Did you know that, if you are unhappy with a will, bequest, or legacy, you can challenge in it court? A recent survey showed that around 40% of people had no idea they had this sort of recourse, or they thought it would be a ‘distasteful thing to do’ – even when the will itself was thought to be wrong. The older a person is the less likely they are to make any sort of challenge, even if they have been left out completely (this sometimes happens when there is more than one child in a family; the eldest child is left more than the others, if the younger ones are left anything at all).
But this may well be worth bearing in mind because reports show that 80% of challenges to wills are actually successful (although only 32% of wills thought to be unfair actually make it to court).
To challenge a will there must be a valid reason behind it. There is also a time limit, so it is important to seek legal advice as soon as you feel you have a claim; leaving it too long to at least check to see whether you might be able to change the will can cause you to miss out completely when there was no need for it. When you speak to an expert, they will be able to ascertain how likely it is you will win should you take the case to court (and therefore whether it is worth pursuing in the first place), and how much time you have left to put in a claim.
Just feeling that a will is unfair, or acknowledging that the bequest – if any – is not what you were hoping for is not a valid reason for challenging a will. However possible claims could come under not being sure that the signature belongs to the deceased, believing the witnesses may not have carried out their task correctly, believing that the will was written under duress, thinking that the true intentions of the will haven’t been understood, or if you haven’t been allowed reasonable provision. No one can be forced to leave someone something in their will, but there are occasions when this ‘reasonable provision’ should be adhered to.
Legacy letters, otherwise known as ‘ethical wills’ have been around for a long time. 3,500 years, if estimates are correct. And it’s quite incredible that so few people have heard of this interesting and heart felt way of letting loved ones know exactly what is expected of them, or exactly how they are thought of, after someone has passed away.
The term ‘ethical will’ is a little misleading; it’s not a will in the sense of it being a legal document that will distribute your earthly material possessions to friends and family once you have passed away. That’s why ‘legacy letter’ makes more sense as a title. But whatever you call it, it is an excellent way to share your values, hopes, dreams for the future, life lessons, advice, and of course your love with anyone whom you wish to read it.
You may have considered writing a legacy letter without even realising what it was you wanted to do. Many people find that when they come to a turning point in their lives – perhaps they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, maybe they have had children and want those children to know how special they are, or they want to make a big change – they also want to write a legacy letter so that, should anything happen to them, their friends and family will know they were loved.
It’s a way of saying all those things we all want to say but feel slightly strange and embarrassed actually speaking out loud. It can be a cherished and lasting memory for your friends and family.
In medieval times, legacy letters were common practice, and it was usually fathers who wrote them to their sons. They were used to teach lessons that would be useful when the father passed away. These ‘wills’ were, in fact, popular right up until the 18th century, when they were used to ensure that certain beliefs were passed on through the generations. They fell out of favour somewhat after this, but they have never disappeared completely. You may even have written a legacy letter without knowing it!
You can write anything you want in a legacy letter – it doesn’t have to be about passing on beliefs (religious or otherwise), and it’s certainly not restricted to fathers and their sons. Whatever words of wisdom or information you want to write down to be discovered once you have died, you can. What about including a family history or family tree? How about some favourite inspirational quotes? And what about all those things you wanted to say but somehow never found the words for?
The only thing that can’t be included in a legacy letter is anything of a legal nature; you will need a valid and legal will for that as any bequests within a legacy letter are not considered legal.
Some family trees don’t stretch back too far. Some can be traced back for centuries. But how big is your family tree? Not how many generations, or how many people are on, but the actual, physical size of it? Never thought about it? Well, a woman from Des Moines in America decided to find out exactly how big her family tree was – and the results surprised even her!
Velma Turner, 77, decided one day six years ago that she wanted to see what her family tree looked like – in the form of a real tree. So she went to work, firstly tracing her roots back to the 1600s, and then putting all the details together in a full sized model of a living, breathing tree in her living room. She admits she didn’t realise the project would be quite as big as it turned out to be (around 7 feet), but she is pleased with the result, which does look impressive. With varnished leaves representing family members, toothpaste moulded to show water, cotton clouds, and treated branches to show where everyone came from (and this includes Madagascar and Ethiopia), it really is an impressive piece of sculpture – and it tells a fascinating story.
The tree entirely covers her living room wall, and covers eight generations. She would like to add the newest generation to it, but she has run out of room and needs to work out how to put generation number 9 into the sculpture!
Velma loves her tree, and is proud not only of the work she put into it, but the sense of belonging it instils in her, and her family.
Well… although that might be the assumption that many people make, it’s not entirely the truth. In fact, it’s far from it. If you die with debts still outstanding then they may – and probably will – still need to be paid off, which can make a big impact into your estate. Debts can be anything from small loans or credit for a store card to something much bigger such as a mortgage. If you’ve borrowed money and you die before you pay off the debt, then chances are either your estate or someone else will have to foot the bill.
Once someone dies, their estate is valued. And, unless any debts outstanding are in joint names, or a guarantor signed the documents (in which case the other person named must continue to pay the debt back), the debts will be paid using the value of the estate.
But what happens if there isn’t enough money in the estate to pay off the debts in full? The answer is that the estate must pay when it can, until the money runs out. There will be a specific order for the debts to be paid off – this must be agreed with the creditors – and the beneficiaries must also receive their share.
Property is a slightly different matter. Sometimes a property will need to be sold in order to release the funds that are tied up in it. What happens when a property sells, however, depends on whether the partners are tenants in common or joint tenants. Tenants in common means that the share of the property that belonged to the deceased will be used to pay off the debts rather than becoming the property of the other partner. They will then need to negotiate with the creditors and pay the debts in some other way. If, however, the couple were joint tenants, then the deceased person’s share of the property immediately reverts to the living partner, and it is ‘safe’ and cannot be sold to pay off debts (unless the creditor applies for an Insolvency Administration Order, which must be done within 5 years of the date of death. This order forces the sale of the property).
It is an emotional and financial minefield, and assuming that all debts will be written off once you have died has been the undoing of many. It has forced spouses into selling family homes and turned many perfectly solvent people bankrupt overnight.
So how to avoid these problems? No one wants to leave their spouse homeless. The best way is to ensure that you have adequate life insurance which will cover your debts and/or pay off your mortgage once you have died.
"Government increasing taxes on death" says probate expert
Government proposals to alter fixed rate probate fees to a banding system has been called "inheritance tax by the back door" by probate specialist, Tony Crocker of IWC.
The fixed fee for probate applications rose recently – a move, said the government, which was deemed necessary to fund additional administrative work carried out by the Probate Service.
These new proposals however, which are out for consultation until 1 April, would see probate fees being charged on estates valued in excess of £50,000 according to a banding system. Fees would then start at £300 for estates valued between £50,001 and £300,000; up to £20,000 for estates valued above £2 million.
Currently, estates under £5000 are not subject to probate legislation and the government plans to raise this threshold to £50,000, meaning that according to its figures, over half of estates would pay no probate fee at all.
IWC questions the validity of this view however, with the average London house price now standing at over £500,000. It is these house prices, the company claims, which will cause problems for executors faced with paying money up front for probate fees, funeral fees and inheritance tax at 40% – and not enough money in the deceased's bank account to cover them. These executors will be forced to offer up the remaining funds themselves or, as the government suggests, to take out a short term bank loan, until the property sells and they can recoup the funds – which of course will attract interest rates and affect their credit rating.
Although packaged as a move to assist those dealing with smaller estates, IWC's Tony Crocker says that, in its bid to raise £250 million for the Exchequer, the government is actually "giving with one hand and taking with the other".
For anyone who suspects that their next of kin may find themselves struggling financially with these new proposed changes, they may be able to avoid probate altogether, by placing their property into trust, now.
In our next blog post, we'll outline how trusts can be a means of avoiding probate, how to create a trust and what happens to it after your death.
#iwcprobate #bereaved #probate
We all have family we’ve lost touch with – those second cousins who we spot every now and then in old family photos, or who make an appearance at big occasions only to disappear into the ether once more when the cake has been cut. And we all have family we know nothing about – aunts and uncles, cousins, parents we never knew, grandparents too…
And sometimes even siblings.
That’s exactly what happened to a woman from West Oxfordshire who, when researching her family tree for her own genealogy project, realised she had a sister she knew nothing about.
Jennifer Coville discovered that she not only had a half-sister she knew nothing about, but a younger full sister too. The shock was huge, and she still doesn’t know exactly what happened, but she believes she would have been three, and her older brother 14, when her little sister was born and subsequently given up for adoption. Although she has met up with her half-sister, she has not been able to trace her full sister, and is stuck with the details she has.
Now 63, the grandmother from Brize Norton has said that it was all a big surprise for her, and also for her brother who, although 14 at the time, had no idea he had another sister either. Unfortunately, no relatives who might have an answer as to why the little girl was put up for adoption are still alive. The only clue Ms Coville has is that her parents divorced in 1955, in the same month that her baby sister was born. It could be that her mother, who already had two children to cope with, simply wasn’t able to look after a baby, a toddler, and a teenager as a single mother.
All Jennifer does know is that the child was called Patricia June Coville, and she was born on 5th June 1955. Of course, since she was adopted, it’s likely her name would have been changed.
The search for Patricia continues.
These days it’s possible to pay for pretty much any test the medical profession can carry out; even the NHS is getting in on the act by offering various health checks and tests and investigations. But the question is, if you are a healthy, happy individual who feels perfectly fine, is it worth subjecting yourself to a barrage of tests? Is there any point? And, controversially, could the results make you unwell?
Tests range from bowel scopes (to check for bowel cancer; this particular investigation is going to be open to everyone over 55, should they feel they want to go through with it) through x-rays, to cancer screening, to heart CT scans and much, much more. There are even tests that can be done to predict – although the accuracy is not yet known – deteriorating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and arthritis, as well as many more.
For some, having these tests done is reassuring. Some diseases, including some cancers, have no symptoms in the early stages, and having exploratory checks done by a doctor or nurse to make sure there is nothing wrong can be a great way to ensure that all is well. And of course if anything is discovered to be wrong, it will have been found early enough to have a good chance of defeating it.
However, the tests that are seen as ‘predictors’ of what could occur later in life (such as dying early due to genetics, suffering with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and more) are seen as less helpful. If the predictions are correct, and nothing can be done, then is there any need to know? As long as everyone makes a will, and life is enjoyed as much as possible, what difference would knowing makes?
These DNA genetic tests are sold as screens for these diseases, but for many who have taken the opportunity and have discovered information they didn’t like, it has ruined their lives – and for those with a shorter lifespan than they had hoped it has made those years full of anxiety and worry. So much so in some cases that it has actually caused illness.
Is that really beneficial to anyone? Can it help? Let us know your thoughts.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can cause someone to decide to make a will. It’s one of those things that has been put off and put off, down on the to do list for another day. But every now and then something will happen that will bring writing a will right back to the forefront of the mind once more, only this time it’s followed by the determination to actually do something about it.
And it doesn’t have to be anything life changing that prompts this sudden need either.
A recent survey says that for one in five under 40 years olds it was the first grey hair that did it – that first grey hair sent them into a panic, made them think of their own mortality, and got them to finally write a will. It may seem strange, even a little silly, possibly somewhat vain, but however you feel (and maybe you even agree), the fact that they then went on to write a will is good enough. Wills are essential.
But it’s not just the greys that have forced people to realise just how necessary writing a will really is. Wrinkles do a similar job, as do unexplained pains in the back, knees, hips – anywhere associated with movement problems in the elderly. In fact, anything that makes us feel old, any reminder of how many years have passed (looking at childhood photographs, re-visiting old houses – even if we don’t go inside but simply drive by – and realising that the children of friends and relatives are children no more for example) can all have the same effect.
Apart from those things that make us feel old, big life changes can also prompt the need to write a will, and that’s as it should be. Marriage, having children and buying a house are three of the main happy ones, and the death of a friend or family member of around the same age is the big sad one. but even smaller things such as learning about inheritance tax and the problems it can cause can make people start to think. Will writing triggers are all around us.
When asked why they hadn’t made a will up to that point, most people responded with either that they hadn’t thought about it, or that they hadn’t had time. Others said it was because they had nothing to leave (were they sure about that?) or because they were simply too young to die. None of these are good reasons not to have written a will.
We understand that making a will is often the furthest thing from your mind when you’re living your life – in fact, figures suggest that you’re not alone; almost 60% of the UK’s population haven’t written one. And even when you do think of it, it’s likely there is always something ‘better’ or ‘more important’ to do. That’s life.
Unfortunately, without a will things can get complicated, confusing and downright messy after you’ve died. Think of it this way – your will isn’t necessarily about you, and it’s not for you (after all, you won’t be around when it’s needed, and that’s the point), it’s for your loved ones. It’s to make their lives easier at a time that is going to be the hardest they will go through. Anything you can do in the here and now to make your passing a more manageable experience for the ones you love has to be worth doing.
A lot of people put off making a will until they are older, perhaps when they have retired and they have a little more time to think about life, death, and what happens next. The thing is, not everyone makes it to old age. Accidents and illnesses can take people at any age at all.
This can cause problems in itself, of course. Someone who has been in an accident, for example, and who hasn’t yet prepared a will, might find that they panic somewhat, and rush into making a will without thinking it through – they might download a form from the internet; they might not take the time to research the person they hire to help them. Therefore their will might not actually be valid.
The emergency will writing service was created for exactly this situation. It is for when someone is unwell or has been in an accident and wants to make a will quickly – fast-track, if you prefer – just in case they die without having put their affairs in order. These are the wills that are used by those with limited life expectancy.
Our same day will service protects you and your loved ones from the problems that either not having a will, or having a will that will be found to be invalid will cause. Although they are created on the same day, our experts will be able to guide you through the process, ensuring that you are happy with the outcome, and that you have sufficient time to think about what you are doing. We will also make sure that the will is valid, and that there will be no issues with probate for your family should the worst happen. Our professional consultant will visit you in hospital, and listen carefully to exactly what it is you want them to do. Once complete, the document is sent directly to our offices where it is prepared and then sent back to you. All you need to do then is have witnesses sign the document.
Please note that patients must be able to instruct us directly, as we cannot take instructions from family members on matters such as these. Please call our fast-track hotline number during office hours. For all other times, including weekends, please call 07801 428966. Our weekend service is available from 8am until midnight.