Tony Crocker

Tony Crocker is Director of IWC Estate Planning & Management Ltd. With over 15 years’ experience, he is knowledgeable and proficient in all matters regarding Probate, Will writing, Estate Planning and Inheritance tax avoidance. In addition, he has a wealth of experience in dealing with estate settlements and issues with the capital taxes office in the event of bereavement. As a member of the Society of Will Writers & Estate Planning Practitioners, he is widely respected within the field, having helped many people at difficult points in their lives through complex probate and tax issues. Tony Crocker

Why consider probate fees when making your will

When you make a will, one of most important decisions you’ll make is who to appoint as executor. There are many factors that may affect your choice, the person’s age, where they live, and their relationship to you. You also have the option to appoint a professional who will take care of probate and relieve close family of the burden. It’s sometimes wise to use a solicitor if there are feuds in the family and there is a chance that disputes may occur.
 
If you don’t have any strong preferences, make sure you know exactly who the executor/s named in your will are. If you are considering allocating the task to a professional, you’ll need to be aware of the implications in doing so.
 
The will writing and probate industry is not regulated and even the most reputable high street banks are guilty of using unscrupulous practices in the pursuit of profit. A common ploy is for companies to offer cheap will writing as a loss leader, write themselves in as executor and charge extortionate probate fees. This can be as much as 4.5% of the estate value to wind up an estate.
 
Some firms say it’s compulsory, and pressurise or use hard-sales tactics to get testers to agree to write them in as executor. There have been many widely publicised cases of unwanted executors who refuse to renounce their positions when confronted by relatives about their rip-off fees. The law states that they are not required to do so and the family has no choice but to watch a large portion of the estate get swallowed up in legal fees.
 
If you are considering using a professional, protect your family by finding out exactly how much they charge for probate. The Law Society states that practitioners must give an indication of the costs of carrying out the administration of the estate.   They must also inform clients how fees are calculated; whether that’s at an hourly rate, or by a percentage of the estate.
 
If the firm tries to use the ‘how long is a piece of string argument,’ press them for an answer. To protect yourself, use a company that offers a fixed fee service so you’ll have a clearer indication of costs.

How to value the estate when applying for probate

The first thing you’ll need to do as part of the probate application process is value the assets of the estate. You’ll need this information before you can complete the forms and send off your application to the probate registry.
 
First make a list of the deceased assets; this may include;
Money
Property or land
Businesses or business assets
Stocks and shares
Life insurance policies
Pensions that include a lump sum payment
Assets in a trust from which the deceased benefited
Foreign assets
Personal chattels
Furniture, fixtures and fittings
Motor vehicles
Any asset gifted up to 7 years before the death occurred
An asset gifted at any time in which the deceased kept an interest
 
Once you’ve compiled the list, you’ll need to obtain the open market value of each item. This means you should value it at a price it would realistic fetch when sold on the open market. It is recommended to use a professional valuations company. It is common for individuals to overvalue assets which can result in increased tax liability.
 
Property- is often the highest valued asset that makes up an estate, so it’s important to get it right. A surveyor will take into account market conditions and the state of repair of the property, to ensure it is valued accurately.
 
Shares- find out their value on the date of death.
 
Chattels-you’ll need to get a professional to value any items such as antiques, art or jewellery that are worth more than £500.
 
Joint assets- you’ll need to calculate the value of the joint owners share. In the case of property, find out the size of the deceased’s share. If the co-owner is not the spouse or partner of the deceased, deduct 10% because of the difficulty in selling a part-share.
 
The next step is to list all the liabilities of the estate;
Funeral expenses
Outstanding mortgages
Credit card balances and overdrafts
Unpaid tax
Household bills
 
The estate value can be calculated by subtracting the total value of liabilities from the total value of assets. You’ll need to keep a record of this, and store any paperwork or receipts.

Is the number of probate disputes rising?

Statistics by the Ministry of Justice have shown that the number of probate disputes in London has rose by 19% in 2011. There were 556 claims issued at the High Court in London in 2010, involving wills, trusts and estates. This figure increased to 663 cases for 2011. In 2006, 2 years before the 2008 crisis, there were just 310 cases; that’s an increase of 46.75%. 
 
There have also been a number of high profile cases in the media recently;
 
Thomas Kinkada – The wife and girlfriend of the artist known as the Painter of Light are in dispute over his $60 million estate. His mistress produced a shaky, hand-written will that states she should inherit a large portion of assets.
 
Jimmy Saville – left the majority of his £7.3 million estate to charity in his will.  Probate has been interrupted after a woman claiming to be his illegitimate daughter stepped forward to make a claim on the star’s fortune.
 
Liliane Bettencourt –L'Oreal heiress and France’s richest woman has been declared unfit to manage her financial affairs. A 3 year court battle resulted in her daughter obtaining a guardianship order. As her health declined, Alzheimers sufferer Liliane changed her will making photographer Francois-Marie Banier sole heir to her billion dollar estate. 
 
These statistics certainly seem to imply that the increase in disputes can be attributed to the recession. The property crash has meant that estates are worth a lot less than they were. There’s a lot less to go around and beneficiaries can be shocked to discover they won’t inherit a life-changing sum. Relatives who have financial problems themselves cause by the recession will naturally be more likely to contest a will too.
 
2 thirds of Brits actually die intestate (without a will), and estate distribution is determined by the laws of intestacy. These laws have been criticised for being out-dated, bearing little relevance to modern families. An example of this is that common law spouses are not entitled to inherit. This can have serious implications for the survivor who, in theory, can be left destitute. As co-habitation is so prevalent these days, many more people are being affected by this. Families of today come in all shapes and sizes and the Inheritance Act does not take this into account. This may also account for rising numbers of contentious probate cases.

Can a Will be overruled?

The answer to this is short and sweet – yes it can.
 
Usually, Wills are contested (and an increasing number of Wills are being queried) on the basis that the deceased may have been coerced or was not of sound mind when they had the Will prepared.
 
However, in the sorry case of the late, great Jimmy Savile’s Will, his state of mind is not in question but his private life unfortunately, is.
 
The Jim’ll Fix It star originally requested in his Will, for his estate to be passed to various charities with which he was closely associated, friends and existing family. Since his death however, a woman has stepped forward, claiming to be his illegitimate daughter and demanding a large portion of his £7.8 million estate.
 
The outcome of the case now rests on the results of a DNA test and should it be proven that the woman is indeed his daughter, she could possibly be entitled to the proceeds of his entire estate, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.
 
Even if it is proven beyond all doubt that she is not his daughter, this challenge has forced the executors of the Will to stop the probate process until the facts are ascertained.

Be wary of asset planning arrangements

Advice received by elderly clients from some banks and building societies with regard to establishing asset planning arrangements may well be unnecessary, it has been revealed.
 
It was recently publicised that this advice often includes the suggestion to set up a Family Trust arrangement, which is then arranged by a commercial agent or trust corporation.
 
The whole concept behind a Family Trust is so that if an individual finds him or herself unable to manage their own property or financial affairs at some stage due to ill health, there is a support system in place.
 
Unfortunately, what is possibly not understood is that in many cases, this type of protection is not relevant and arrangement fees are often overly expensive. What’s more, in some instances this kind of arrangement could see the commercial agent actually taking ownership of the person’s home.
 
If you would like to discuss ways of protecting your home and assets in the future, should you become infirm, contact a professional estate planner, rather than a financial institution.

IWC Now Official Probate Providers for the European Association of Will Writers

eaw badge small IWC Now Official Probate Providers for the European Association of Will WritersWe are pleased to announce that IWC are now approved probate suppliers for the European Association of Will Writers.
 
The EAW promote the best practices in Will Writing and Estate Planning. IWC Estate Planning and Management Ltd. will work with its 50 members to raise the standards in the will writing and probate industry.
 
The EAW write more Wills, Trusts (Property and Discretionary), Powers of Attorney and Family Trusts than similar organisations. All EAW members are trained to the highest standards and must abide by the rules and code of ethics of the association. This includes having Professional Indemnity cover of at least £1m. 
 
Members are regularly monitored and attend continuing professional development sessions to ensure that they are fully trained and operate ethically. The law is constantly changing so this is extremely important for practitioners to undergo continual training and development. 
 
The Association has a register of will writers who operate in mainland Europe, Malta and Cyprus. For clients who have overseas property, shares or other assets, we can now refer your requirements to a registered EAW overseas lawyer to draft documents that will be valid in the country concerned. 
We have recently introduced will writing and probate services in Scotland and the USA (Florida). This is in addition to our overseas probate services in Jersey, Spain, France and Poland. Our expansion plans are to include more overseas services to cater to UK citizens with assets abroad, especially those who own holiday homes in popular locations such as Spain and Florida. Thus, allowing us to offer a complete service.
 
We trust that our recent partnership with the EAW will instil our clients with even more confidence. IWC are members of Society of Will Writers & Estate Planning Practitioners. Our probate services are carried out by highly qualified individuals, some of which have full STEP membership (The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners). 
 
While we offer a low cost, fixed fee probate service – there is no compromise on quality of service, or level of credentials and experience.

The sad truth about probate fees

It’s contemptible that when people are at their most vulnerable, unscrupulous probate providers are cashing in. Here are some of the disturbing practices that occur within the industry, highlighting why it’s important to choose carefully.
  • Practitioners refuse to quote fixed probate fees
  • Extra charges are buried in the small print
  • Grieving relatives are subjected to hard-sell tactics
  • Banks charging up to 4.5% of the estate value
  • Families are prevented from shopping around for better deals
  • Unregulated firms give out poor or misleading advice
The probate services market is estimated to be worth around £1.25 billion. Unfortunately, where there’s big business, there are mercenary practices. The most disturbing is something known as ‘baiting.’ This is where will writers offer their services as a loss leader while insisting they are named sole or joint executor of a will. When a death occurs, bereaved families feel obliged to use the services of the company and are charged extortionate fees for probate. 
 
Consumer groups have reported cases of the point blank refusal of unwanted executors to renounce their position. This is despite the fact that it is a straightforward process for someone to stand-down. However, they can then only be removed if the relatives make an application to the High Court.
 
A 2010 article titled, Exposed Banks that Prey on the Bereaved published by the Daily Mail, tells the story of John and Judy Berryman. A high street bank tried to charge more than £25,000 for probate services after appointing itself as executor when the will was made.
 
The much welcomed changes proposed by the Legal Services Board for stricter regulation of the industry cannot come soon enough.
 
To protect yourself
  • Anyone with an existing will should pay close attention to executor clauses. Check who is named and find out their charges.
  • Obtain at least 3 quotes.
  • Get a fixed fee for probate.
  • Read the small print and make sure there are no hidden extras.
  • Choose a company that’s regulated by the Society of Will Writers and Estate Planning Practitioners.
  • If you’ve found yourself with an unwanted executor, we can let you know where you stand, call us for free advice on 0800 612 6105.

Making a search for unclaimed estates

lgo tsol lrg Making a search for unclaimed estatesIt is possible that you have relatives that you’ve lost touch with over the years. You may even have family branches that you don’t even know exist. Around two thirds of Brits die without making a will and there are currently 20,000 unclaimed estates that have been passed over for administration by the Treasury Solicitor.
 
It’s by no means improbable, and perfectly natural to wonder whether you could be entitled to a lost inheritance, especially if you have a large family. After all, in 2010 £21m was paid out by the Treasury to long-lost heirs.
 
If you want to find out whether you’re entitled to claim a slice of the millions held by the Treasury in unclaimed estates, you need to do a search of the Bona Vacantia, or vacant goods list. To perform a search, the information you’ll need is;
Surname             
Date of Death
Place of Death  
Date of Entry to Bona Vacantia
 
If you don’t have all this information, you can just search surname and place of death but your family name may not be the same as the deceased’s due to marriage over generations. Common names such as Smith or Jones can be difficult to trace. 
 
You may not even know of a particular relative, or have no knowledge of an entire branch of your family tree. Plus, the list details estates in England and Wales only, and you may have an entitlement to an estate overseas. This is fairly common as many families lose touch when members move abroad or emigrate. Therefore, if you don’t have much information, the best way to start is actually by researching your family tree.
 
During your genealogical research, you’ll be able to map out blood lines and see if you can make any connections. You’ll also obtain birth and death certificates to prove your lineage. These, along with other public records may contain vital clues as to the whereabouts of relatives. 
 
Genealogy is satisfying and rewarding. Besides, if you’re lucky enough to find you could be a beneficiary of an unclaimed estate, you’ll need to submit a professional family tree as proof of your relationship to the deceased.
 
If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can get a genealogist to carry out the work on your behalf. Find about more about our professional service to find your family tree.

The Facts about Unclaimed Estates

victoria family tree 19011 The Facts about Unclaimed EstatesHave you ever wondered what the chances are of a wealthy long lost relative leaving you a small fortune?  Here’s a collection of facts about unclaimed estates, inheritance and heir hunters. 

In Britain around 2 thirds of people die without making a will.

There are around 20,000 unclaimed estates in the UK and 2,000 more join the register each year.

Unclaimed estate details are public records; you can access the information by searching the Bona Vacantia (the ownerless goods list).

You can search online for all unclaimed estates since 1 Jan 1997, when records were computerised.

The latest unclaimed estates are published every Wednesday at midnight.

£21m was paid out by the Treasury in 2010 to long-lost heirs.

If the estate is not claimed within 12 years, it goes to the Treasury and becomes the property of the Crown.

It is still possible to claim some part of the estate for up to 30 years after the death.

In 2011 the Treasury Solicitor took in £18m from those who had not made a will.

Since December 2007 the values of estates are no longer published to discourage fraud against any assets.

Around 500,000 Brits benefit from an inheritance through heir hunting firms every year.  Professional heir hunters find the rightful beneficiaries of the estates held by the treasury and charge a finder’s fee for their efforts.

The average estate value is £67,500.

The average finder’s fee charged is 20% of the inheritance.

Many people throw away letters, and ignore phone calls saying they are entitled to a share of an unclaimed estate because they think they are scams.

The BBC program Heir Hunters was first aired on 4 June 2007 and is now in its 6th series.  It attracts around 1.7million viewers.

The probate genealogists featured on the show were heavily criticised in a case involving Jessica Ellacott.  The 17 year old student expected to receive a share of £175,000 inheritance from a cousin twice removed but the firm wanted to charge a third of her pay-out, plus VAT. – Daily Mail, This is Money, BBC 'bounty hunters' row.

Which.co.uk slates one firm who are charging as much as 40% plus VAT.

Market research company Opinium found that Brits could be handing over as much as £10 million a year to heir locater firms.

Challenging farming Wills

With the number of Wills being contested continuing to increase substantially, it seems likely therefore, that this is also the case among the farming community, with land prices retaining their high value.
 
Children and relatives unfortunately often simply expect to be left a substantial amount of land, property and assets, only to be disappointed and disillusioned when the inheritance fails to materialise.
 
Even farm workers, sub contractors and those who had a connection with the deceased may feel put out if they have not been remembered in some way.
 
Problems can arise where the future of a farm has been left to chance with no Will to ensure the financial support and stability of those left behind. Alternatively, promises made during emotional family gatherings or even in the pub over a handshake, can be remembered years later, even though no formal agreement was ever put in place and so the promise is not legally binding.
 
It is not easy to contest a Will, however. Firstly it must be proven that either the deceased had been coerced into writing the specific contents of the Will; that they were not of sound mind when they prepared it or that they have not left any provision for a next of kin who was dependent on them. Secondly, it can prove expensive to challenge a Will, meaning that even with a successful outcome, most of the proceeds have already been depleted.
 
It is therefore advised that an individual not try to challenge a Will of their own accord but to consult with an experienced probate practitioner before taking any legal steps.

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