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Legal Advice with Russell & Russell

Russell and Russell Solicitors can deal with all the legal aspects of your new life together. Whether you’re buying or selling a property, looking to protect your assets, thinking about starting a family or want to leave your possessions to those you care about, we can help.

We’ve nine offices across the North West; in Bolton, Atherton, Bury, Chester, Farnworth, Horwich and Middleton. And, because anything can happen at any time, we’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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DIY wills the cause for rise in inheritance disputes. Read why you should sort this issue asap..

DIY wills the cause for rise in inheritance disputes

New research carried out by insurance provider, Royal London has revealed that 54% of UK adults don’t have a will.

This is a scary statistic when you think about how many people have assets that are really worth something. The rise in house prices over the last decade alone have pushed the value of people’s estates higher and higher, making those who thought they had very little actually have quite a lot.

Although people are getting their affairs in order through the proper channels, others are turning to DIY wills to avoid the cost of using a solicitor. While they may be cheap, DIY wills only allow you to draft the most basic of wills and anything other than straightforward can cause problems.

Wills are official legal documents which need to be written in a certain way and contain the correct terminology. The law around probate is complex and if you aren’t familiar with the process, it’s easy to incorporate ambiguous wording which could be misinterpreted, or make a mistake that can invalidate the will altogether.

Modern family structures are changing and financial arrangements are becoming increasingly complicated, so it’s more important than ever to make sure your will is right. If it’s not, it could leave your loved ones in a legal minefield after your death or worse still, end up with family members falling out and settling disputes in court.

In fact, Royal London found that the number of inheritance disputes being heard by the High Court has risen by 59% in the last year. Although there are other underlying reasons, the increase has largely been attributed to the number of DIY wills being filed.

So, the moral of this tale is don’t leave it to chance; seek guidance from a solicitor. They’ll advise you of what you can and can’t do and point out things that you never even thought to consider so that you’re absolutely clear about the choices you’re making. A solicitor will ensure the will is legally binding rather than leaving it to fate like DIY wills all too often do. If you haven’t sorted out your will and you’re not sure what to do, here’s a list of some of the things to think about:

How much do you think your estate is worth?

Start by making a list of your all your assets. These will include your home or any property you own, savings, stocks and shares or premium bonds and don’t forget about any online accounts you may have. Include pensions, life insurance, endowments or policies that will pay out on your death.  

Next, list your physical assets. Your car or other vehicles you own should be noted, as should any jewellery, artwork, family heirlooms or antiques. What about other items? Televisions, music systems, gadgets etc. will all have a value whether that’s financial or sentimental, so don’t forget those.

Finally, outline your debts. Outstanding mortgages, loans, credit card balances, overdrafts or equity release plans will all need to be paid out of your estate so make it easy for those you leave behind by listing these.  

Doing it for the kids

Nominate who you would like to care for your children if anything happens to you before they reach 18. Naming a guardian for your children means you get the choice of who looks after them rather than who the state thinks they should live with.

Who gets what

This is the bit that can cause all manner of fallouts. It’s entirely up to you who you leave money or possessions to, but it’s important to be absolutely clear about who you want to have them and what exactly it is you want them to have. And remember, it doesn’t just have to be your immediate family; it can be cousins, friends, organisations or charities, whoever you want.

Another thing to think about is who you would gift your inheritance to if the beneficiaries you originally choose die before you do. Also, if you do decide to leave money to a charity, make sure you include its full name, address and registered charity number within your will because without it, the charity may not be eligible for your gift.

Who’s going to do the honours?

Choosing your executor should never be under estimated. As long as they’re over 18, you can choose anyone to be your executor, but remember this is the person who’ll distribute your estate after you’ve died so make sure you choose someone who is capable as it can involve a lot of work and responsibility.

Validating your will

The will itself needs to be signed by you and two independent witnesses in each other’s presence. It’s worth noting that your witnesses can’t be a beneficiary of your will otherwise they’ll lose the right to their inheritance. This principle also applies to the witnesses’ spouses or civil partners. It’s also a good move not to ask an executor to be a witness.

If, for any reason, you can’t physically sign the will, it should be signed on your behalf with you present and contain an additional clause that you understand the contents of your will and that you’ve made your will voluntarily and without pressure from anyone else.

You can still draft your will if you have a degenerative mental illness like dementia, as long as you still have mental capacity. To do this you’ll need a clause within it confirming that you understand the contents of your will before it’s signed. You might also need a medical practitioner’s statement at the time the will is signed, certifying that you understand what you are signing.

Storing your will

First thing’s first, tell your executor where your will is. Of course, you can keep it yourself, but it’s advisable to leave it with your solicitor who can provide you with a copy for reference. When storing your will, make sure you don’t attach any documents to it because if paperclips or staples become separated from the will and leave marks, it could raise questions about whether the will is missing any parts or amendments.

Updating your will

If your circumstances change – you get married, divorced, have children etc. – you need to reflect this in your will. This can’t be stressed enough because if, for example, you’ve made provisions in your will for all or part of your estate to go to your children, and you remarry but don’t update your will, the laws of probate dictate that your estate will go to your new spouse. Once they die that estate will be passed on to their children, or whoever they’ve named as beneficiaries in their will, potentially bypassing your children altogether. Lastly, once you’ve updated your will, make sure you destroy any earlier versions to avoid confusion.

Despite the need to have a will many people avoid it, but the reality is that without a will you’ll die intestate which means it’s the state that decides who inherits your assets, not you. A will is the only way to make sure your money, investments, property and possessions go to those who you want to benefit from them.

At Russell & Russell, we specialise in will writing. We’re accredited to the Law Society Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme, which sets the benchmark for best practice and transparency in setting up wills and estate planning. We offer a free, no obligation consultation so that you can decide what you want to do and what’s best for you.

Published on - Wed, 03 Jul 2019

Russell & Russell moves in to Westhoughton

Legal services firm, Russell & Russell Solicitors is opening a new branch in Westhoughton.

 The office, which is located at 112 Market Street, will open on the 3rd June, servicing clients between Bolton and Wigan.

 Open Monday to Friday, between 9am and 5pm, the firm will offer clients advice and guidance on conveyancing, wills and probate, family matters, personal injury compensation claims, criminal defence services and commercial property law.

“We’ve been looking at opening a branch in the area for some time and when this particular building became available, we jumped at the chance”, said Judith Bromley, managing partner at Russell & Russell.

“Our new location offers clients a convenient way of speaking to someone about a legal issue. They won’t need to make an appointment; instead they can call in and speak to someone direct or arrange for one of the team to give them a call when it’s best for them.

“Our philosophy is all about making it easy for clients to access legal advice. In addition to our branch network and our drop in advice centre on Newport Street in Bolton, which is open on Saturdays, the new Westhoughton office is another way we hope to provide it.”

This latest news follows that of the firm converting to a limited liability partnership (LLP) and an alternative business structure (ABS) in February this year. The firm currently employs 220 staff and the Westhoughton opening brings the number of Russell & Russell branches to 14 across the North West region.

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Published on - Mon, 03 Jun 2019

The rise in DIY wills driving more probate disputes.. Read more;

Disputes over inheritance have risen by 59%. In 2018, 227 cases were heard by the High Court in comparison to 368 in 2019.

The rise is being attributed to the increase in DIY wills which often contain errors. “DIY wills only take in to account straightforward circumstances and anything that falls outside that can cause problems”, says Emma Wood, partner in Russell & Russell’s wills and probate department. “Relying on a DIY will, which unfortunately more and more people are doing, could leave your loved ones in a legal minefield if your estate is a little more complicated.”

Changes in the modern family structure and more family members choosing to deal with distributing assets, rather than rely on professional advice, have also been held responsible for the increase in court cases.

Probate law is complex and if people who aren’t’ familiar with the legal process take it upon themselves to administer their own estate, mistakes can easily happen. Unfortunately, once a will is registered it’s legally binding, so all too often it can end up with family members settling the situation through costly legal battles in court.

“DIY wills may look appealing because they’re cheap and convenient”, continues Emma. “But the reality is that while you may save a few pounds on doing it yourself, you won’t get the full benefit a solicitor can offer. Changing family environments and the rise in property values have meant that it’s more important than ever to get it right.”

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Published on - Wed, 29 May 2019

Make Your Lasting Power of Attorney or Risk More Expense Later;

As we age, thoughts about how we might cope if we’re diagnosed with a debilitating condition can become more persistent. Suffering a physical impairment is bad enough, but when your mental health starts to fail you, it can feel overwhelming.

News reports of celebrities, such as Barbara Windsor have highlighted the importance of making arrangements should you lose mental capacity, and with the number of people being diagnosed with degenerative illnesses like dementia increasing, it’s more important than ever to make plans. You need to make sure that should anything like that happen to you, arrangements will be in place to care for your health and wellbeing, and your finances.

This is where a lasting power of attorney comes in to its own. It’s a specifically designed legal document that allows you to select an individual to act on your behalf should you lose mental capacity due to an accident or illness. The person you choose is known as your attorney and can be anyone you like as long as they’re over the age of 18 and haven’t been declared bankrupt. When setting up a power of attorney you need to bear in mind that timing is everything; you have to be of sound mind when you do it, otherwise it won’t be valid.

Deciding who will be your attorney is key. All too often people choose their children, but this can be a terrible idea. Being an attorney is a job that comes with a great deal of responsibility, so if your children are not good at managing money or there’s a possibility they may steal from you, they’re the last person you should elect. It’s a hard decision to make, but at the end of the day, it’s your money and your welfare and they both need to be looked after by someone who will respect that.

If you prefer, you can have more than one attorney, but if they don’t see eye to eye it may end up in a conflict about what’s in your best interests. To alleviate this, you can stipulate whether they all need to agree on decisions made on your behalf or if they can act independently of each other.

Alternatively, to save any falling out or ill feeling, you may want to appoint a solicitor to act as your attorney. Of course, they’ll charge you for it, but the advantage is that they’re neutral and are accountable for any wrongdoing.

There are two types of power of attorney; one covers property and finances while the other deals with health and welfare. A property and affairs LPA allows your attorney to handle your finances, such as any property and savings you may have, paying for care fees or arranging the sale of your home if necessary. A health and welfare power of attorney addresses your personal well-being. It outlines what medical treatment you should receive, where you live and can even give your attorney the power to accept or refuse life-sustaining treatment on your behalf.

Whether it’s the expense or the time needed to do it, failing to make provisions like a power of attorney can cost much more than you think. In the event that you haven’t put any arrangements in place, your loved ones will need to apply for a Court of Protection to be legally responsible for you.

A Court of Protection is a specialist document which grants permission to safeguard someone who has lost the ability to look after their own affairs. It allows those who apply for it – a deputy – to make decisions about finances and welfare on your behalf if you can no longer do it yourself.

Applying for a Court of Protection can be a complex and lengthy process, which requires specialist assistance from a solicitor. The application fee to be a deputy is £400 and it takes around six months to complete. The solicitor’s fee, which is fixed by the court, is £950 + vat and a medical report can cost in the region of £150 -£250. On top of this, there are ongoing supervision charges from the Court of Protection to safeguard the vulnerable person; you. There may also be care fees to pay while the deputyship is being processed. So, when you weigh up the price of setting up a power of attorney against applying for a Court of Protection, it’s not difficult to see which is the most cost effective and least time consuming.

At Russell & Russell, we have a team of qualified lasting power of attorney experts. We also offer a free, no obligation consultation where we can talk you through the process and answer any questions or problems you may have.

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Published on - Wed, 24 Apr 2019