crop man playing with dog on street

Animals are important too…

There are lots of ads on TV and in the press telling us how we can make sure pets are looked after if we weren’t there, or were no longer well enough, to look after them.

Did you know that you can make provision for pets in your Will as well?

You can set out who you’d want to look after pets (possibly leaving the person you’ve chosen some money as well) to pay for food, vet’s bills etc.

You can say if you think an organisation like Cat’s Protection, Dog’s Trust or the RSPCA would be the best way to make sure your pets are taken care of re-homed.

You can leave a separate letter of wishes to accompany your Will, if you think the person you’ve chosen to care for your pets would like some tips and ideas about the best way to do that.

If making sure your pets would be ok is important to you, please get in touch to see how we can prepare a Will for you which would give you peace of mind that your wishes would be followed.

a couple filing a divorce

What are your choices if you are appointed as an Executor of a Will?

Ideally it should not come as a surprise if someone dies and you are notified that you have been appointed as Executor of their Will. Although, by law, you do not need Executors to agree to act in advance it is always a good idea to try to forewarn them, and to make sure they would be happy to take on the role. We also recommend that our Will clients advise those they wish to appoint as Executors where the Will and other important documents can be found. This will make it so much easier for them to act.

In some cases, very simple estates do not require Grant of Probate, for example where only small amounts of money are involved, or on the death of a spouse if all assets are in joint names. If ‘Probate’ is needed this means completing HMRC forms and making an application to the Probate Registry.

If you are appointed as Executor and you find that Probate is needed, there are various options open to you. The main three options are –

1. To get professional help with acting as an Executor from a solicitor or probate firm. They will deal with everything on your behalf and submit the relevant forms to the Probate Registry and HMRC. Once Probate is obtained, they will also make sure assets are gathered in, property is sold and any debts are paid, before distributing the estate in accordance with the Will (or the Law of Intestacy where there wasn’t a Will). The fees incurred should be a paid out of the estate, provided sufficient funds are held. This is of course the more costly option.

Or:

2. To gather all the information yourself and then seek professional help to apply for the Grant of Probate on your behalf. The forms involved are quite complex and if completed incorrectly, this may result in additional costs and delays with settling the estate.

Or:

3. To do all the work yourself and submit all the relevant documents and forms to the Probate Registry and HMRC. Some people do feel able to cope with this, but as the forms are lengthy and complicated it is only really advisable to take on this work if you are completely confident about being able to do it accurately.

If you choose option one or two, we at A R K are here to help you deal with things as quickly and in as stress free a way as possible.

What happens if you don’t want to take on the role of Executor of a Will?

1. You can renounce (resign) from the role – if you want to completely opt out of the role of Executor, you can choose to officially renounce your position. This is done by completing a Deed of Renunciation which you will sign and submit to the Probate Registry. There is no going back if you take this action, so you need to be certain about your decision before going ahead. You can only do this if you have not already carried out any duties that an Executor should perform, such as closing accounts and settling debts, etc.

2. You can reserve your right to apply for Probate – you can apply for ‘Power Reserved’ if there are other Executors who can take on the responsibilities. This allows you to step back from applying for Grant of Probate but still gives you the option to help out if needed. This is a good option if perhaps you would like some involvement but do not have time to do the practical signing and sorting of paperwork.

3. You can appoint someone else to take on the role – the final option is to appoint someone (not a professional) to carry out the work on your behalf. To do this you would need a Lasting Power of Attorney appointing someone to act on your behalf. This would only be a last resort and usually happens only where an appointed Executor lacks mental capacity, maybe through ill health.

At A R K we are here to help and support Executors as much as we can, and we offer free initial advice. When making your Will with us we will discuss your choice of Executor to help ensure no problems arise. We also have some useful resources on our website which can be used by anyone making a Will, and to help you understand the work that is needed by an executor.

What is Intestacy? And what happens if someone dies without leaving a Will?

‘Intestacy’ is when someone dies without leaving a Will. Surprisingly less than half of people in the UK have a valid Will. This means many die without leaving any sort of Will.

When someone dies ‘Intestate’, that is without leaving a valid Will in England and Wales (Scotland have slightly different rules) then their estate (money, property and belongings etc) are divided up according to the ‘Rules of Intestacy’. Only married or civil partners and blood relatives (in a strict order) can inherit when someone dies without leaving a Will. If there are no such relatives then the person’s belongings will go to the Crown.

Married or civil partners inherit under the Rules of Intestacy only if they are actually married, or in a civil partnership, at the time of death. If you are divorced or your civil partnership has legally ended, then you cannot inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. If you are still married or in a civil partnership you can inherit:

  • All the personal property and belongings of the person who died
  • The first £270,000 of the estate
  • Half the remaining estate where there are children – the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren will inherit the other half. (If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the partner will inherit the whole estate).

Children of the intestate person will inherit once they reach 18, if there is no surviving married or civil partner. Grandchildren or great-grandchildren can only inherit if their parent has died before the Intestate person. It is important to know that stepchildren would not inherit anything at all if you have not made a will.

In some circumstances other close relatives can inherit under the Rules of Intestacy but there would have to be no surviving children or grand or great-grandchildren.

Who cannot inherit from someone who dies intestate?

Unmarried partners
Stepchildren
Close friends
Carers

If there are no surviving relatives then this is known as Bona Vacantia. The estate passes to the Crown. The Treasury Solicitor is then responsible for dealing with the estate. We have a list of recent unclaimed estates where people have died locally on our website (link)

What happens if someone dies intestate and has jointly owned property and other assets?

There are two ways to jointly own property – as ‘beneficial joint tenants’ or as ‘tenants in common’. Different things would happen with your share of a property if you haven’t made a Will, and this depends on the way you own your home with your partner.

If partners were beneficial joint tenants at the time of death, when the first partner dies the other will automatically inherit the other partner’s share of the property. However, if the partners are tenants in common the surviving partner does not automatically inherit the other’s share of the property. At A R K we will give you advice to help you understand the different way you can own property, so you can decide which is the best option for you.

Couples who have joint bank accounts often think that they will automatically inherit all the money in the account if their partner dies. This is not correct, as half of any funds in any joint account will be subject to the intestacy rules unless it can be proved that the money belongs to the surviving partner in a different percentage.

How to make sure that your estate goes to who you want to inherit it?

The only certain way is to make a Will and detail exactly how you wish your property to be divided after your death. Where couples are married or in a civil partnership it is common that they make Mirror Wills leaving everything to the other partner and specifying what they want to happen on second death. However, so many families are now blended, with children from different relationships and this can add complications. At A R K we are happy to give you advice on this and how best to make sure your wishes can be carried out. For example, it could mean you include a simple trust in your Will (for a small additional cost) that will ensure that your share of any property goes to those you want to have it. See more information on this type of trust on our website (link to Protective Property Trust)

For more information visit http://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will

Contact us at A R K for advice on making your Will and ensuring that you leave your estate to the family members and loved ones you want to inherit.

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.