Recent changes to the Will signing process and the system for using a Lasting Power of Attorney

Ensuring that your Will is correctly signed and witnessed has always been very important. If this is not done correctly then the document may not be valid. It has always been the case that a Will must be signed and dated by the person making the Will (the testator) in the presence of two witnesses. A witness can be anyone over the age of 18 who is not a beneficiary named in the Will. The two witnesses can be related to each other.

Up until recently it has always been a legal requirement that the document must be signed and witnessed with all three parties present in order for it to be legally valid. This rule has recently changed, however, as it has been difficult to achieve during the current pandemic, whilst maintaining a safe social distance.

It has been announced by the UK government that with immediate effect it is going to legalise the remote witnessing of Wills. The new law has been backdated to 31 January 2020 and will remain in place until January 2022, or as long as is deemed to be necessary.

Under the new guidelines, the type of video-conferencing used is not important, as long as the person making the Will, plus the two witnesses, each have a clear line of sight when the Will is actually signed.

Key points regarding the signing and witnessing of your Will by video link –
The person making the Will has to ensure that the two witnesses can see them, as well as each other, and can also see the act of signing. The signing should take place in real time and if possible, a recording should be made and kept.

The witnesses should confirm that they can see and hear what is happening, and that they understand their role in witnessing the signing of a legal document. Ideally, they should be physically present with each other but if this is not possible, they must be present at the same time by video link.

The document must then be taken to the two witnesses to sign, ideally within 24 hours. A longer period may be unavoidable, for example, if the Will has to be posted. The signing of the Will by the witness should again be by video call, and the Will maker should see the witnesses sign.

If the two witnesses cannot be present together then the above will ideally need to take place twice. Whilst it is not a legal requirement for the two witnesses to see each other sign, it is recommended by the government that this is good practice. For any further advice please contact A R K – we will guide you every step of the way to ensure the process is simple and legally correct.

Changes to the way a Lasting Power of Attorney can be used
A new online tool was released by the Office of the Public Guardian in July – it will help attorneys to contact banks and healthcare providers and will be an easier system than the paper-based one, which can often cause delays. The new system will allow those acting as an attorney to provide a secure code, which when submitted to the online portal, will nearly instantaneously confirm their status as an attorney and the power they hold. This system can only currently be used for LPAs registered by the Office of the Public Guardian after 17th July 2020, but it is due to be extended in the future to apply to LPAs made before that date.

For more information on making and/or registering and using a Lasting Power of Attorney then please contact us at A R K. It is quick and easy to do.

funeral plan

Pre-paid Funeral Plans and an industry update

It has obviously been a very difficult few months for the funeral industry. There was a 26% increase in the number of funerals carried out in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Funerals have been much smaller due to government limitations on numbers, and social distancing has made it extremely stressful for families to say goodbye
to their loved ones. Dignity Group alone conducted 46,000 funerals in the first six months of this year.

Funeral Directors have done everything possible to provide an excellent service during this distressing time; but it has been extremely difficult for them and many crematoriums have greatly increased their charges due to the reduced number of services that can take place, and the additional cleaning costs they are incurring.

At A R K we can assist with arranging both Dignity and Safe Hands Funeral Plans. We are pleased to say that despite rising costs in the industry, and reports of a small number of Funeral Directors increasing their prices quite considerably, the prices of our Pre-paid Funeral Plans have not currently increased at all. We have received excellent feedback on both companies where plans had been used over the last few months.

We have always thought that our plans offer exceptional value for money, and one of the benefits of having a plan in place is the protection it will offer against increasing funeral costs in the future. You can pay in full at the time you arrange your plan, or by instalments over periods up to 25 years.

Contact us at A R K to find out more details about how quick and easy it is to purchase a plan tailored to your needs. We can carry out an appointment by telephone, video call or we can arrange a personal visit if you prefer to take you through the options.

Important matters for parents to consider

Have you made a Will and a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for Property & Financial affairs?

Why is it so important to make these documents?

At A R K we believe passionately that it is important to have Wills and LPAs in place, whatever your age. If you have children who are under 18 and you have family responsibilities, it becomes even more vital to protect your family.

In your Will you can stipulate exactly who you would like to have guardianship of your children should the unthinkable happen. This would help a Judge decide who would look after your children if anything were to happen to you. Without a Will detailing your wishes, your children could end up being looked after by someone you wouldn’t have wanted to be
involved in their upbringing.

We can also advise regarding Trusts that you can add into your Will to ensure that your children’s inheritance is protected. For example, you may be concerned that if your partner were to re-marry after your death, your children could lose out on what you wanted them to inherit. You can include a Trust in your Will to protect your share of your property.

An LPA for Property & Finance is very important should you become mentally incapacitated (this can happen at any age following an accident or a stroke). By appointing attorneys when you are well, it means that they could step in and act on your behalf straightaway to deal with all financial and property matters.

For a parent, this would make it much easier for your children to be cared for financially. If you suddenly became unwell, all your accounts (including joint ones) could be frozen, can you imagine how difficult that would make life for your partner? If you have an LPA in place it would be one less thing for them to worry about.

Contact us if you would like any more information making an LPA or making/updating your Will.

Living Wills

A Living Will (sometimes known as an Advance Decision or Advance Directive) ensures that others, including doctors, know your wishes about your health and care. A Living Will would only become relevant at a time when you could not make, or communicate, decisions for yourself. It allows you to document all your wishes regarding your health and welfare and it
gives you the right to refuse treatment – even if this could lead to your death.

A Living Will is a legally binding document, meaning that those caring for you MUST follow your instructions. The document can be as detailed as you wish, and as well as covering life sustaining treatment, it can also include information regarding any medical treatment that you DO NOT want, where you would prefer to live, and any relevant information on diet and
lifestyle.

A Living Will does not allow you to nominate someone else to make decisions on your behalf. At A R K we recommend that you make a Health & Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) at the same time as you make your Living Will.

A Living Will, in conjunction with a Health & Welfare LPA and possibly also a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order which you make via your GP, will give you complete peace of mind that your wishes would be adhered to, should you become incapacitated.

At A R K we are happy to take your instructions and prepare your Living Will for you.
Currently due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place, this will be by telephone or video call only. We will then prepare and send you a draft copy to approve, before preparing the final document which we will post out to you. You will then need to sign it and get it witnessed by two people in accordance with the usual Will signing guidelines.

We advise you to discuss your wishes with your family where possible, and if you are making a Health & Welfare LPA or already have one in place, you should also advise your attorneys that you have made a Living Will.

Health & Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA)

A Health & Welfare LPA allows the person or persons appointed (called the attorneys) to make decisions on your behalf about your health and welfare, if there comes a time when you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. Health and welfare decisions could include decisions regarding appropriate medical treatment, about where you live, your day to day care plan – including your diet, and any other care needs you might have. It can also give your attorneys the right to have a say about life sustaining treatment should that become necessary.

A Health & Welfare LPA can work in conjunction with a Living Will if you have already made one. If you do not have a Living Will, it is a good idea after you make your Health & Welfare LPA to discuss it with your attorneys to make sure they are familiar with your wishes, or you may wish to include a letter of wishes with your LPA to guide them if it becomes necessary.

To make a Health & Welfare LPA contact A R K and we will guide you through the simple process. We will take your instructions (currently due to Covid-19 restrictions, this would be by telephone or video call) and then we will prepare the documents for you and send them out to you and your attorneys for signature. Before an LPA can be used, it must be
registered by The Office of the Public Guardian. We can submit LPAs for registration on your behalf (and we do not charge extra for completing the application paperwork). There is an additional fee charged by The Office of the Public Guardian which is currently £82 per LPA (this can be less if you are on certain means tested benefits or if your annual gross income is
less than £12,000). Once an LPA has been formally registered it is ready to be used whenever you may need it.

A Health & Welfare LPA gives you and your family peace of mind that you would have someone acting in your best interests if you became very unwell; someone who knows and cares about you, and who would be able to advise medical professionals to ensure you would be looked after the way you would want to be.

A R K Covid-19 Update

An update from A R K team from home during Covid-19.

All appointments are taking place remotely via phone, WhasApp, Zoom & Skype. After the appointment the process is the same: draft Wills are sent via email, and once they are approved we prepare the final version to be send via post. This is the same with Lasting Powers of Attorney. All pages that need to be signed can be posted.

The main challenges we are seeing are with documents that need to be witnessed – Wills have to be witnessed by two independent people, making it difficult during lockdown as you cannot use members of your household.

This is possible for most people with neighbours standing at a distance or watching through windows, and where it hasn’t we have been able to go out to people and deliver documents (combining this with our daily exercise!)

We’re also still networking weekly with BNI and Women in Business via Zoom, and are continuing to support our 4 charities with small cash donations. Additionally, we’re now able to offer discounted Wills to NHS staff at Lister Hospital, The QE2 and Hertford Hospital, as well as for Garden House Hospice, with £20 per document donated to their associated charities.

Based in Stevenage, we’re here to help those locally – and now further afield. We hope you are keeping safe.

Business LPA

Do you know everything you need to do to protect yourself if you are a business owner?

We find that many of our clients with small businesses do not realise they may need a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) specifically for their business. The person who they would want to run their business if anything happened to them and they became mentally incapacitated, is not necessarily the same person who would look after their personal affairs. Contact us for more advice regarding protecting your business. Do you realise, for example, that even jointly held business bank accounts would all be frozen if you became incapacitated?…

We find at A R K that a lot of our clients who make personal Finance & Property Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs), really should consider having a Business LPA as well. For example you might have a spouse or children who you would want to act on your behalf for personal finance issues, so you appoint them as attorneys on your Finance & Property LPA; but if you have a business, would they be the best placed to carry on your business on your behalf if you became incapacitated? They may be, but if you have a partner in your business or work very closely with someone, then it may be that it would be more logical to appoint them as your business attorney. This would put less stress on your personal attorneys and would ensure that your business could continue to run smoothly.

The huge benefit of a LPA for business is peace of mind. For you, your family and your business colleagues. If you lose mental capacity, without having made an LPA, nobody could access your bank accounts (business or private) even if they are joint accounts. They would be frozen and can only be unfrozen once a Deputyship Order is made. This is obtained from the Court of Protection – it can take many months, even for simple cases, and it’s a costly process as well. For more advice please see our Business LPA fact sheet.

It’s also very important to include your business in your Will. You need to make it clear in your Will what you would like to happen to your business after your death. For example; would you want it to be sold? or carried on according to instructions within your Will? You might need to appoint a separate business executor as well. We are happy to advise regarding all these issues. Contact us if you would like any advice regarding Business LPAs.

Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax (IHT) – Are you aware of the new IHT thresholds from the 6th April 2020?

Are you aware of the new IHT thresholds from the 6th April 2020? and are you making the most of the gifts you can make to family and friends to reduce your IHT liability? Would you like to know more about the new rates and what gifts you can make to family and friends to reduce the potential IHT liability on your estate?…

The IHT thresholds/Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB) are changing from 6th April 2020. From that date the basic threshold remains at £325,000 per person, but the RNRB increases to £175,000 (It is currently £150,000). The RNRB only applies if you have property and are leaving it to direct descendants ie. your children (this includes adopted, foster or stepchildren) and grand-children or great grand-children. This brings the total exemption per person, if you qualify for RNRB, to £500,000.

If you are leaving everything to your partner and you are either married or in a civil partnership, then in most cases there will be no IHT to pay on first death. The surviving partner is then allowed to use both tax-free allowances, providing the first spouse to die did not use up their IHT allowance by giving away a large amount of money in their Will to other family and friends. This means that a couple can usually leave a total of £1million without any IHT needing to be paid.

To summarise: Here are some of the key points regarding Inheritance Tax –

  • The basic threshold is £325,000 per person. If the total value of your estate, including property, is below that limit, IHT will not be due. Anything over the threshold is taxed at 40% in most cases.
  • If you are leaving property to your direct descendants then, as explained above, there is an additional RNRB of £175,000 available.
  • You can gift up to a total of £3,000 per annum in total without any implications for IHT. This can be to one person or a number of different people.
  • You can gift larger amounts but would need to live for 7 years after making the gift for it to be entirely IHT free (it is treated as your asset in decreasing percentages as the years go on).
  • You can give as many gifts of up to £250 each per year to your family and friends as you like. Although not to anyone who has already received a gift of your whole £3,000 exemption.
  • Each tax year you can also give wedding or civil ceremony gifts of up to £1,000 per person. This increases to £2,500 for a grandchild or great-grandchild and £5,000 for a child.

You can also make gifts to charities and political parties and these are IHT exempt. For more information on IHT see our dedicated page here or contact us at A R K.

Will storage

Will Storage – Do your family know where your Will is stored?

Last year 9000 Wills were found by Lloyds Bank in a storage unit that they did not know about! This means that many estates may have been distributed incorrectly. To ensure this does not happen to you, consideration should be given to how you store your Will. Please contact us at A R K for advice. We can ensure safe storage of your Will or if you wish to store at home, we can advise you how best to do this….

Being able to safely store and easily locate your Will could mean the difference between having a legally valid Will that can be accessed and used right away, or officially dying “Intestate” – meaning that there was no Will, or that no Will could be found. The issue of a missing Will can create a lot of problems for families, and the situation often causes unpleasant disputes between family members which can last for many years.

So, what are your options when thinking about storing your Will, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of each option?

Keep your Will yourself – the benefit to this option is that it is completely free, however there are lots of risks attached to doing this. Your Will could be damaged by flood or fire; it could be lost if for example you move home, or even get thrown away by mistake. One of the key considerations is whether your family or executors would know where to find it. If you do choose to keep your Will yourself, you should tell your executors where you are keeping it and we recommend you store it in a fire safe box.

A R K Lasting Powers & Wills can arrange storage for you – there will be a small yearly charge to facilitate this. We offer an alternative to home storage to give our clients peace of mind, knowing that their Will is safe and secure. It will only be released from storage either when the person who has made the Will requests it, or on production of a death certificate after they have passed away.

To give you further peace of mind that your Will cannot be lost, misplaced or ignored on your death, you can also have it registered with Certainty, The National Will Register. There is a small one-off fee for this service (currently £30 per Will). There are over 7 million Wills registered with this service. Certainty Will Registration is proven to protect the Testator’s beneficiaries by ensuring their Will can be found. Certainty does not disclose the existence of a Will until after death, and do not need to see a copy to register it. The register simply records the fact that you have made a Will, and where it is being stored. A R K can register the existence of your Will on your behalf.

Contact us if you need more information regarding Will storage.

Pre paid funeral

Are Pre-paid Funeral Plans a good idea?

At A R K we are increasingly finding that clients of all ages are buying our plans. Our oldest client is 103 and we have many younger clients in their 40s and 50s. Plans vary in price depending on what they include, but the average price of a plan is around £3,500. Based on the funeral costs we are seeing locally, that amount seems competitive even at today’s rates.

The plan will cover everything you’ve paid for – whether you only live a few months after you purchase the plan, or hopefully for another 50 years! It could save your family many thousands of pounds as funeral costs are rising rapidly. In previous decades costs have practically doubled every ten years. Work out what a £4,000 funeral today (that’s the average cost) might be in 30 years. A very scary sounding figure!

A Funeral Plan will give you peace of mind that your loved ones will know your wishes, and they won’t have to find monies to pay for your funeral as this will all have been taken care of. One simple phone call is all that would be needed to set the wheels in motion.

We were very pleased to see that Dignity Funeral Plans have introduced a ‘Price Promise’ recently. This amazing concept means that if you are paying for a plan by instalments (periods up to 25 years are available), and you pass away any time after paying 12 instalments, you will still receive the funeral you wanted. Your family will not be asked to pay remaining instalments.

It makes a Funeral Plan a bit of a no-brainer if you are 50+. You know at the outset the maximum amount you will pay, and even if you are unlucky enough to pass away before you make the final payment, you’ll know that everything will have been covered for a very reasonable sum.

Please contact us for more information or view our Funeral Plans information.