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

Government aims to encourage legacies

With only seven percent of people leaving money to charity via a legacy, the government has publicly lent its support to the Legacy10 campaign, which aims to encourage more of us to leave money to charity in our will.
 
Initially introduced eight months ago, the government revealed new inheritance tax legislation which stated that inheritance tax would be slashed from 40 percent to 36 percent on estates which left at least 10 percent to a recognised charity. This incentive is to remain in place until at least 2020.
 
The Legacy10 campaign will see an appointed official working to encourage the top 250 UK companies to provide support and assistance to colleagues who would like to leave some of their estate to charity.
 
In return, all charities will need to declare their income from legacies in their annual report, also giving details of their strategy to develop this income stream.
 
Suggestions to reduce the amount of tax paid by individuals who have declared an intention to leave a charitable legacy; and officially honoured businesspeople to be forced to give evidence of donations to charity however, are not supported.

Common law couples and probate

There is a common misconception that common law couples – partners who have never been married to each other, yet have lived together for more than six years, have the same rights as married couples, when it comes to inheriting assets from each other.
 
If one or neither of you has made a will, then never assume that your partner stands to inherit all your assets in the event of your death even if they significantly contributed to the household or paid some of the bills. In actual fact, the court may decide that your partner has less of a right to inherit your assets than another of your blood relatives.
 
If you have no plans to get married and prefer to remain as a common law couple, the solution must be for each of you to prepare a will, leaving your implicit wishes that the other inherit all your assets. Only by doing so, can you prevent any other individual from inheriting part or all of your final estate.

What happens if we can’t find a will?

At a very vulnerable time, it can be very stressful for the executor to find that they cannot find a particular will, and so begin the process of probate.
 
Those having made a will are usually advised to store copies of the document in a safe place and notify the executor of their location. 
 
Once you have actually prepared a will, it is always wise to ensure that whoever is storing the will for you, has a fireproof safe so the document will not inadvertently become damaged.
 
If your loved one has passed away and as executor, you are aware that they prepared a will before their death, then notify your probate practitioner, who will be able to decipher what the particular wishes were for, which were detailed in the document.

Can I write a will myself?

As an adult, you can indeed write your own will without the need for professional assistance. However, the many cases of problems which have arisen from a will not being written correctly or in the best way possible, means that your executors may be faced with additional stress and loss of inheritance after your death, should you choose to go down this route.
 
Common mistakes occur when it has not been made clear within the will, precisely how the deceased’s assets are to be distributed, or if the document has not been signed or witnessed legally. These mistakes can later prove to be exceedingly costly for your beneficiaries.
 
A case was highlighted recently when a DIY will took the form of some handwritten notes. The main bulk of the notes had indeed been signed and witnessed correctly, but then the deceased had then gone on to add further notes. There was also considerable ambiguity regarding the wording of the will. 
 
Unravelling the contents of the will, sorting out the legalities and investigating the deceased’s actual wishes may well have cost the beneficiaries considerably more in legal costs, than it would have done so, had the individual sought the advice of a professional will writer from the start.

Bank not responding to probate?

Cases have been known whereby banks, building societies and other institutions have either delayed in responding or failed to respond at all to executors who contact them with notification of the death of a loved one.
 
English probate law states that when an individual dies, their designated executor should contact any institution where the deceased’s money or assets are held, notifying them of the death in writing, enclosing the relevant death certificate and probate form.
 
Unfortunately, no system is infallible and problems can sometimes occur, as happened when a man recently tried to notify a bank of the death of his father in law.
 
After sending the bank the necessary death certificate and probate form, it was over a month before he heard anything and it was only after telephoning staff twice and finally emailing before the bank suggested that the relevant documents may have been lost in the post.
 
The probate process can be a time consuming and stressful experience, so it is always advised that an executor employ the services of a professional probate practitioner.

Finding wills before 1858

In 1858, the Court of Probate Act was formed. This established the Principal Probate Registry in London, with 40 district registries to handle probate matters in England and Wales. Therefore the National Probate Calendar contains details of probate cases from 1858 onwards. 
 
Prior to this, probate was an ecclesiastical matter, administered by around 300 church courts across the country.  Records were kept at a local level so searches and access to copies is much more difficult. 
 
Church Court control and hierarchy is quite complex. The Archbishop’s chancellor presided over the Prerogative Courts.  Northern England fell within the Province of York – Prerogative Court of York (PCY). Southern England and Wales fell within the Province of Canterbury – Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC).   
 
Bishops presided over diocese, sometimes covering several counties. The Bishop’s Diocesan Court was known as a Consistory Court. 
 
An Archdeacon headed the Archdeaconry Court.   Made up of parts of a diocese, they could cover part of a county or several counties.
 
To make matters more complex, some parishes were independent of the local church court system. Probate was then governed by a different official other than those aforementioned. For example, a Cathedral Dean or Lord of the Manor.

How to search
Where the records are held will depend on where the deceased held property and the value of that property. This will not necessarily be where they lived or died, thus making the search even more difficult. 
 
For instance – If the deceased owned land or property all in one archdeaconry, a search should begin at the local Archdeaconry Court. If your ancestor had assets in more than one diocese but all in Province of York, you should start a search of the PCY.
 
The Prerogative Court of Canterbury was the largest and most important. It contains probate records from 1384-1858, providing a good place to start. Next search the records in the ecclesiastical region in which they lived.
 
If your ancestor had land or property in one jurisdiction and that was also the place where they lived, the search is much more likely to be fruitful. However, it was common for the wealthy to own property in multiple locations. The not so wealthy often inherited property and land from their parents, which was not necessarily in the place where they lived.
 
For help and advice about finding wills, call 0800 612 6105 and speak to a professional probate genealogist.

10 Probate Genealogy Research Tips

1. When trying to recover probate records for your ancestor, you should bear in mind that the record will be dated quite a while after the actual date of death. Begin your search with the year of death or estimated year.
 
2. While most will be within the same year – it is possible to find records up to 3 years after the person died. So be prepared for a long search, checking each year separately. After 3 years, it’s fair to assume that probate was unnecessary.
 
3. If you still cannot find anything – there are a small number of cases where un-administered estates come to light when their heir’s die. So, try searching for the records of their descendants.
 
4. Another trick is to search Scottish and Irish probate records too. If your ancestor owned property in Ireland or Scotland, probate may have been granted there. For example, the England and Wales National Calendar contains 110,000 instances of deaths that occurred in Scotland. You can also check records in other English speaking countries such as America, Canada and Australia.
 
5. When you find the entry, you will see a grant type is listed. ‘Administration’ means that your ancestor did not leave a will. However, it is still worth obtaining copies of documents. The probate grant will show you who applied for letters of administration to ‘wind up’ the estate, their relationship with the deceased and the value of the estate.
 
6. When you obtain copies of probate records; review the information carefully. Does it verify what you already know? Are there any conflicts? Is there a chance that it is not your ancestor?
 
7. Be careful how you interpret the information contained within the documents. See our guide to reading historic wills
 
8. A codicil is an amendment made to a will. These contain valuable information as they normally indicate a change in family circumstances.
 
9. Methodically go through the records and write down every piece of factual information you can glean. You may be able to find other sources to search or new family members to research.
 
10. You may be able to find out more about your ancestor from the Inland Revenue or Estate Duty tax on estates 1796-1903.
 
If you’re having trouble with your search, IWC offer a will tracing service for just £49, including copies of all documents found. Just enter as much info as you can into our form and we’ll do the rest.

What is an educational trust?

Many parents dream of being able to afford to have their children privately educated, but few are financially sound enough to be able to free up the expensive funds required.
 
With university education now costing more than ever, there is a tax-efficient way of providing this opportunity for your child.
 
An educational trust can be applied for any child under 25 who is in full time education. By setting up this trust, parents can then remove these funds from the total value of their estate, thus reducing inheritance tax liability.
 
Funds within an educational trust can total up to £105,000 at any given time, before becoming liable to Pre Owned Asset Tax (POAT) which is charged at 4.75%.
 
In this way, parents can take on the role of trustee of this particular trust, as well as taking full advantage of the tax planning advantages that if offers.
 
Professional estate planners will be able to advise you of both the advantages and the pitfalls associated with setting up an educational trust.

Succession planning for business owners

It’s essential that if you own a business, you then plan not only how to run or grow that business, but also look to at what will happen to that business after you’ve gone.
 
Whether you’re hoping to pass the company onto your children as an inheritance of sorts, or are thinking of putting together an exit strategy, it’s vital that you start planning now, if nothing has yet been put in place.
 
One of the key discussions which must take place when carrying out succession planning for a business is how the new successor is likely to be taxed by taking on this role.
 
In some instances, you as the current owner may choose to gift the business at the time of your death or at the point of retirement, to your children. Alternatively, you may instead choose to incorporate the proceeds of the outright sale of your business into your personal savings to fund your retirement.
 
In either instance, you should ensure that your finances are in a healthy state and that all transactions and accounts are clearly documented.
Should you transfer the business either through a sale or as a gift, this will be normally be classed as a capital gain and you will be taxed on the proceeds at 28%, although if you quality for enterpreneur’s relief, this amount will be reduced to 10%. Remember however, that if you transfer shares to your spouse, this amount will not be classed as liable for capital gains tax.
 
It may be that if you gift your company to one of your children, they can then delay or “hold over” the capital gains tax due, until the point at which they themselves sell the business. With regards to inheritance tax, this gift would potentially be exempt from all IHT, should you survive for at least another seven years after making the gift.
 
There are many pieces of tax legislation and reliefs available to help with effective succession planning. Ask a succession planning expert for advice.

6 Tips to interpret historic wills and probate records

1. Don’t think that gifting household items holds no significance – this is not the case. Items such as bed linen, kitchen utensils, and brass were in fact quite valuable. Shakespeare famously left his wife nothing but their marital bed. There has been much debate about whether this showed he had a loveless relationship with her, or that it was in fact a considerable inheritance as the beds of ‘celebrities’ were indeed very valuable.
 
2. Don’t make assumptions about old words. For example ‘Belhaus’ could be miss-translated to mean Bell Tower but it actually means bellow – a device used to pump air.
 
3. Relationship terms differ a lot from what we interpret them as today. For example, the word cousin won’t always refer to the same relationship we know nowadays.  Instead, it could mean a nephew, niece, grandnephew or grandniece. The term ‘mother-in-law’ may not mean mother of spouse, it was sometimes used to mean step-mother. When the testator says ‘my father,’ they could actually mean their father-in-law
 
4. When a child seems to be missing, don’t pay too much importance to this. It was common for heirs to receive their inheritance while the deceased was still living. Similarly, if you see that a first born son has only inherited a shilling, this may mean he has already received his share of the estate. 
 
5. Daughters often received lump sums when they got married so might not be named. It was also the norm to name son-in-laws as beneficiaries rather than daughters.
 
6. While a £100 inheritance from a will in the 1800s may not seem like a lot, it’s actually equivalent to around £3500 in today’s money. Use this currency tool to convert old money to new and find out what it would buy you in those times.

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