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Are Your Legal Affairs up to Date?

View profile for Joseph Stoehr
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The past eighteen months have forced us all to think about a lot and for many this has meant finally writing a will or rummaging around for their “current” one to give it a much-needed review and update. Sorting out wills tends to stay on the to-do list longer than it should. We know it needs doing but put it off as contemplating our demise is pretty terrifying, despite its inevitability.

There was certainly a huge surge in enquiries after the pandemic started, and levels continued to be higher than usual as the situation continued. Nationally, it was estimated that will enquiries increased by over 75% following the announcement of the first lockdown.

Despite this, recent statistics estimate that the majority of UK adults (around 56%) still do not have a will. Also, a great many wills are believed to be out of date, which can be as bad as having no will.

A will is not just important in terms of who will inherit what you own, it also appoints executors to deal with your estate, guardians for any minor children and trustees of funds held for minors or otherwise on trust. It can also record funeral preferences (saving your loved ones from having to recall if you ever expressed a preference for cremation, burial and/or organ donation), set out wishes for any pets and other such matters.

Advice can also be given on tax, powers of attorney, trusts, lifetime gifting, asset protection and care planning, which can help save money and avoid stress and potential issues for your family in the future.

It can seem daunting, but we will guide you through the process, answering your queries and advising on what else you ought to consider and how best to frame your intentions. Most are surprised to find the process is straightforward and far less difficult than they had imagined.  

Although care is needed, it has also remained possible to get wills safely signed off, although the methods had to sometimes be quite creative to maintain safe social distancing, particularly last year – as the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way!

Our clients often report a strange peace and a that a weight is lifted once their wills are in place and up to date. They have taken appropriate advice and planned as best as they can. There is nothing further that can be done and thus just return to living life.

Once in place, it is, however, important that your will is reviewed every three to five years, or sooner if there is a change in your intentions or circumstances (personal or legal). Please also ensure your original will is kept safe and your executors know where it is.

We safely store original Wills and other important documents for our clients, and have also recently introduced a new, secure “vault” service that can provide electronic access to such documents any time, together with a host of other helpful features.

Making a Lasting Power of Attorney

Another important legal document to consider putting in place is a Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA). These enable you to appoint people as your attorneys to make decisions and act on your behalf if you lose capacity in the future.

Compared with a will, which only comes into force when you have gone, LPAs are important because they govern decisions made about you whilst you are still alive.

However, putting in place LPAs seems to be on fewer to-do lists, as people are generally less familiar with them and their importance.  It is estimated that just 12% of adults have some form of power of attorney in place.

There are many afflictions that can cause capacity issues, such as a stroke or dementia, but it can also be the result of an accident, brain injury or medical treatment. It is not necessarily something that is linked to age and can onset suddenly.

A property and financial affairs LPA covers the management of your finances, whereas a health and welfare LPA covers decisions such as where you live and your care/medical treatment.

In the absence of LPAs, your loved ones would typically need to apply to the Court of Protection (a lengthy and costly process) for legal authority to make financial decisions for you. This is, undoubtedly, the last thing they would want to do if something happened to you, and significant problems can arise in terms of paying bills and accessing money for your care, and for those depending on you. There may also be important care and welfare decisions you would wish your loved ones to have authority to make, that are instead made by doctors or social services.

Much like an insurance policy, it is typically far better to have LPAs in place and to then hope not to need them, than to need them and not have them. As LPAs must be made whilst you have capacity (and ideally long in advance of any issues) and the required registration process can take several weeks, it is important not to delay.

If you would like our assistance with getting Wills and/or LPAs in place, would like to review your existing arrangements or need advice on ancillary matters such as tax planning and asset protection, please do feel free to get in touch.