Writing a will and protecting your assets

6 min read
April 29, 2020
Gary Rycroft

Our guest expert Gary Rycroft tackles writing a will and protecting your assets

One of the most challenging things that we’ve all had to face as a nation is what happens to our family and friends when someone dies. Now people are understandably reluctant to discuss this subject, but it’s important to talk about it.

So Resolver called on the services of legendary TV legal expert and Gary Rycroft, to talk us through the world of wills, legal issues and your rights in his own inimitable way – and make you smile a bit in the process!

Over to you Gary…

Why we need to talk about wills

The BBC has reported that a big surge in the demand for wills, coupled with a need to abide by COVID 19 social distancing requirements, has led to “wills being signed on car bonnets”:

I can attest that this is not fake news, having recently witnessed a client’s will on a very shiny car bonnet parked outside my office, all whilst holding a pen with a latex gloved hand.

It is always a good idea to have an up to date and valid will in place in order to ensure your wishes about how your assets and liabilities are dealt with on your death. Wills are there to cover who should get what (beneficiaries), who should be in charge of it all (executors), who should send your final tweet & Facebook post (social media executors) who should look after your kids (guardians) and pets (fur parents) and what music should be played and your funeral (Elvis). A will can also help to ensure the amount the taxman inherits from you is mitigated as much as is possible within the constraints of the law.

However, in this time of Coved-19 and the rush to get “affairs in order” is it worth noting these tips to ensure you and your loved ones get a will which is best in terms of value for money.

What a will is and how it works

Sadly the writing of wills is not a “regulated” legal activity. This means anybody – and I mean anybody – can set up to do it. Anybody could mean a well-meaning retired person with a heart of gold or a fraudster recently released from prison. Qualified, experienced and insured legal professionals – solicitors – can also write wills and many do. However, the market place for consumers is often confusing and although many unqualified will writers make their businesses sound good by calling themselves something with “Law” or “Legal” in the title, only solicitors who have taken exams, qualified and been admitted on the “roll of solicitors” can call themselves solicitors.

All solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). So the way to check if you are dealing with a bona fide solicitor is not by seeing if they use Latin phrases, but rather by noting and cross-referencing the SRA Registration Number of their firm displayed on their website, letters or emails.

The SRA requires all solicitors to be insured and have a complaints procedure. Ultimately any dispute between a solicitor and their client may be referred to the Legal Ombudsman Service, which means the clients of solicitors have a meaningful way of redress, if required, for free.

Over many years tackling consumer problems on the BBC One TV programme “Rip Off Britain” I have seen many examples of clients of unregulated law firms ending up with legal documents which have cost a fortune and  which are at best confusing and not what they wanted and at worst have caused severe worry and anxiety by taking control of family assets away from those whom were intended to benefit. And they’ve cost another fortune to entangle.

The best way to find an expert solicitor is to use the “Find a Solicitor” search tool on The Law Society website (www.lawsociety.org.uk) , use one who is a member of The Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners (STEP) or Solicitors for the Elderly or The Law Society Private Client Section, or ask a relative, friend or neighbour for a personal recommendation.

All solicitors should be entirely transparent about costs and explain how you will be charged for the legal services they provide before you commit to going ahead with anything.

Solicitors are not high-pressure sales people; if you feel pressuring in any way it is not something you should go ahead with.

If a person dies without making leaving a valid will inflexible legal rules call the Intestacy Rules dictate who can inherit and who can administer the estate. Unmarried couples cannot inherit under the Intestacy Rules. Anyone aged over 18 years can make a will.

Getting married or entering into a civil partnership revokes any previous wills made; so ask for new wills as a wedding present. Seriously, it’s more useful in the long run than a toaster.

In the present times of COVID 19 solicitors may not be able to meet you face to face to take your will instructions, but a telephone or video appointment can be made.

Once the will is ready to be signed it can be posted to you or your solicitor may offer to witness it taking into account social distancing rules such as on your car bonnet or watching you sign in your garden or through your living room window.

What if I can’t look after my affairs because I’m sick?

Often when people make wills they also think about making Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA’s). These are documents which give named persons (attorneys) legal authority to support decision making about property and finances for a person lacking capacity to make decisions for themselves or who is physically absent (perhaps due to undertaking social isolation because of an underlying medical condition or age).

It is also possible to make an LPA to appoint an attorney or attorneys to make decisions about health & welfare, including the refusal of life-sustaining treatment (or not as the case may be) in circumstances where the donor of the power is lacking capacity.

It is possible to make LPA’s online using the ‘gov.uk’ website (beware of other ‘unofficial’ websites) but again a suitably experienced and qualified solicitor can add value to the process by simply not acting as a scribe but by helping a client think through scenarios and deciding on what is best for that client’s circumstances.

Making wills and LPA’s are matters of great significance. They are documents which give legal force and authority in relation to all of your assets and in the case of an LPA for Health & Welfare to decisions of life and death. So it is important to trust such matters to a professional who you can rely on.

And finally…

Gary and Resolver’s Martyn James are a bit of a comedy double act – you can catch them on the tele quite a bit. But between them they can help with all kinds of consumer rights and legal issues, so get in touch and let us know what you’d like demystifying next. Get in touch with Gary via http://www.jajsolicitors.co.uk/

If you need help with anything from funeral plans to financial problems, Resolver can help you make your complaint for free. Get started at www.resolver.co.uk

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