Monday, 23 November 2009

Willing A Way to Avoid Trauma

If ever there was a cautionary tale which best exemplifies the perils of not writing a will with an independent, professional firm, then it came in the Telegraph recently.

Following on from the much-publicised, recent case involving the RSPCA, this month a similar contentious issue involving a charity emerged.

Ten years before her death, a British woman called Mrs Southwell made a will, with the bulk of her assets going to her friend Susie Crichton.

However, as Mrs Southwell’s passing approached, she asked her social worker to draw up a will, claiming she didn’t want her assets to be passed to the Government.

The social worker contacted Help the Aged for assistance and, following a visit from the charity’s wills and legacies adviser, a new will leaving the majority of her £350,000 estate to the charity was created.

Predictably, in the aftermath of Mrs Southwell’s death, a legal tussle between her friend’s family and the charity ensued.

Ultimately, costs were awarded against the family, although this was followed by a successful appeal for a reduction.

Meanwhile a Help the Aged spokesperson said: “Mrs Southwell did change the beneficiaries in her first will when constructing her second legal will and testament.

“As a charity it is not appropriate for us to speculate on why she reached the
decision, but we utterly and profoundly reject any suggestion that pressure was
brought to bear.”

Had the deceased party – who may have been ill-advised or not in the right state of mind to write a will – contacted an independent firm with no vested interest in where the estate went, things may have turned out differently.

Of course, every case is circumstantial and no-one but Mrs Southwell truly knew her motivations or the pressure she was under.

However, it acts as a reminder of the benefits of investing in a carefully considered will sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Hunt for Better Practice

As someone who has invested years of hard work and endeavour in establishing a reputable business, I applaud a recent report attacking the fluid nature of the wills business.

And, having witnessed at close hand how easy charlatans can infiltrate the sector, I feel it’s important that the findings Lord Hunt’s report are followed up by action.

Among the lengthy inquiry into solicitors’ regulation, the report said: “Fellow citizens would surely be taken aback to learn that anyone can currently set himself or herself up as a will-writer and also some aspects of probate activity can take place outside the regulatory net.”

Lord Hunt also said: “Simple mistakes can lead to unjust outcomes and those outcomes will often occur a long time after the will has been written.”

For every firm like mine which strives to offer an honest and personal service to its clients, there are a string of will writing companies which spring up with seemingly no track record or deep-rooted expertise in the sector.

This is perhaps a direct reaction to demand from a public which has, in recent years, become more aware of the need to write wills before hitting old age.

However, it is also indicates an industry which is in dire need of more governance to separate the genuine experts from the pretenders.

Aside from the excellent support available from the Society of Will Writers, the sector lacks the rigid regulatory framework of most other financial and legal fields.

This means that any solicitor who may have spent a few hours at law school reading the basics of will writing can try their hand at an art which is incredibly complex and takes years to perfect.

Solicitors often use their lofty standing to charge considerably more than mere will writers despite the fact that they may know a lot less than their fully-trained counterparts.

And then there are those will no legal background who are tempted into the practice for the chance to make significant amounts of money in a short space of time.

Of course, with adequate training and support people of any career background could theoretically become a will writer. But it is essential that they are trained by a reputable source - something which would be easier to distinguish with more corporate governance in the sector.

Hopefully Lord Hunt’s findings prove the catalyst for change and help create a system which separates the competent from the cowboys.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I’VE seen some strange disputes in all my years as a will writer but perhaps none as unusual as the recent case of the animal lover’s daughter.

University lecturer Christine Gill contested her parents’ will after her mother left her entire £2.34m farm estate to the RSPCA.

MS Gill claimed she had been promised the estate but her father had, before his death, forced his wife into pledging the huge sum to the animal welfare group.

The recent court case heard how, after her mother’s death, Dr Gill discovered her parents had made wills leaving their farm to each other and then to the charity when they both died.

This allegedly contradicted repeated assurances that the daughter would inherit the estate.

Ultimately the 58-year-old won the case, leaving a very disappointed charity and raising a number of questions on the ethics of will writing.

Although an unfortunate situation for the Gill family, the case is a stone-wall example of why communication within a family is often key when making wills.

Of course, for the unlucky few with no loved ones left to leave a posthumous gift, a charity may seem an obvious and worthy benefactor of a small fortune.

Meanwhile, it is often a parent’s wish to keep their good intentions for their offspring a complete secret - a chance to surprise them and perhaps alleviate their grief in a small way at least.

However, in a situation which involves substantial assets and family members who may be expecting something they will not receive, a few hours of discussion when you’re alive can avoid leaving a lengthy and arduous legal dispute for your children when you’re gone.

The case also highlighted the importance of the folly of making verbal promises to loved ones without thinking them through.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Hello and Welcome!

Hello and welcome to my first blog posting!

Just a short message to introduce myself, I'm Robin Ramsey, the Managing Director of Wills & Probate UK.
I will be blogging on a variety of different topics including updates in the law, financial matters, information regarding wills and general topics which i think may be of interest.

Best Regards,