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Archive for the ‘End of Life planning’ Category

We all think “it’ll never happen to me” but do you suppose it ever occurred to the super fit Andrew Marr that he was heading for a stroke, one brought on, incidentally, by extreme exercise? And could anyone fail to see the tragic irony of Michael Schumacher sustaining a serious head injury as a result of a freak accident while on a family skiing holiday having managed to survive, unscathed, throughout his long and illustrious career in Formula One? Would anyone ever have predicted that? And just this week, we’ve had the death of the young Australian cricketer, Phillip Hughes, who went out to play a game of cricket, like he had hundreds of times before, and who then, sadly, never made it home again.

The thing is, sudden illness or accidents can strike any one of us at any time, be it on the ski slopes, at home, at work, playing sport, in our cars or just on the street. Yes, it’s unlikely but it’s not impossible so burying our heads in the sand about it isn’t realistic and it’s certainly not helpful for those who rely on the ongoing operation of our businesses to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables.

So if you lost mental or physical capacity, either temporarily or permanently, would your business be able to keep running? Who would have the legal authority to access your bank account to pay your suppliers? Would your bills get paid? Who would authorize your payroll run? You may have arrangements in place for certain members of staff to sign off some payments but what are the limits of that arrangement? Does there come a point where, without your express authority or your signature, payments don’t get made and your business stops functioning?

If this is the case, and I’m guessing it is for most small businesses because we all need to protect our interests, how long could your business keep going without you? If your staff weren’t getting paid, how long could they afford to stick with you? Would your suppliers be willing or able to keep supplying you ‘on tick’ indefinitely? Would your landlord be happy to continue housing your business if he wasn’t receiving his rent payments? Would your husband/wife be able to access your business bank account in order to transfer any money needed to keep the domestic side of your life running smoothly?

If any of this sets off alarm bells then there is a simple solution: draw up a Lasting Power of Attorney restricted to the running of your business.

The alternative is to have all those processes and payments that do require your active involvement to be put on hold until your family or business partners can apply to the Court of Protection to have a Deputy appointed but this can take several months and is ultimately much more expensive than planning ahead and getting an LPA in place just in case. And what would happen in the meantime?

As small business owners ourselves we feel very passionately about this subject (we each have LPAs restricted to the running of our business making our co-directors our attorneys). So, to encourage other small business owners to take this issue off the back burner and be proactive in safeguarding the running of their businesses in 2015, from now until the end of March 2015, Lovingly Managed is offering a special rate of just £147 to draft a business specific LPA, including the completion of the registration documents. (In addition, there is a registration fee of £110 payable direct to the Office of the Public Guardian.)

If you would like to meet up to complete the forms then that’s great but we know you’re busy so we can do the whole thing over the phone at a time to suit you – even in the evening – or via email if that’s more convenient. It will take around 20-30 minutes. Once we are in possession of all the relevant information we will endeavour to have your LPA back to you for signatures within a week.

If you decide you would like to sort out LPAs for your personal situation, we will offer the same fee for one LPA (either Property and Financial Affairs or Health and Welfare) or £275 for both types. Please note that the registration fee is payable for each LPA registered. Don’t forget to reference this blog post when you contact us to make sure you benefit from this limited time offer. Visit our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lovingly-Managed/156617147716458?ref=hl, scroll down and click on the purple ‘Contact Us’ button on the left of the page to send us a message and telephone number and we will call you back within 24 hours to arrange a convenient time to meet in person or take your instructions over the phone.

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So, with the announcement that the Government is to allow MPs a free vote on Lord Falconer’s Bill introducing assisted suicide, legislation on this highly contentious issue moves a significant step closer.

Baroness Butler-Schloss, someone for whom I have enormous respect, feels this is a step too far. In an article in the Daily Telegraph (15/12/2013) she argues that “allowing doctors or others to give active assistance to people to end their lives would cross a vital legal boundary. Laws, like nation states, are more secure when their boundaries rest on natural frontiers,” she writes.

“The law that we have rests on just such a frontier. It rests on the principle that we do not involve ourselves in deliberately bringing about the deaths of others. Once we start making exceptions based on arbitrary criteria like terminal illness, that frontier becomes just a line in the sand, easily crossed and hard to defend. The law is there to protect us all. We tinker with it at our peril.”

However, the law as it currently stands doesn’t go far enough for certain individuals such as Jane Nicklinson, the widow of Tony Nicklinson, the “locked-in syndrome” sufferer who starved himself to death last year after a long battle for assisted suicide, Paul Lamb, a quadriplegic who describes his life as ‘unbearable’ and a man named only as Martin who also suffers from locked-in syndrome.  They are seeking to sweep aside a prohibition on assisted suicide contained in the Suicide Act, using human rights laws.

I can sympathise with arguments on both sides of this case and understand the genuine concerns of the Butler-Schloss camp. However, on balance, I think I’m more inclined to the side of those seeking the right to die. Maybe I’m just not cynical enough to believe that this will lead to an onslaught of doctors ending people’s lives for some arbitrary reason, be it their own or someone else’s.

What I find totally unhelpful in all of this is the attempt of some commentators to introduce a hysterical tone to the whole debate, such as the comments made by Wesley J Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, who on hearing the news stated:  “UK MPs need just look a short distance across the English Channel to see what your “strict guidelines” will get you; doctor-facilitated killing for the mentally ill, the elderly “tired of life,” a depressed transexual unhappy with a botched sex change operation, euthanasia for children, and a psychiatric patient euthanized because she had been sexually predated by her own psychiatrist. And that’s just scratching the surface.”

Towards the end of my dad’s battle with Alzheimer’s I knew that he had very little quality of life and I also knew that, if he could have seen himself, he would have hated what had happened to him. However, he was in no pain and life was comfortable for him. I was more worried about my mother, herself in her 70s, who was coping with him at home, albeit latterly with the help of a fantastic, private carer. But there would have been no question of us opting to go down the road of assisted suicide for my father even if this had been available to us. Putting aside, for the sake of this argument, his Catholic faith, we could assume that he wouldn’t like what he had become and how he was living but we couldn’t ask him and he was totally comfortable. Fortunately for us, nature did take its course before things become any worse and he contracted a very serious chest infection which, in the end, was what ended his life.

However, I remember when my grandmother was in a nursing home in the 1990s, there was a lady in her room who had all manner of things wrong with her, including Alzheimer’s. She was very thin and her body seemed always to be contorted. I remember she was in a heavy duty canvas cot as she used to thrash around so much she couldn’t be in a normal bed as she would have hurt herself, either by falling or by knocking herself on the rigid raised sides which would have been essential to prevent her falling. When she was very distressed she used to shout out and wail. It was heartbreaking.

On the wall above her cot was a series of black and white portrait photographs of her when she was in her 20s/30s and then a variety of family photos. She had been beautiful: film-star beautiful. The family had put the photos up to remind those looking after her that within this now shell of a human being there had once been a stunning, vital woman who had loved and been loved, had raised a family and had had a life full of meaning which she’d lost in the dementia lottery that we all face. In those days there was no question of assisted suicide and I have no way of knowing whether this would have been her or her family’s wish. What I do know is that, for myself, I would not want to live like this, even with the argument that I wouldn’t know anything about it.

The thing is, Tony Nicklinson was and Paul Lamb and Martin still are in charge of their mental faculties so can tell their families, doctors and lawyers what they want. People who have become mentally incapacitated don’t have this luxury.

With the possibility that the right to assisted suicide could become legal, it’s more important than ever that people think about what their own breaking point might be in the deterioration of their quality of life before assisted suicide becomes a consideration, or if it should never be an option for them, and make sure this is recorded in a living will or in a Lasting Power of Attorney and preferably both.

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I had a great meeting this morning with Paul Fears, a professional photographer. It was an extremely uplifting experience as we chatted for an hour and a half about ……. yep ……. death and dying! The people sitting next to us in the Village Hotel foyer were certainly giving us the occasional funny look probably thinking that we were a couple of macabre lunatics.

I met Paul quite recently at a networking event and we got chatting. He was telling me about his work as a photographer and I mentioned to him that there was a still small but nonetheless increasing demand for professional photographers to be present at funerals to record the event for the family. He wasn’t aware of this. I suggested that he might like to add funeral photography to his portfolio of services, unaware at the time that Paul is especially well qualified to take on such sensitive commissions.

If you visit Paul’s web site (http://www.paulfearsphoto.co.uk) you will see the usual array of photographic services. But there’s one service that Paul doesn’t actively promote, concerned that it might be considered in poor taste: photographing people, many of them children, as they approach the end of their lives.

The very special thing about Paul is that he has lived with the underlying but daily threat of death now for 20 years – and not his own. Paul’s Down’s syndrome son, Greg, was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension when he was just two years old and his parents were given a life expectancy for Greg of just eight years. He is now 22.

As a result of his son’s illness, Paul has had a lot of involvement over the years with Ty Hafan, a team of palliative care specialists that works with life-limited children and their families. (Go to http://www.tyhafan.org). As anyone who has ever watched a documentary about Great Ormond Street Hospital will know, even when children are seriously ill, life for them and their families isn’t all doom and gloom. There are parties, laughs and jokes set against the ever present backdrop of potential imminent loss. From his own experience, Paul recognised that families might want to capture some of these precious moments for when their child is no longer around, so that, in time, they can look back with happiness on their child’s life and remember the good times amongst the bad. So Paul has been providing this service, free of his professional charges, to families who want it. And his sensitive approach, informed by his own personal circumstances, means that the end results are something that bring the families great joy and comfort.

In addition, one of Paul’s closest friends lost his battle to cancer aged 52. Just prior to his death, Paul’s friend asked him if he would shoot a family portrait. Even though it’s evident that he was very ill when it was taken, surrounded by his wife and children and with a beaming smile, this final photograph is a wonderful memento of a husband and father and is one of the family’s most treasured possessions.

Also, this friend had asked Paul to deliver the eulogy at his funeral that would be a true reflection of the life he’d led and be more of a celebration of the good times. He said that it must be kept secret from everyone until the actual funeral service. Paul had traveled extensively with his friend in their younger days and had lots of stories to tell, most of which the family were completely unaware. There was laughter from everyone in the congregation, including the family, who expressed gratitude to Paul for such a warm, funny and very human tribute to the man they’d loved and lost. While Paul gave a copy of the ‘script’ to the family he admits that what he actually said varied as thoughts had come to him while speaking. He wishes that there had been someone there to video the speech and the congregation’s response to it, believing that this would be a wonderful thing for his friend’s family to have, especially as the children get older and memories fade.

I remember at my own father’s funeral in August 2009, the weather had been atrocious for weeks and I was fully expecting and dreading a grey, very wet, miserable day. In the event, we got lucky and the day of the funeral was beautiful. We all ended up back at my sister’s house. She has a very large back garden and a spontaneous game of cricket somehow came about among the old, not so old and very young in attendance. Cricket had been my dad’s game in the summer. I can remember him sitting for hours with the cricket on the TV in the living room, apparently oblivious to what was going on as he appeared to be totally absorbed in the Daily Telegraph, that is, until one of us dared to approach the TV to switch channels. This was in the early 70s before remote controls. Then he would emerge from behind the paper with a look that warned us not to take another step. I sat watching the cricket and could imagine my dad watching from wherever he now was and thoroughly enjoying the antics out of everyone. It was such a lovely day and I thought afterwards how it would have been great to have some nice photos or even a recording of the cricket game.

Of course, funeral photography is always going to be a very sensitive service and I’m sure that it won’t be for everyone, professional photographers and the bereaved alike. But I believe that, as people increasingly come to view funerals as more of a celebration of a loved one’s life, recording the event, far from being seen as morbid, will be seen as just another way to create and keep yet more precious memories.

In my humble opinion, if anyone is qualified to deliver such a service it would be Paul Fears.

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I’ve had a very interesting day today. I’ve been door knocking, in a very well-to-do area, speaking to people about the benefits of paying for their funerals now in order to fix the cost at today’s prices (on average £3300 for a cremation) so that their estate or family won’t be have to pay a significantly higher fee when the inevitable eventually happens.

Because of the area I thought that people would already be sorted or be interested in receiving more information. To say my eyes have been opened would be an understatement. Personally, I think this is a no brainer. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to save thousands of pounds in unnecessary funeral costs so that more of your money goes to the people you love or a favourite charity?

But it seems that there are lots of people out there who couldn’t care less. ‘No, not interested’, was a stock response when I told them that planning ahead and buying a plan now would enable them to leave more to their families or ensure that their families weren’t left to shoulder a potentially large financial obligation. Really? Not interested in ensuring your hard earned cash goes to the people you love most rather than to pay an anonymous funeral director and your local council? I wonder if I’d knocked on the door and said, ‘Can I interest you in a cash gift of £5,000/£10,000/£30,000 for absolutely nothing?’ whether their response would have been the same. I think I might try that line next time because these are the kinds of savings we’re talking about; not a paltry few hundred quid.

How do I arrive at these figures? A cremation today costs, on average, £3,300. Prices have been going up by 7% a year for the past few years. If this continues for the next 30 years you arrive at a figure of just under £25,000. And, if there are two of you, that’s £50,000 out of your estate instead of just £7,000, all because of apathy. Another illustration: prices go up by 4% annually but you are only 50 now and will live for another 40 years. The price then will be a mere £15,000 per funeral. Add just 1% and you’re looking at £23,000 each.

I wonder how the children of these people would feel if they were aware of these facts and knew that their parents could have paid just £7,000 if they’d just bothered to consider the facts and do something about it.

Others admitted that they had thought about buying a plan but that they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Further conversation revealed some ridiculous superstitions. Come on people; we’re not in the middle of deepest, darkest Africa here where people still believe in voodoo claptrap. We’re in the UK in the 21st century. Sorting out stuff to do with your inevitable demise doesn’t mean you’re going to drop dead an hour later anymore than taking out buildings insurance means your house is going to burn down.

Others, who were obviously well into their 70s if not their 80s, seemed to believe that they were never going to die. ‘Oh, it’s a bit too soon to be thinking about all that’. Seriously? Do they put something in the water in these streets that means people are immortal?

I can only imagine the frustration if you are the child of one of these types of people, trying to persuade them to see sense. Fortunately for me, I’m not. My very sprightly 81 year old mother has taken the intelligent, pragmatic and considerate approach and got everything sorted and paid for. I hope she’s around for another 20 years at least – she’s under orders to get to 100 – and although there would be more than enough in her estate to settle the significantly larger funeral bill (around £13,000 instead of £3,300 at the current 7% annual increase rate) surely that’s not the point. The point is why would you choose to just throw away £10,000 that could have been used to benefit your family or do some good in the wider world just because you couldn’t be bothered to take some action and fill in a few forms, you allowed yourself to be swayed by a totally irrational fear that you must know is ridiculous or you just refused to face up to the fact of your own mortality as if this would somehow save you from the inevitable? As they say in Yorkshire, there’s nowt so queer as folk!

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Lasting Powers of Attorney are important legal documents that all too often get overlooked. Without going into the legal technicalities, LPAs are, if not exactly essential, as there are ways of overcoming the issue of not having an LPA, are extremely valuable in situations where someone becomes unable to look after their own affairs. (The LPA replaced the Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) in October 2007 and existing EPAs still remain valid.)

The most common reason given for people taking out an LPA is in case of dementia in later life but LPAs are not just for the elderly and there are many cases where this important and powerful legal document could have saved people lots of stress, anxiety and money. This particularly relates to businesses and, in particular, small to medium sized businesses or SMEs.

Take, for example, a sole trader. If a sole trader becomes either physically or mentally incapacitated through illness or injury, how will the business continue? A Deputyship order can be made to the Court of Protection, but the business could have imploded before the formalities have been completed and the cost implications are significantly greater than the cost of having an LPA already in place.

What about small partnerships? With many partnerships the banking mandate often contains a restriction that payments in excess of a certain amount require two signatures. What happens if one of those signatories is incapacitated? How would the partnership pay those larger amounts? What impact would this have on the business?

This last example relates to health insurance products such as Income Protection or Critical Illness cover. By definition, the policy holder could become incapacitated, in which case what would happen if they can’t sign the claim form? There’d be no cash until the application for Deputyship is sorted which could take several months. How would your mortgage and bills get paid in the meantime? Would there be enough money going into the home to pay for all your additional expenses too? In fact, anyone taking out one of these policies would be well advised to make the relevant LPAs at the same time.

If you’d like a chat about making an LPA and how one could help protect your business and family in the event of a crisis then call me on 07850 751671 or email catherine@lovinglymanaged.com.

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It’s not surprising that people don’t pre-plan their funerals; in the UK it’s hard enough persuading them to make a will with apathy being the main reason why people haven’t got one. Most people mean to do it but even a third of over 55s still haven’t got round to it. And anyway, why put it off? I watched a documentary about Olympic rower James Cracknell the other night. I had no idea he had come so close to death as a result of a cycling accident which wasn’t in any way his fault and he was only 38 when it happened. We just never know what is going to happen and when do iIf you’ve got one or more of either children, possessions and assets, no matter how little in value, you should have a will.

But death is a tricky subject. Try bringing it up at the next dinner party you go to and see how long it is before someone begs to change the subject! The very idea of death is distasteful to people, even causing genuine fear in some, as if just talking about it could make it happen, so people put off putting the practicalities in place that, when the inevitable happens, would really help those left behind.

So here are Top 10 reasons to pre-plan your funeral:

1. It gives you peace of mind.
2. It shows that you care enough about yourself and those left behind to do it.
3. It removes the decision making burden from your children and family members.
4. It eliminates the potential for family rows.
5. It prevents the wrong decisions about what people think you would have wanted from being made.
6. You are able to personalise your services so you get exactly what you want.
7. It enables you to create an end that is a true reflection of who you were in life – your values and beliefs.
8. It sets an example.
9. You may be the sole survivor in your family so providing detailed instructions is a sensible insurance policy if you are worried that your death will ultimately be overseen by strangers.
10. You control your funeral and burial expenses.

Pre-planning your funeral is not scary; it’s just planning. It may only take as little as a couple of hours, depending on how much detail you want to go into and how far into the process you want to go. You can start by writing your wishes down and giving them to a family member or friend. You can do this on your own or Lovingly Managed can help you put your wishes in order. Additionally, you might also want to take the next step of pre-paying for your funeral with a pre-paid funeral plan. Lovingly Managed works with the industry leaders in this area and can advise you on the best policy to suit your circumstances.

So don’t let your fear of death cause your family more pain than is necessary when the moment arrives. Pre-planning will put your and their minds at ease and they will thank you for it!

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You may have noticed how, over the past couple of years, a number of television companies and documentary film makers have looked at the subject of will writing and probate practices and what they’ve found has been far from pretty. This is because there are certain unscrupulous people out there that have seen an opportunity for making money and who have absolutely no conscience about taking advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.

When someone dies, there is usually a lot to be sorted out to wrap up their affairs. Probate, or Letters of Administration if someone dies without a Will, is the term used to describe the process of applying for the right to deal with a deceased person’s affairs, and can appear to be an impenetrable process, complicated and involved and hugely time consuming.

Because of this, individuals contemplating their own deaths may, in order to spare their families stress and time, make arrangements that relieve the family of the responsibility of probate, usually by specifying something in their Will. For the same reason, families who have lost a loved one may hand over the whole process to a third party. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with these decisions as long as you know what you are signing up for. A hasty decision can cost you dear so make sure you do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured into signing anything until you’ve had time to completely understand the implications of what you are putting in place and the terms of any agreement.

So what are your choices?

Do-It-Yourself probate

Many will baulk at the idea of handling the administration of an estate personally but it may not be, in simple circumstances, a bad idea. The person applying for probate, known as ‘the applicant’, completes a probate application form (PA1) together with the appropriate inheritance tax form and sends those with the appropriate fee to their local probate office. The probate office will then contact them in writing offering them an appointment to swear an affidavit confirming that the figures in the forms are correct. Once that interview is concluded the probate office will then send the applicant the actual probate and however many ‘office copies’ the applicant has requested within two weeks. These office copies are the ones that should be sent to the deceased’s banks, building societies, insurance companies etc., who will then release the funds to the applicant who should then distribute the estate in accordance with the deceased’s Will or under the Rules of Intestacy if there was no Will.

If all that still sounds like too much for you to cope with Lovingly Managed can help. We don’t take over as executor on probate matters, we just help the executor through the process so that you actually do it yourself but we just “hand hold” you through the process. We can fill out the tax and probate forms for you to sign and, if you want us to, we will accompany you to the probate office for you to swear the necessary affidavit to get probate provided to you personally. If you then want us to help further then of course we can help you write the appropriate letters to life offices, banks, building societies, provide Stock Transfer forms to transfer share entitlements etc. (One of our directors is a retired Wills and Probate solicitor with more than 20 years’ experience dealing with exactly this type of work.) We are happy to do as much, or as little, as you require, our service is totally transparent and is charged on an hourly basis.

Solicitors

Many people use a specialist wills and probate solicitor. Solicitors are governed by the Law Society, have completed a lengthy period of education and have to undertake continuous professional development to keep their knowledge current in order to retain their practising certificates. In addition, if they make mistakes they are liable. What they can charge is also governed by the rules of the Law Society and is usually around 1.5% of the gross value of the estate.

Banks

Then there are the banks, a popular choice for many people and, on the face of it, one would assume a sensible choice. Banks can be appointed either by the deceased prior to their deaths in their Wills or by the family following a death. In the first instance the client will usually have been loyal to a particular bank for many years and so trust them and, perhaps having received marketing information about the bank’s probate service, decides to appoint the bank to the role of executor in their Will in the belief that the bank will administer probate on their deaths. Alternatively, in the case of the family appointing the bank, this usually happens when the family contacts the bank to report a death and finds themselves being ‘sold’ the bank’s services. Again, trust is usually a key reason for using a bank’s service in this scenario. If you go down this road, expect to pay the bank between 4-5% of the gross value of the estate for their services, a lot more than solicitors charge. However, a word of warning for anyone who has been asleep for the past few years and is still labouring under the illusion that the banks have your best interests at heart and are there to help you; please, wake up now. The minute you sign on the dotted line the person who has sold you the bank’s probate service is punching the air in delight because they are one step closer to achieving their sales target that month. That is what you mean to them; don’t kid yourself that you are anything more than that, regardless of how long you or your relative have been that bank’s client.

Problems with a number of the major banks’ probate services have been highlighted recently on a number of internet forums. The issue is that, in some cases, while your bank may appear to provide probate services, in these straightened times even the banks have had to reduce their overheads and in many instances these services are now outsourced to independent “trust” companies. And just because these companies come recommended by your bank this is no guarantee of good service which many people have found out to their cost.

Trust companies

What happens is, when you report the death of a family member to the bank, you may be referred to a trust company who will send someone to visit you in your home and will then sell you on the idea of signing over the role of executor/administrator to them so that they can deal with everything on your behalf.

This is normally done by the next of kin or executor signing a General Power of Attorney which grants the trust company power to stand in the shoes of the actual executor/administrator to “run” the estate. The family or executor is asked to provide the original Will, if there is one, copy death certificates and then the trust company takes over. Charges will vary so check but will invariably be significantly higher than those of a solicitor, especially as the bank will in most cases receive a referral fee for introducing you to the trust company, on top of the trust company’s charges, so these have to be factored in. There are lots of horror stories concerning some companies who carry out this type of business and here are some examples of what people say about just one of them (name excluded):

“After my son’s mother died nearly two years ago this month, we were approached by XX bank about ***. My mother had died a year previously to the sad loss of my dear ex-wife. I had done that probate with a solicitor but because of the massive emotional implications of this sad loss we were sold this company’s idea of taking every worry possible away, and as there was so much other emotional baggage to deal with this seemed a good plan at the time; how wrong I was.

“After signing the “contract” in a meeting with some guy, whom we’ve never seen or heard of since, nothing happened. All relevant info was passed over, a couple of months passed and we started receiving red bills at the house! NO COMPANIES HAD BEEN INFORMED! We wrote to each individually, explaining the situation and also sending (YES US) copies to ***. Then I was asked for the marriage certificates, divorce certificates etc, which had also already been sent by registered post. This appalling service via my “case manager” would be a continuing theme throughout (bar one of them) and they changed every few months!!

“The journey with this company at probably the worst time of my life has sickened me to the core and I have told them to reflect their poor service in the final accounts – they ignored that and once again I was left phoning this dreadful company – they eventually removed the set-up fee (£400) which is a total disgrace!

“Many other issues also happened but I become tired and sad and despair that, in our well legislated country,such a company can exist with the backing of major companies. If I can stop one family from using this terrible company then that’s a start. Thank you so much for setting this page up and for all the work in highlighting these cowboys!”

“Our grandfather passed away in October last year and we travelled home from New Zealand to help mum. XX bank referred us to *** when we went into the branch to advise them of grandad’s death. As my partner had worked for XX bank for years we trusted them and a guy came to house the next day. He was an ex-police officer so the trust thing was there. Twelve months on the house has been sold for 6 months and STILL they say things are in progress. They wont give any specifics on where they are up to and they keep asking for documents we sent last year. We haven’t had any indication of how much they have collected from grandad’s policies or when the money is going to be paid. Mum is getting really stressed with this. She has lost her father and husband in the past year and dealing with this dodgy company is the last thing she needs. Has anyone had any success contacting the CEO?”

“*** are an UNREGULATED company. Their employees do not have legal qualifications or law-based backgrounds. They regularly overcharge by nearly 50% by adding excessive “disbursements” to bills.”

It’s worth noting that should the executor become unhappy at any time with the service he or she is receiving from a company that has been granted a General Power of Attorney, the person who granted the power can revoke it but will be liable for costs up to the date of revocation and of course all this will significantly delay things.

Probate practitioners and will writing companies

Then there are a number of probate practitioners and will writing companies who gain control of probate by signing up people prior to death, usually by using a Will as a loss leader i.e. they charge a minimal fee for the Will, which appears to be a very good offer, but then persuade the client to sign over the probate process by appointing the individual agent or an umbrella company as the actual executor of the Will. Sometimes they will offer you a Will storage service which can cost anything up to £40.00 per year or perhaps more. Don’t waste your money. If you have a safety deposit box with a bank you could use that but usually there is an annual charge for this service. The best place to store an original Will is with the Court Office in London where the lodgement fee is a one-off £20.00. There is no fee to withdraw a Will and if you change it then you will only have to withdraw the original and replace it with the new one or lodge a Codicil.

When the person dies the company steps in to take up the role of executor. However, what is even more worrying about these companies is that, as it was the deceased who granted them executorship, it is virtually impossible, without court action, to have them removed as executors regardless of how bad their service. Some families have seen huge sums of money disappear in spurious charges and have been powerless to do anything about it.

These are industries that are currently unregulated so beware. There are quite a few of these businesses trading and if you look at the plethora of advertisements for companies dealing in this sort of work you will see that they have a very slick procedure so it is unsurprising that people are persuaded into signing up only to regret their decision when it’s far too late.

While all this may sound frightening and depressing, we’re not saying that all organisations providing probate services are delivering a poor service. There are many that are providing an excellent service and have many happy clients. The moral of the story here is to check who you are giving away power to and then check, check and check again! Carry out a thorough investigation into any company as it may be too late afterwards. Are they a member of a professional body, such as the Society of Will Writers, whose members are bound by a code of ethics? Read the small print and if anything is unclear get clarification. Don’t sign anything until you are absolutely sure what it is you are signing. If you are not happy with the answers, or they seem a bit vague, go elsewhere. Ask for testimonials and make sure they are authentic. Check out all the possible forums on the internet which might hold information about the company concerned and search for reviews of their service from previous clients. You may be glad that you did! If you are not sure how to do this then ask someone who can help you.

We know that people tend to want things sorted as soon as possible but there is no specific time limit wherein probate has to be applied for unless inheritance tax is payable, in which case that needs to be paid within six months of the date of death otherwise financial penalties accrue. Most people “in the trade” refer to “an executor’s year” as it’s quite normal for it to take this long to finalise an estate. So, although you might want things to move quicker, it’s just not worth putting extra pressure on yourself and rushing into a decision that you may live to bitterly regret.

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