flock of sheep and lambs walking on farmland against mountain

My Experience With Probate

The following is a true story written by A R K Consultant Julie, about her experience with probate.

Having been a member of the A R K Team for almost four years, I have come across a lot of people with difficult and challenging circumstances. Prior to joining A R K, I worked for HMRC for over 40 years. I am very experienced in all aspects of tax and have dealt with probate for both sets of our parents. I therefore expected to find dealing with the probate of my aunt and uncle who died last year fairly straightforward. How wrong I was!

My aunt and uncle were sister and brother who had lived on the family farm in Warwickshire all their lives. My aunt went into a care home several years ago and my uncle struggled on in the farmhouse on his own. Sadly, he had a stroke in March 2019 and also ended up in the same care home. He was unable to manage his affairs so my cousin and I, as his attorneys, stepped in. Thank goodness he had made both Health & Finance Lasting Powers of Attorney.

What we found was a total nightmare. We knew our uncle liked buying shares and investments but had no idea of the extent of these, or how very disorganised he was. Room after room in the farmhouse and even the garage were absolutely crammed with papers. They were in no particular order and dated back to the 1950s. Nothing had ever been filed or even put in date order. In amongst ancient farming magazines and every empty envelope he had ever opened were share certificates and other important information. It took weeks of sorting through everything to find out what we needed to keep and what was rubbish. Then next challenge was identifying what were still current assets and what had been sold or merged with a new company. Hours of googling names of companies of which I had never heard. It was like piecing together a giant jigsaw.

Sadly, whist we were still undertaking this mammoth task my uncle died in April 2020 from Covid. His sister in the same care home died two weeks later. As their Executors we thought that getting probate would not be quite so difficult as we had already got to grips with much of their financial affairs. However, it was still a huge amount of work. Getting valuations of the shares and other investments at the date of death was the first step, but often we did not know when the shares or investment trusts had been purchased or how much was paid for them, so getting valuations and calculating the Capital Gains tax due was a huge challenge. To our surprise most companies just do not keep information for long and were unable to help us.

In smaller probate cases where there are minimal amounts of investments and property, obtaining probate is still quite complex, and not easy for someone who does not come from a tax/law or financial background. We had the even more complex forms to complete as there was Inheritance Tax due on my uncle’s estate. I understand tax and the complex legislation surrounding it, but this was a new field even for me. Farmland and farm buildings in certain circumstances can be entitled to Agricultural Property Relief, woodlands can also be eligible for tax relief depending on their use. I had to research and learn all about those aspects of tax that were completely new to me. My aunt had been a partner in her family sports business so there was Small Business Relief to consider and calculate, as well as the normal Income tax, Capital Gains tax and completion of their tax returns.

There are two types of Inheritance tax forms (IHT) that are required. If there is no IHT to pay, then the forms are slightly less arduous as mentioned above, although an excellent understanding of tax and form filling is still required. It would be very easy to make a costly mistake, but If IHT is due, then the forms are really complex. Luckily although I did all the groundwork for the completion of these forms, we work closely with a very reputable law firm at A R K, who completed the Probate and IHT forms and submitted them on our behalf. I am pleased to say we got received Grant of Probate from The Probate Office around eight weeks from submission. All our hard work had finally paid off.

Looking back, I wish when we had been appointed as my uncle’s attorneys, we had asked questions and got the finances sorted out whilst he was still well enough to help us. We had to do so much work that was made so much harder by not being able to talk to him. Everyone knows that getting financial papers in order is a task they need to do, but often put it off. My advice would be to make sure you have a folder with details of all investments, property details, accounts with mobile phone providers, credit cards etc. Include account numbers and passwords. This could save weeks of work for your family and eliminate the danger that they will never find some of the assets you have. To this day we are not sure that we have found everything my uncle owned. Accounts or shares could be out there that we have not been able to identify and maybe never will.

The most important message from my recent experience though is to seek help and not struggle with it all yourself. Missing out some vital information or an incorrect calculation, could cost you far more than paying for some additional help with probate work.

To find out more about how A R K can help you regarding Probate and what you need to do to get organised for your family please read the following blog on our website and complete our ‘useful information about me’ template.

aerial view architecture autumn cars

Unclaimed Estates – Stevenage Area

In the UK, if a person dies intestate (without leaving a Will) it is not always clear who should inherit their estate and assets. They may have passed away with no known next of kin and apparently no family to inherit. You could be an heir to an unclaimed estate of an estranged relative, perhaps someone you’ve lost touch with or never knew existed.

The Unclaimed Estates website lists all the unclaimed ‘Bona Vacantia’ estates registered in England and Wales. This is a free to use resource with no search limits http://www.unclaimedestates.com

We’ve searched the list and compiled a list of people who have died in and around Stevenage where family are still being looked for. Do you think you could be related to any of the following:

SurnameForenameTownDate of deathDate entered on Register
RousselAnthony JosephStevenage9/6/20105/11/2019
BevanStanleyStevenage9/5/20194/10/2019
HovellAnthonyStevenage3/2/201926/9/2019
WallbridgeMelvin RussellStevenage1/2/20195/6/2019
MaherJohn JosephStevenage7/7/20189/8/2019
SharmanMichael CharlesStevenage26/2/20165/6/2019
WeaverChristopher JohnStevenage6/1/20185/6/2019
WilsonAdrian EdwardStevenage6/2/201817/5/2019
DuncanRobertStevenage20/4/201818/4/2019
RobertsonTerence MichaelHatfield17/12/201317/1/2020
BotterillWilliamHatfield20/10/199810/1/2020
LaybournAndrew DavidHatfield8/9/20034/10/2019
BentleyMaryWelwyn Garden City10/3/20205/2/2021
HarrisonJohnWelwyn Garden City21/12/19905/6/2019
EverettAda ElizabethWelwyn Garden City21/2/201125/3/2019
KentCelia JoanWelwyn Garden City19/1/200913/2/2019
AubreyDavidSt. Albans26/09/201910/02/2020
ChildsHarold AlbertSt. Albans07/11/201505/03/2019
HeskethMargaret Ann ValerieSt. Albans23/12/201725/01/2019

Get in touch if you think you could be, or know somebody who could be, related to the above.

About me

Plan for tomorrow today – make everything easier for your family.

Have you ever been in the situation where you’ve lost a family member and you haven’t known where to start with arranging the funeral they would have wanted, and/or dealing with their estate?

There are many things we can do in advance to make things easier for loved ones when the time comes. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Write down what you have! It may seem silly, but just because things are obvious to you, it doesn’t mean that other people will be able to work things out easily. These days we don’t get many items of written correspondence – statements are often sent electronically; so, it may leave your family wondering which company you had a credit card with, who your mobile phone contract was with etc, etc. If you’d like to record ‘Useful information about me’, download our template here.
  • What about the funeral? You can go for the ultimate way to be organised for your family by paying for your funeral in advance, but if you don’t do that, at least give your family a clue about what you would want. A big full-on funeral, a small intimate service, a burial, a cremation, a certain celebrant, flowers – or not, charitable donations? There is so much to think about. It will come to all of us one day so why not be prepared for your loved ones’ sake – save them the trauma of having to decide what you would have wanted by setting that out for them in advance.
  • You can go one step further and make some notes about your life – celebrants we speak to explain that families often find it hard to piece together enough detail for a eulogy. List key dates and events that younger family members wouldn’t necessarily know about. It will make for a more accurate story of your life when your loved ones are remembering you fondly during the funeral service.
  • Make a Will is obvious of course; but a staggering 54% of the adult UK population haven’t got around to it. This can cause real problems and can mean that everything would pass to people you wouldn’t have wanted to inherit at all!
  • Sentimental gifts – do you have ideas about keepsakes you’d want family member to have to remember you by? Valuable items should be included in your Will, but you can leave inexpensive items in a separate letter of wishes.

Just a few ideas – but hopefully we’ve given you something to think about…

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.