only set to grow.

With so many people reaching the stage where they can no longer make decisions for themselves, an increasingly useful option is a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). An LPA is where you appoint someone as your ‘attorney’ to make decisions on your behalf, should you reach the stage where you can no longer do so.

The different types of LPA

There are two main types of LPA. The first is the LPA for financial decisions. This will cover things like buying and selling property, paying the mortgage, investing money and arranging repairs for your property.

There is also an LPA which covers health and care decisions. This allows your attorney to make decisions about things like where you should live and your medical care.

You can set up separate LPAs to cover these two areas, or a single LPA to cover them both if you wish.

Is one LPA enough?

Choosing a person to be your attorney can be difficult. You need to find someone who you trust to always act in your best interests, but who can also be relied upon to deal with the responsibility and administration that comes with the role.

Generally, people will choose a loved one, like their spouse or child. However, you can also appoint a professional, like a solicitor.

In fact, you can select more than one attorney – a main one, and a replacement. The replacement attorney can step in and make decisions for you if the original attorney is unable. As an example, you might name your partner as your attorney and your child as the replacement. This way, should your partner end up in a position where they are no longer able to make decisions on your behalf, perhaps because of their own health issues, your child can take over the responsibility.

With dementia such a significant problem across the UK, it is essential to put plans in place on how to deal with it should you develop issues. That should extend beyond an LPA and include a comprehensive Will. By putting a Will in place, can guarantee that your assets are divided exactly as you wish.

“If you’re unsure about what you need to do and whether you should be appointing an LPA, please call us on 01243 216900 or email us at info@legalmatters.co.uk.