How the law could help families keep more memories alive

If I asked you to list everything you own, would you think about the camera roll on your smartphone?

People tend not to see digital assets, like photos, music playlists, social media accounts, as ‘assets’ in the usual sense. Aside from cryptocurrency, these things may not hold a recognisable financial value or represent something similarly tangible to a home, an engagement ring or money in the bank. But digital assets exist, and they outlive their creator or owner. And for loved ones left behind, digital assets maintain an important connection to the person they have lost.

As the number and types of digital assets have grown, so too have issues encountered by people who want to access them following a person’s death. For good reason, password and data protection is robust. And while it would seem sensible to allow a daughter to access the photos on her deceased mother’s phone, or a widower to get into his wife’s Facebook account, this has historically been less than straightforward. It is a situation that has increased the pain and suffering felt after a loved one’s passing. And it has led to a Private Members’ Bill that is making its way through parliament.

The Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill would give a grieving relative the right to access their loved one’s digital data. It also places an onus on tech companies to facilitate this, by unlocking devices for which people don’t have access codes.

The Bill has some way to go before becoming law, but I very much hope that its journey leads to these significant changes being made. Clients who come to see me after the death of a loved one are often overwhelmed by the formalities that need to happen. Everything, from the clearing out of clothes from the wardrobe, to the gathering in and division of assets and liabilities, places a strain on already fragile people who are doing their best to get through the hardest of times. To then be faced by a brick wall when attempting to retrieve their loved one’s digital data has felt an unfair additional challenge.

So, the Digital Devices Bill is something I wholeheartedly support. It should remove a significant disadvantage currently suffered by families who simply want to keep memories alive and prevent digital assets from becoming lost. But there are also things that each of us can do now to make the future process of administering our estates as straightforward as possible for our loved ones.

I would urge anyone preparing for the years ahead to get specific advice on how best to deal with digital assets as part of the process of writing a Will or a Lasting Power of Attorney. (It’s important to understand, as a starting point, whether each of these assets is owned outright by you, or whether it is licensed to you, for example.) Working through this now will reap rewards, leaving fewer difficulties for loved ones to navigate in the years to come.

For advice about organising your affairs, or specifically about digital assets, contact Emma Howlett or a member of the Private Client team on 01892 577092.

Could leaving money to charity mean less inheritance tax?

Future planning, including writing a Will, isn’t just about deciding how assets should be allocated. It’s also about making the very best of those assets, preserving their value and minimising the tax that will be charged to an estate after their disposal.

A large part of what I do is guiding people towards the most tax-efficient arrangements. And one of the lesser-known ways of reducing tax liability is by leaving money to charity.

A charitable gift doesn’t attract inheritance tax (IHT). In addition, this type of gift could actually lower the IHT rate that applies to the remainder of an estate. Estates valued at £325,000 or more usually attract IHT at 40%. However, a charitable gift may reduce that to 36%. To qualify, the gift needs to be worth at least 10% of the net value of the estate. This takes some careful calculating and, as a Wills and inheritance specialist, this is something I help clients plan.

Precision around this is really important if the terms of the Will are to be carried out in the way intended, and if they’re to have the desired effect.  First of all, you need to make sure your proposed charitable gift would qualify. And then you need to think about how you will frame that gift. You might want to leave money to a particular charity for a specific purpose, such as services in your local area, or care of certain people or animals. You might want to consider a revisionary gift, which means the charity is second-in-line to receive it, after a family member or friend. (That could work in the case of a property or an investment fund, for example.) These are just some of the possibilities that could provide the dual advantage of putting your assets to good use and lowering the tax bill that will be payable on what’s left.

Charitable gifts are not without their potential difficulties, however. People are not always accepting of their relative’s decision to divert inheritance away from the family. They might treat the decision as having been made ‘in the heat of a sibling rift’, or without full appreciation of the consequences. Relatives might not understand that it was done in a calculated way to bring about IHT savings. The scale of these problems obviously depends on the circumstances – not least the value of the charitable gift. It can also depend on the manner in which family members discover the arrangement.

I encourage clients to talk to those close to them about their plans, including when those plans might not be quite as expected. The chance to explain to loved ones why you have arranged things in the way you have can be so important to them respecting your wishes. Ultimately, this can lead to fewer issues in families later on.

To speak to us about making or updating a Will, or about any other aspect of future planning, contact Emma Howlett or a member of the Private Client team on 01892 577092 .

Video-witnessed Wills legalisation extended

It’s been done on driveways, over garden fences, on car windscreens. Covid has taught us many things, including that when a Will needs to be witnessed, a way will be found.

In January this year, the government announced that it would be extending the measures that gave some people who were making Wills a far more straightforward way of having them witnessed. The introduction of video-witnessing in September 2020 was set to apply to Wills made between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022. A further two years has now been added to that timeframe, meaning vulnerable people (including people who are forced to isolate because of Covid) in England and Wales will, as a last resort, be able to have their Will witnessed by video-link up until 2024.

It’s a move we welcome. While the number of our clients who have been forced to use video-link is relatively small, the fact that this is in place if it’s needed is hugely reassuring. Will-witnessing usually requires two witnesses to be physically present in the same space as the person making the Will. For those who cannot come into close contact with others while Covid looms, the ability to carry out this essential formality via live video (subject to safeguards that prevent undue influence and fraud) means there are no delays. A Will can be prepared by a solicitor and the witnessing can quickly follow. And in some cases, where time is of the essence, this could mean the difference between someone dying with a Will in place and without.

The main benefit of making a Will is certainty that assets will be dealt with as you’d like them to be after you have passed away. The alternative – intestacy – can lead to very different outcomes. These can include assets going to the ‘wrong’ people, and loved ones finding themselves harder hit by tax liabilities that come from an estate that had not been arranged before its owner’s death.

So the case for making a Will is strong. And it’s also so important to keep your Will up-to-date, as changed family and financial circumstances can mean Wills drafted many years ago are either no longer appropriate or don’t lead to the most favourable position for family members. Extending the video-link witnessing provision is (alongside other available online facilities) another step in the right direction towards removing barriers for people keen to get their affairs in order.

But will video-links will remain a possibility beyond 2024, or will they become filed under ‘Covid-19’? We’ll have to wait and see.

To speak to us about making or updating a Will, or about any other aspect of future planning, contact Emma Howlett or a member of the Private Client team on 01892 577092 .

How ‘private’ is a Will?

News that Prince Philip’s Will is to be kept sealed for at least 90 years has highlighted the reality that, without some form of judicial intervention, people’s final wishes are generally open to inspection.

The decision, which is planned to be reviewed in just under a century’s time, is said to have been taken in order to protect the Queen’s dignity and standing. So, for now, details of Prince Philip’s estate and his beneficiaries will remain under wraps. But this has sparked conversations about what usually happens to a person’s Will once they have passed away. Who takes charge of it? And who gets to read its contents

Making a Will might seem a private matter, and in many respects it is. Your Will is yours. It’s not for anybody else to tell you what to include in it – in fact, undue influence could render the Will invalid. Your solicitor will advise you, personally, on a one-to-one basis. They’ll discuss with you the types of things to consider, and the best ways of structuring the allocation of your assets. Ultimately, they will follow your instructions; implement your decisions. And at that point, the lid is usually placed on a Will and it is safely stored away.

That said, Wills do not necessarily remain private. You shouldn’t expect yours to be widely read after you have passed away, but once a grant of probate (the authority for the executor(s) to start dealing with your estate) has been issued, your Will becomes publicly available. Anyone could request a copy via the government website. It’s another reason to consider very carefully what you put in your Will. If there are things you wouldn’t want to be made public (certain instructions or explanations, for example) your solicitor will be able to help you express these elsewhere – usually in a separate, private, ‘letter of wishes’.

Clients often ask us about the process of ‘reading a Will’. They picture a gathering of family members, a solicitor, and maybe a Chesterfield and a crackling fire. But this doesn’t normally happen. Instead, the person appointed as the executor will take the reins. He or she (or maybe they, as there an be more than one) will get hold of the Will, usually from the deceased’s solicitor, and will apply to the probate registry for the grant of probate. Once the green light has been given to start administering the deceased’s estate, beneficiaries will usually be notified of their entitlements. However, not all will be entitled to see precise details relating to the deceased’s assets and liabilities.

What if you are excluded from this, perhaps because you are not a beneficiary, or because the executor doesn’t appear to be doing everything they should? Applying to see a copy of the Will could be an option worth pursuing. The terms of a loved one’s Will can sometimes take family members by surprise, and some feel it’s therefore important to see the Will for themselves. This could also be the starting point if the Will is to be challenged, or if a claim to entitlement based on dependency is being considered.

There are huge sensitivities around Wills. As lawyers who specialise in helping people and families manage their affairs, we understand the emotional challenges that come with preparing for the future, and also of course in dealing with the loss of a loved one and the practical arrangements after their death. We encourage people not to shy away from making plans, nor from having related conversations with those close to them. Because while your future planning – your Will, your trusts, your investments – may be for you alone to put in place, it stands to significantly affect those important people in your life. Your plans can become their future.

For advice about making a Will, or any other aspect of future planning, please contact contact Emma Howlett on 01892 577092 or email emma.howlett@thomasmansfield.com.

My father is becoming forgetful. Should we be thinking about legal protections for him?

It is always concerning when a loved one appears less able to do things they once could. While slower bodies and minds are the unavoidable byproduct of ageing, you are certainly right to be thinking about the possibility that your father may at some point need greater help from those around him.

Depending on your father’s condition, you may want to look into any care needs he has now, and those he might need before too long. Is he living alone? Is that safe for him? Should you be thinking about lining up a different arrangement?

And one of the things I think you should definitely be considering is a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). This is a legal document that appoints someone, or more than one person, to take control of decisions about the day-to-day life, finances and wellbeing of someone who has lost mental capacity. There are two types of LPA: one for health and welfare, and one for property and finance. Quite often, the same attorneys (usually family members) are appointed in respect of each.

An LPA is made while a person still has mental capacity, and usually comes into effect if that capacity becomes lost. Timing is therefore extremely important. There is no point in thinking about the LPA option once a person no longer has mental capacity; they have to be shown to have the ability to make decisions for themselves in order to make a valid LPA.

Where a person has simply become forgetful, it is unlikely that they have lost mental capacity. The time would therefore be ripe to help put an LPA in place for your father.

What is mental capacity?

Mental capacity is someone’s ability to make a decision. Incapacity strikes when decisions can’t be made because of a temporary or permanent impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of, the mind or brain.

Being ‘unable to make a decision’ means not being able to understand relevant information, retain that information, use or weigh that information, or communicate the decision.

Why have a Lasting Power of Attorney?

If a person loses the ability to make decisions, the next best thing is for someone they know and trust to do that for them. An LPA allows this to happen very easily.

When someone loses mental capacity without having an LPA in place, there will usually need to be an application to the Court of Protection. That is the specialist court responsible for taking care of people who have lost mental capacity. It can appoint ‘deputies’ to act in much the same way as attorneys under LPAs and make decisions in the person’s best interests. A major difference, however, is that the person in whose interests decisions will be made has at that point no say in who becomes his or her deputy, whereas the ability to nominate attorneys via an LPA places that control firmly in the hands of the person at the centre of it all.

What about a Will?

An LPA is not an alternative to having a Will. The two documents do different things, and ideally people should have both in place.

While few people feel completely comfortable discussing Wills and other future plans with parents, it really is a good idea to bite the bullet. Encouraging loved ones to think ahead and to talk about the arrangements they have and could put in place can make so many things far easier in the long run.

To find out more about LPAs, Wills and future planning, or for advice on your particular situation, contact me on 01892 337540 or at emma.howlett@thomasmansfield.com.

Why your Will isn’t set in stone

When someone makes a Will, they rightly expect the wishes they have set out to be carried through. In most cases, that is exactly what happens; the executors distribute assets to the chosen beneficiaries, and deal with all other necessary arrangements to manage the deceased’s affairs.

There are situations in which a Will may be challenged by those who are not set to inherit as expected, or where there are doubts about the validity of the Will: was it forged? Was the Will-maker pressurised into making certain provisions? Did he or she understand what they were signing? If successful, a legal challenge can lead to terms other than those set out in the Will being put into effect. However, those situations do not commonly arise. It is far more likely that that the Will will simply be applied as the Will-maker intended.

But what if those terms reflect ‘old’ wishes? Too few people update their Will over time. And the trouble with that is that the Will that stands to determine inheritance (and other things) may not be a fair reflection of the deceased’s situation in the lead-up to their death. It could lead to the ‘wrong’ people benefiting, and the ‘right’ people missing out. Equally, the financial provisions made may be less beneficial – and perhaps even detrimental – because of changes in the law that may have happened since the Will was made.

Just as you would review your investments, your insurance policies, your future planning, you should periodically check in on your Will. We advise clients to do this annually. This may just involve you casting your eye over the provisions you have made and making sure that they are still appropriate and relevant to where you are in your life. Because that is exactly what a Will is: a reflection of your circumstances and your wishes at a particular time. These things can change, and it’s vital that your Will keeps apace.

As well as revisiting your Will periodically (ideally, with your solicitor), significant events in your life should trigger a review. A new baby in the family, some inheritance, a new house, a relationship breakdown. These are all things that could affect the provisions you have made in your Will, and could mean you need to rethink the allocation of your estate and your provisions for your loved ones’ futures.

In the context of future planning, there is one particularly significant marker in a person’s life: marriage. It’s not just that having a new husband or wife means priorities tend to change. It is also that marriage cancels out any existing Will, so it’s as though no Will had been made. And that can lead to a situation in which a person’s estate is dealt with under the rules of intestacy.

If intestacy applies, the deceased’s possessions will be distributed to particular people, in a particular order. The rules are strict and, of course, the deceased will not have had a say in who inherits. It is not a situation that many people or families would choose to be in. It’s why people make Wills.

Our message is: don’t just make a Will; keep it up-to-date! It really isn’t onerous to do. Your solicitor will be able to draft a ‘codicil’ that will sit alongside your Will, setting out any new provision. This should ensure that the things you intend to happen after your death happen.

For advice about anything to do with Wills, probate or future planning, contact me on 01892 337540 or at emma.howlett@thomasmansfield.com

 

 

 

 

Finding the Will

I talk a lot about why it’s important to make a Will. You get to decide who to pass things on to. It makes things easier for those you leave behind. It’s just good preparation; good housekeeping, if you like.

When someone dies without having made a Will, there can be a great deal of uncertainty about what should happen to their assets and liabilities. These things – whether they’re physical property, like a home and possessions, or money tied up in accounts (and debts owed) – have to be dealt with. And where a Will has not been left, the rules of intestacy determine how that should be done and who should inherit. Intestacy is rarely a straightforward process and it can be particularly difficult for family and friends who are coming to terms with their loss.

So, the sensible option is to make a Will. But it’s important once you’ve made your Will to make sure it will be found once you have passed away. This might sound like pretty basic stuff, but you’d be surprised at the number of cases I’ve dealt with over the years where family and friends have been at a loss as to the whereabouts of a loved one’s Will. They tell me, “I’m sure he made a Will”, or “She probably would have”. But that is sometimes about as certain as it gets because they simply don’t know for sure whether a Will exists or where it is. In some situations, family members assume there’s a Will when there isn’t – one was never made, or it has been destroyed.

Tracking down a Will can be simple, or it can be extremely difficult. The ideal scenario is that the deceased had let family members know that they had made a Will and where it was kept. However, in my experience, this is something quite frequently overlooked.

It’s relatively common for a Will to be filed away at the deceased’s home, so it’s always a good idea to check through desk drawers and cabinets. But where that proves fruitless, or where you want to check that the version you have found is the most up-to-date (remember that Wills can, and should, be updated over time), the next port of call will usually be the deceased’s solicitor. Law firms like ours usually store Wills in the strongrooms of our offices. So if you know the name of the deceased’s solicitor or firm, contacting them would be a wise move.

There are other avenues that can be explored if nothing has turned up. These include checking with the deceased’s bank (a safe deposit box, perhaps?) or with their other professional advisors.  An appeal for information can be placed in the Law Society Gazette. And there are various organisations whose job it is to search for missing Wills; you could try one of those.

It’s important to exhaust every possible route to laying your hands on the original, signed Will (and not merely a copy). That is the document that will need to be inspected by the Probate Registry before permission – a Grant of Probate – will be given for the deceased’s estate to be distributed. In some cases, a Grant of Probate will be issued even though the original Will has not been provided, although whether a copy will be acceptable will depend on all the circumstances, including who would stand to benefit/lose out if the copy Will were/were not allowed to stand.

That is all best avoided if possible. It’s why when we advise clients on making their Will, we discuss storage options and recommend they keep at least one close family member informed of the details. And if all paperwork – share certificates, insurance documents, deeds, financial documents, for example – are also neatly filed away, that too will make the job of distributing your estate so much easier for those you leave behind.

Need a Will?

For advice about making a Will, or to discuss any aspect of Wills and Probate, contact us on 01892 577092 or email info@thomasmansfield.com.

A Taxing Time

Now is not the right time to outline long-term plans’.

Those were the words from the Treasury as it announced that this autumn’s Budget would not be going ahead. This didn’t come as a surprise; many people will have seen the scrapping of the Budget as the only option given the current state of mid-coronavirus flux.

But what does seem certain is that when the Budget eventually happens, we will face a tougher tax regime that seeks to pay towards the huge financial buffer put in place to protect jobs and the economy during the pandemic.

None of us can say for sure what those changes will be, or just how they will affect people, families and businesses. And with regime change likely, you may be unsure about how best to prepare for the future or whether to do so at all.

We’re urging our clients not to press pause on their financial planning. In fact, now is a great time to take stock; to get your affairs in order and revisit any existing arrangements. Build a detailed picture of your assets – your possessions, property, money, investments, shares – and start to think about passing these on to the right people in ways that will retain their value and give maximum benefit.

As Private Client solicitors, we help clients achieve that by advising on creating trusts and on making lifetime gifts, both of which can reduce beneficiaries’ liability for what is possibly the most unpopular tax of all – Inheritance Tax (IHT). Under current rules, up to £500,000 out of one person’s estate (‘estate’ being the things you own) can be passed on to beneficiaries without triggering IHT. That half-a-million figure is made up of £325,000 out of the estate, plus £175,000 representing the ‘main residence’ band (ie your main estate is being passed to a direct descendent). Once that £500,000 figure is reached, the value of anything above it is usually taxed at 40%. That percentage can be reduced a little if you leave some money to charity. And a whole estate passed on to a spouse or civil partner should not attract IHT at all.

While IHT only kicks in if the assets you are passing on are valued at more than £325,000 (or £500,000 if the main residence band applies), it remains a real concern for those people and families that have more to their name. The prospect of handing over to the Treasury almost half of the value of assets in excess of the £500,000 limit can be unappetising, to say the least.

Earlier this year, MPs called for the standard 40% rate to be cut to 10%. They also called for most reliefs, including the ‘seven-year rule’ (the rules that says that IHT will be charged on gifts worth more than £325,000 if you die within seven years of making them) to be scrapped. With the government eager to claw back money handed out during the coronavirus, it is difficult to see how reforms that would ostensibly lead to lower recoupment via tax would appeal to the Treasury at this time. But that of course depends on the merits of other new  provisions.

Let’s see what comes of the rescheduled budget. And if we can offer one piece of advice in the meantime, it is: don’t leave your financial future, and that of your loved ones, to chance.

  • Make a Will.
  • Review an existing Will to check it’s up-to-date as well as still being relevant and viable.
  • Consider ways of clearing and structuring debts (remember  that while debts reduce the value of an estate – potentially taking it below the IHT threshold – they still need to be paid out of the estate before inheritance can be distributed to beneficiaries).
  • Get good advice on maximising your tax-free allowance and on dealing with assets during your lifetime to tee-up a better financial outcome for your beneficiaries.

Whether you are a natural planner or not, there’s really no substitute for thinking ahead when it comes to passing on the assets you’ve worked hard to accumulate. Our team is here to help you do that.

For advice about any aspect of Wills and inheritance tax, contact us on 01892 577092 or email info@thomasmansfield.com.

Wills and Estate Planning

The Corona Virus has already changed our lives; yet it will continue to do so in many profound and unexpected ways.

Preparing for the unprecedented is difficult – perhaps even impossible to do perfectly – but preparing your tax affairs and making a Will is actually pretty easy with help from one of our lawyers, even if your situation seems impossible to you.

With over 70s in advised self-isolation, and everyone else encouraged to social-distance, we have devised ways of taking instructions without meeting you, and this has already proved successful with clients so far. The entire process can be carried out online, or for those with less experience with the internet by phone and post.

We take you through the whole process and give you a full personal legal health check in conjunction with advice on Wills.

This includes:

  • Inheritance Tax issues
  • Pension and life insurance advice on existing policies (if you don’t already have these, we may recommend a financial adviser to implement where appropriate)
  • Joint property and investment ownership (these have a bearing on the way Wills are drafted)

With the Will itself we will go through all the usual matters to consider, as well as any particular to your circumstances. This would normally include:

  • Residency and domicile issues
  • Choice of executors
  • Funeral wishes and arrangements (entirely optional)
  • Choice of guardians for minor children
  • Personal possessions
  • Cash legacies to individuals
  • Charitable legacies
  • How you wish to divide your estate and who should benefit
  • Will Trusts if life interests or second partners, step children etc are present
  • Anything more complex that fits your situation

These are important issues and we urge anyone with property or children or moderate wealth to have a Will and take associated advice. It will save your family uncertainty and money in the long term.

It is also important to talk about Inheritance Tax when considering your Will. There are rumours of the Treasury making changes to regime which will adversely affect many peoples’ estates. Our experts can help plan ahead and create a Will that anticipates these changes so you don’t have to be reactive in the future.

Please contact one of our team for further advice. Usually a short conversation on the telephone will be enough to give us a good idea of your circumstances and a fee quote. We can take it from there.

Wills And A New Way

The government has confirmed that new legislation will enable people making Wills to have those Wills witnessed via video- link.

This might not seem all that dramatic a development to the tech-savvy among us whose lives now routinely involve Zoom, FaceTime and the like. But it is a move that significantly relaxes the rule that requires a Will to be witnessed ‘in the presence of’ at least two witnesses at the same time. Being present has usually meant being physically present – being alongside the Will-maker, in the same physical space.

There are very good reasons for having strict rules around the making and witnessing of a Will. Where people’s post-death wishes are being recorded, it is vital that everything is above board and that the risk of that person having been pressured in one way or another, or of the Will having been forged, is minimised. Having two witnesses on hand (crucially, each with a clear line of sight of the Will-maker signing the Will) is one really important aspect of this, without which the Will will not be valid.

But COVID-19 has put obstacles in the way of people who have wanted to make or update their Will (witnessing is required for both). While my team and I have been able to prepare Wills for clients during lockdown and beyond, getting those Wills witnessed has been challenging or impossible for people who have been isolating or shielding. Some have been happy to have their Wills witnessed through a closed window or an open door, but many have held off from this final, crucial, part of the process.

Recognising this difficulty, the government has now said that Wills made between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022 will be considered valid (assuming everything else about them and their making is in line with the law) if they have been properly witnessed via video-link. While the type of video-conferencing used doesn’t seem to matter, the link must be ‘live’; the witnesses must actually see the Will being signed, as opposed to witnessing a recording of the signature.  And, as always, there must be a clear line of sight – something that all involved must be careful to ensure at the time.

This will be welcomed by all those who have been wanting to make or update their Will to reflect their current circumstances, but who feared having to come into contact with witnesses in order to do so. It is something that I also think is a hugely helpful move, in that it will hopefully encourage people to plan for the future by further removing obstacles to making a Will. We all know that many people put this off, and I firmly believe the easier we can make the process, the better.

That is of course with the proviso that the right protections against fraud and undue influence remain very much at the heart of this. There must be confidence in the system, and those making Wills need to be assured not only that their wishes will be carried through but also that those wishes will be those they genuinely hold (something that family members will be keen to ensure, too).

The proper and lawful witnessing of Wills is one part of this. And while people who are able to have their Wills witnessed in the conventional way are encouraged to do so, this new option of video-linking should have some really positive effects on those who would otherwise struggle to finalise their Wills at this time, and on the futures of their loved ones.

For help with preparing your Will, or for advice about any aspect of Wills and Probate, contact us on 01892 577092 or email info@thomasmansfield.com.

Let’s Talk About Death

It is one of life’s inevitabilities. But death has always been an uncomfortable subject for most people.

That is the case even though there is a general recognition that it’s something we should all prepare for, especially while we’re still physically and mentally able to. With some good preparation, financial and other personal affairs can be organised in such a way that our loved ones not only stand to benefit in the right ways, but that the practicalities are made far easier to deal with.

Imagine if you were to die tomorrow; would your partner know where to find details of your insurance policies? Would he or she be able to access your online accounts and cancel your direct debits? Might they face a barrage of claims from people you owe money to?

These are not pleasant thoughts. But the good news is that you have time now to do something about the loose ends, the piles of paperwork you haven’t filed away, the legal arrangements that will safeguard the financial futures of those you care about.

But if you were to start your preparation today, where should you begin? Also, where should you stop? The range of things that could (and should) be done is huge. My advice is to focus on these things first:

Your Will

Making a Will is the obvious first step to take if you want to make sure your family and friends benefit from the assets you have built up over your lifetime. Conversely, you may decide to leave some or all of your estate to a charity or to someone outside your close circle. A Will allows you to do those things.

If you die without having made a Will, the laws of intestacy apply. These can lead to outcomes you might not have chosen. Unmarried partners are particularly vulnerable because the intestacy rules do not recognise their perceived rights to a share of the family home or to other parts of the estate owned by the deceased. This means that the surviving partner, even if they had lived with the deceased as ‘common law’  husband, wife or civil partner, is not entitled to inherit under the intestacy rules.

Children may also be left in a weak position. If there is a surviving partner who was married or in a civil partnership with the deceased, children will only inherit if the estate is worth more than £250,000. In some situations, those who stand to benefit from the estate will agree to change the apportionments so that those left out may inherit something. However, that is not a foolproof option. Nor should you count on the goodwill of those standing to benefit under the intestacy rules.

Setting out your wishes in writing removes much of the uncertainty and potential angst caused by relying on the law to determine who should get what. If there’s one thing you decide to do this week, make a Will. If you already have a Will, revisit it and make sure it’s still relevant. Has there been a family rift or death that should be reflected? Has there been a significant change in income or assets? Have new children or grandchildren come along?

Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)

An LPA is a legal document that appoints someone to make decisions about your health and welfare and property and finances on your behalf. It only comes into play if you lose the ability to make those decisions for yourself, perhaps because of an accident or mental illness.

LPAs can only be made while a person still has mental capacity, and they are not just for older people. In fact, we encourage all clients (of all ages and stages in life) who come to us to consider making one of these. If nothing else, it provides peace of mind – an insurance policy – that their future will be in safe hands should they become unable to take care of some of the important things in life.

 Tax planning

There are all sorts of ways in which estates can be structured so that beneficiaries stand to get maximum benefit from them.

Inheritance tax has long come between people and the full value of their inherited property, possessions and other assets. With some careful planning, and through mechanisms including trusts, gifts, and the use of tax-free allowances, your estate can be in the best possible shape to be passed onto loved ones.

Debts

Debts do not die with their owner. While a surviving spouse will usually have an idea of the amount of money owed (and will in many cases jointly own that debt), it is not unusual for there to be a surprise or two resulting from a played down credit card liability or overdraft.

One of the big problems is that debts have to be paid before beneficiaries. In some situations, this leads to loved ones missing out completely because there is not enough left in the estate for them.

While it may be unrealistic to clear all debts, it is worth looking for ways of consolidating or otherwise arranging debts to improve the position of your beneficiaries.

Your personal documents

Tell your partner, or someone else close to you, where to find important documents like your Will, your LPA, investment certificates, insurance policies.

 Online

Don’t forget about your digital assets. These are things you store online, from your emails to your photos, your Facebook posts, to your Amazon subscription. Where your digital assets hold particular sentimental value – family pictures, for example – you may want to think about downloading and storing them safely. Others may have more tangible value, and should be taken into account as part of your estate.

At the very least, start making a list of your online accounts so that others will be able to see the extent of your digital assets.

If there is one thing our clients have in common, it’s a shared sense of relief that comes from making plans. The first thing many tell is that they have been putting this off; some because they had felt uninformed, others because they had preferred not to address their minds to it. Start the conversation. It’s the first step towards shoring up your family’s future.

Contact us to discuss any aspect of Wills, LPAs or estate planning, contact us on 01892 577092 or email info@thomasmansfield.com.

Wills as a Benefit in Kind

How all employers, company directors and HR executives can make good use of benefits in kind with our Wills Service

It’s widely acknowledged that the successful companies of the future will be those that can attract and retain the best people. That means offering more than just a competitive salary and statutory pension contributions.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates the direct costs alone of replacing a professional or manager to be around £8,000. But even losing junior employees means disruption, delay and expense. That’s why sophisticated companies are always looking for new benefits to help them reward – and retain – their people.

Thomas Mansfield is offering a new service that can help companies increase loyalty and provide a genuine benefit to their staff – our unique benefit in kind ‘Wills Service’.

Benefits to Employers and their Employees

 Currently 60% of the population hasn’t written a will, and over 1,000 people die intestate (i.e. without a will) every day. This can be costly. It risks leaving assets to the wrong people and lumbering loved ones with an excessive tax bill. Bereaved families are regularly forced to sell the family home because someone failed to write a proper will.

But no one wants to think about making a will. They worry about the expense and put it off. Most people would much rather have it taken care of for them.

And with the corona virus at large, now is good time to ensure your, and your employees’ affairs are taken care of.

As an employer the benefits are obvious:

  • You offer employees a valuable service, something that most people know they should do but many put off.
  • You show care for your employees at an extraordinary time, and when they might feel isolated because of remote working and/or social distancing.
  • You ensure that your employees’ welfare is safeguarded, as is that of their families.
  • You show them that you’re a responsible employer, concerned about their current and future needs. Our experience suggests that employees react well to this.
  • Employees appreciate the knowledge that they have protected their families and friends, and haven’t risked their hard-earned assets going to relatives they dislike or to the government.
  • We can offer this service at a significant discount from our normal fees.
  • VAT registered employers can reclaim our VAT charges which reduces the cost further.

In a world of gimmicks, our Wills Service stands out as something genuinely solid and valuable.

How it works

You, as the employer, instruct Thomas Mansfield. We offer your employees a Wills Service which may or may not (at your choice) extend to spouses, civil partners and partners of your employees.

We provide a presentation on the process and procedure for you to distribute amongst your employees. This also includes information on what they need to consider prior to taking up the scheme. Employees wishing to take up the scheme will then complete a short data collecting survey provided by us in readiness for one of our lawyers to have a video call to take any more detailed instructions required, and to discuss things in person.

The next stage is to draft the will, and, if all is well, a final version is prepared for signing.

All this is done for a fixed fee per will, which is significantly reduced from our standard prices. Employers can decide to offer a full service for senior employees, or contribute a set amount to cover a straightforward will, with employees paying the balance if their will is more complex or if inheritance tax advice is required.

Depending on your approach, the employer might also contribute to the cost if they want additional wills for other family members. If this is beyond the scope of what you, as an employer, envisage, then your employees can cover the additional cost, which is often minimal as many people opt for “mirror wills”.

This isn’t a ‘supermarket law’ approach – it’s a tailored, personal service, less prone to errors and more likely to have a really positive impact on an individual’s affairs. We can also tailor it to your company’s needs and requirements, so if you want to customise anything you see here, then of course we should talk.

If you’d like more information on our unique Wills Service and what it could do for your company, or on any other aspects of benefits in kind, please contact us on 01892 577092 or email info@thomasmansfield.com.

Let’s Talk About Death

It is one of life’s inevitabilities. But death has always been an uncomfortable subject for most people.

That is the case even though there is a general recognition that it’s something we should all prepare for, especially while we’re still physically and mentally able to. With some good preparation, financial and other personal affairs can be organised in such a way that our loved ones not only stand to benefit in the right ways, but that the practicalities are made far easier to deal with.

Imagine if you were to die tomorrow; would your partner know where to find details of your insurance policies? Would he or she be able to access your online accounts and cancel your direct debits? Might they face a barrage of claims from people you owe money to?

These are not pleasant thoughts. But the good news is that you have time now to do something about the loose ends, the piles of paperwork you haven’t filed away, the legal arrangements that will safeguard the financial futures of those you care about.

But if you were to start your preparation today, where should you begin? Also, where should you stop? The range of things that could (and should) be done is huge. My advice is to focus on these things first:

Your Will

Making a Will is the obvious first step to take if you want to make sure your family and friends benefit from the assets you have built up over your lifetime. Conversely, you may decide to leave some or all of your estate to a charity or to someone outside your close circle. A Will allows you to do those things.

If you die without having made a Will, the laws of intestacy apply. These can lead to outcomes you might not have chosen. Unmarried partners are particularly vulnerable because the intestacy rules do not recognise their perceived rights to a share of the family home or to other parts of the estate owned by the deceased. This means that the surviving partner, even if they had lived with the deceased as ‘common law’  husband, wife or civil partner, is not entitled to inherit under the intestacy rules.

Children may also be left in a weak position. If there is a surviving partner who was married or in a civil partnership with the deceased, children will only inherit if the estate is worth more than £250,000. In some situations, those who stand to benefit from the estate will agree to change the apportionments so that those left out may inherit something. However, that is not a foolproof option. Nor should you count on the goodwill of those standing to benefit under the intestacy rules.

Setting out your wishes in writing removes much of the uncertainty and potential angst caused by relying on the law to determine who should get what. If there’s one thing you decide to do this week, make a Will. If you already have a Will, revisit it and make sure it’s still relevant. Has there been a family rift or death that should be reflected? Has there been a significant change in income or assets? Have new children or grandchildren come along?

Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)

An LPA is a legal document that appoints someone to make decisions about your health and welfare and property and finances on your behalf. It only comes into play if you lose the ability to make those decisions for yourself, perhaps because of an accident or mental illness.

LPAs can only be made while a person still has mental capacity, and they are not just for older people. In fact, we encourage all clients (of all ages and stages in life) who come to us to consider making one of these. If nothing else, it provides peace of mind – an insurance policy – that their future will be in safe hands should they become unable to take care of some of the important things in life.

 Tax planning

There are all sorts of ways in which estates can be structured so that beneficiaries stand to get maximum benefit from them.

Inheritance tax has long come between people and the full value of their inherited property, possessions and other assets. With some careful planning, and through mechanisms including trusts, gifts, and the use of tax-free allowances, your estate can be in the best possible shape to be passed onto loved ones.

Debts

Debts do not die with their owner. While a surviving spouse will usually have an idea of the amount of money owed (and will in many cases jointly own that debt), it is not unusual for there to be a surprise or two resulting from a played down credit card liability or overdraft.

One of the big problems is that debts have to be paid before beneficiaries. In some situations, this leads to loved ones missing out completely because there is not enough left in the estate for them.

While it may be unrealistic to clear all debts, it is worth looking for ways of consolidating or otherwise arranging debts to improve the position of your beneficiaries.

Your personal documents

Tell your partner, or someone else close to you, where to find important documents like your Will, your LPA, investment certificates, insurance policies.

 Online

Don’t forget about your digital assets. These are things you store online, from your emails to your photos, your Facebook posts, to your Amazon subscription. Where your digital assets hold particular sentimental value – family pictures, for example – you may want to think about downloading and storing them safely. Others may have more tangible value, and should be taken into account as part of your estate.

At the very least, start making a list of your online accounts so that others will be able to see the extent of your digital assets.

If there is one thing our clients have in common, it’s a shared sense of relief that comes from making plans. The first thing many tell is that they have been putting this off; some because they had felt uninformed, others because they had preferred not to address their minds to it. Start the conversation. It’s the first step towards shoring up your family’s future.

Do you know that 11-17 May 2020 is Dying Matters Awareness Week? The theme is ‘Dying to be heard’, focusing on how to help by listening. The aim is to show how important it is to talk about dying, death and bereavement.

Contact us to discuss any aspect of Wills, LPAs or estate planning on 01892 577092 or email info@thomasmansfield.com.

 

 

Guidance for Coronavirus: Legal preparation

Will a normal Power of Attorney be sufficient if I have to go into hospital?

The coronavirus pandemic has made many people consider what legal steps they might need to take in the event they end up in self-isolation unable to sign documents, or are required to go into hospital, either on a ventilator in intensive care or ending up in a coma.

If you are hospitalised as a result of the coronavirus (or for that matter, any reason), there are a few simple steps that can be taken to safeguard your own interests and those of your family.

Powers of Attorney enable your attorneys to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot.

They are usually used in cases where an individual loses mental capacity but because a person can lose capacity and regain capacity, they are particularly useful while in hospital where there are many situations that could cause a person to be temporarily without capacity such as an induced coma.

There are a few different types of Power of Attorney and you need to consider, which would be the most suitable in accordance with your own circumstances.

Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) give you, as the donor, the choice of attorney to make decisions on your behalf if you can’t.

An attorney could be a close friend or family member who you would trust to make decisions on your behalf or someone independent such as a solicitor. Typically, you would appoint two attorneys, but you could have more. The authority could be for them to make decisions together or some decisions individually.

Health and Welfare LPAs

If you were in hospital, a Health and Welfare LPA allows attorneys to make decisions about your medical care including life-sustaining medical treatment in addition to the more regular decisions such as your daily routine such as washing, dressing and eating. In the absence of an LPA, such decisions could be made by the NHS, which may disadvantage your family and friends, for example if the NHS wanted to move you to a different hospital several miles from where you live. Attorneys are also able to make decisions about whether you should be sent to a particular nursing home.

If you are worried about losing mental capacity through illness or traumatic illness, then a Health and Welfare LPA is essential for your loved ones to be able to make decisions on your behalf. These decisions include medical decisions and can also include life-ending decisions such as stopping medication or turning off life support machines. Sometimes they therefore are decisions doctors cannot make or would not know your preference as well as someone who knows you well.

Property and Affairs LPAs

A Property and Affairs LPA allows your attorney to make decisions about your personal finances and affairs even if you have not lost capacity but are simply unable to look after your own finances or affairs, for example while in hospital. They allow attorneys to transfer cash between your bank accounts to enable the payment of regular outgoings, which they can also effect on your behalf.

Business LPAs

If you own or run a business you may need a Business LPA with the attorney being a co-owner, which is really like a Property and Affairs LPA drafted with your business needs in mind, with different attorneys who are more able to look after your business affairs than your friends and family.

Court of Protection

If you cannot make decisions for any of the reasons set out above, and have not made an LPA, an application to the Court of Protection to make decisions on your behalf or determine practical solutions may well be required. This process is expensive, takes at least six months to instigate and the Court may appoint someone who you would not have chosen.

It is therefore advisable to put in place LPAs while you are able, and before any emergencies when your family or friends will need them to help you.

Wills

Of course, no matter what stage of your adult life you are at, it always makes sense to have a Will. A Will enables you to leave your estate to the people you choose such as family and friends. In the absence of a Will, your estate is divided in accordance with the law of intestate, which means that the people you love most could miss out completely. In addition, a properly drafted Will can save the beneficiaries paying inheritance tax on your estate and save them thousands of pounds which might otherwise just be paid to the state in tax.