Mar 29 17

Probate Fraud – Money, Misuse and Manipulation

Roger Wastnedge

In a situation as sensitive as probate, committing fraud may seem almost incomprehensible. This does not however, mean that it does not occur, with some individuals abandoning any consideration for the bereaved and committing fraud in regards to the assets of the deceased.

By taking advantage of the dead or someone who is close to passing, the fraudster may help themselves to assets, personal possessions or money that was never meant for them. Therefore, it is essential that probate is dealt with in the most effective way.

Probate can often be manipulated by many, resulting in greater opportunity for fraud.

Examples of such fraud include:

– Coercion while the deceased was still alive
– Removal of assets
– Misuse of executor power

Probate fraud has been less common in the past, with an estimated annual cost of around £50 million. With the current believed cost of probate fraud reaching around £150 million per year, it is likely the previous total was significantly underestimated. This is according to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), who also said that around 50% of solicitors questioned stated they had encountered fraudulent cases within the last year.

Why is this fraud becoming more common?

A report by STEP said ‘it is just too easy.’ Although the beneficiaries benefit from an estate, UK law states they are not able to view the accounts. This is down to the executor. They have a duty to answer any questions, but could easily keep beneficiaries’ in the dark.

Increasing amounts of probate fraud are also taking place online. An email may be sent from an imposter claiming to be a solicitor regarding a substantial sum they may be entitled to as a beneficiary. Before any further information is released however, the fraudster will request funds to cover any tax or other costs. Whilst some of these emails may be easily detected as scams, others are more refined, with false documents even being attached. As technology develops and methods used by fraudsters become more sophisticated, the likelihood of falling victim to a scam only increases.

Avoid the scams

It is important to act preventively, as well as being aware of what to be on the look-out for, such as:

– Large transfers of money or property
– Disappearance of valuable items
– Sudden alteration of a will not long before death

It is important to consider these occurrences with great care and get a professional opinion if you have any serious suspicions. Ideally, preventive measures are a more effective means of avoiding the fraud in the first place.

Use a professional – seek out those with proven credibility and competence in dealing with probate cases. They will have sufficient knowledge to handle the deceased’s estate capably. For instance take advantage of the Society of Will Writers Trust Corporation who specialise in probate work, and who offer flexible arrangements to suit you all at a very reasonable rate.

Make a will – intestacy (dying without a will) can lead to complications much greater than fraud so this step is vital. Stating clearly who executors and beneficiaries are, prevents relatives from sorting out the often complex matter between themselves. Call me on 0151 559 0695 or email at roger@borderwills.co.uk for further professional advice.

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Jan 18 17

Old Heads on Young Shoulders

Roger Wastnedge

Thinking about Lasting Power of Attorneys (LPAs) is not just something older people need to do – everyone should write one, in my opinion

Let’s be honest, writing a will and an LPA isn’t top of anyone’s to do list – it isn’t even at the bottom. But it’s important, not just so that someone will have your best interests at heart should you fall ill or be in an accident, but also so thT your loved ones know who should be making the big decisions if you’re not able to. If you’ve lost your mental capacity, it’s too late and your loved ones may struggle to gain control of your affairs.

It’s a grim truth that accidents can happen at any age, which is why putting together an LPA is something young people should consider, as well as old, including the four in ten Britons who feel they’re too young and healthy to need an LPA, identified in recent research by SAGA.

So what is an LPA?

It’s a way of giving legal authority to someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf should you lack the mental capacity to make them yourself. That could be a temporary loss of mental capacity – or permanent.

There are two types of LPA – one for health and care decisions and the other for financial. Under the former, your chosen attorney can make decisions about your medical care and where you live, whilst under the latter the choices will be around buying and selling property as well as paying bills. They have to be set up individually and registered with the Office of the Public Guardian, at a cost of £110 each. If only one is relevant, then only set up one – for young people the health and care decisions of an LPA is possibly more relevant in case of sudden illness or accident; however that will also depend on your particular financial arrangements.

You can find all the information you need as well as the LPA forms to download at www.gov.uk. However, lots of people use solicitors and will writers to help navigate them as they are legally binding documents and certain wishes may have to be drafted carefully – for example, you may want to limit what your attorneys can do, which isn’t uncommon.

Here we have been helping people write LPAs since we started in 2012. Call us now on 0151 559 0695 for advice to ensure that, should you become incapacitated, your life is in the good hands of people you love and trust.

Jan 16 17

The Danger of Mirror Wills

Roger Wastnedge

Around 40% of marriages in the UK are second (or even third) unions, which creates a lot of step-families – and occasionally, chaos among the kids when their parent and step-parent die. Mirror wills – where two people set down the same wishes for their legacy – are relatively common among couples but can split step-families in two, as Stuart Herd, an accountant from Essex, discovered.

Shortly before his father died, Stuart Herd, 64, had a conversation with him about his will. Mr Herd told his son that he was leaving his estate to his second wife, who he’d married nine years earlier, and that when she died the couple’s assets would be split between Stuart and his wife’s son. The pair had prepared mirror wills, he said.

Mr Herd Senior died in 1997 and afterwards Mr Herd claims he stayed in contact with his stepmother. So he was shocked to discover, when she died in 2012, that she’d changed her will four years earlier – cutting him out and leaving everything to her son and his family.

To me, my father was very clear in what he wanted,” Mr Herd says. “He worked really hard to build that up – my inheritance was around £150,000 – and losing it feels like you’ve been mugged. She changed it in 2008 and she lived those four years as if nothing had happened.”

Stuart Herd wrote to his stepbrother’s family outlining his position but got nowhere. So he’s launched a petition calling for increased protection for beneficiaries under mirror wills following the first death.

In the petition Mr Herd is calling for two changes to the law around mirror wills: first, a formal warning to anyone who writes a mirror will that their wishes may not be respected should they die first. He also called for the introduction of new legislation, stating that if the beneficiary of a mirror will is disinherited, they should receive a formal written notice for it to have effect. That, he says, is so the person who is being written out of the will has the opportunity to challenge it.

Currently the only recourse is for affected people to apply to the courts to challenge the will; a divisive and potentially financially ruinous course of action.

Just a couple of months ago Paul Daniel’s son branded his stepmother Debbie McGee a ‘false witch’, alleging that she’d cut him out of his father’s inheritance. Paul, who died of an inoperable tumour aged 77, left his whole estate to Debbie. But, Paul Daniels Junior, claimed: ‘She promised that she would look after me and my brothers. But the only person she has looked after is herself.’

What really hurts Stuart Herd, though, is the fact he feels his Dad’s last wishes have been disrespected.

My late father was a very trusting person and would never have expected my late step mother to betray his wishes by disinheriting his only son and granddaughter in favour of her own family,” he says. “I know for a fact, if my late step mother had died first he would have respected her wishes without question.”

Of course there are advantages to leaving mirror wills. However, as Stuart Herd’s case shows, there are pitfalls too. If you want to chat through the pros and cons of mirror wills, please contact us on 0151 559 0695 or at roger@borderwills.co.uk and we can help you write a will that protects your loved ones in the future.

Aug 8 16

Fast-track your Lasting Power of Attorney before it’s too late

Roger Wastnedge

Sir Jackie Stewart announced in June that his wife Lady Helen Stewart is suffering from dementia

The world champion Formula One driver explained that his wife of 55 years now requires around the clock care. Lady Helen, 75, was diagnosed with dementia 2 years ago, but this is the first time the racing driver has spoken about the changes he has seen in his wife.

Whilst he believes it is too late to help Lady Helen, he has launched a charity named Race Against Dementia to seek a cure for dementia sufferers in the future.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society 225,000 Britons each year are diagnosed with the condition.

It further highlights the need for people to have LPAs (Lasting Powers of Attorney) in place.

There are two types of LPA that currently exist, the first of which is a ‘Health and Welfare’ LPA. This type of LPA can only be used in situations where the donor does not have the mental capacity – the ability to make decisions for themselves and cannot be invoked otherwise. There is some flexibility as to the extent of the powers the LPA can grant – the appointed attorneys can only make specific decisions if you outline it to be so, for example making judgements such as daily routine and diet, right through to moving into supported care or agreeing to lifesaving medical treatment.

As well as the Health and Welfare LPA, there is the ‘Property and Financial Affairs’ LPA, which as the name suggests links directly to the personal property and money of the donor, and what the attorney can do with it. A Property and Financial Affairs LPA can be used immediately upon registration, there is no requirement for the lack of mental capacity.

Many people opt to make both types of LPA, though there is no necessity to do so, you can opt to only make one or the other.

If mental capacity is lost prior to making a Lasting Power of attorney it can cost thousands of pounds through the Court of Protection with fees starting from £400, plus legal fees, insurance and supervision fees. It is cheaper and more straight-forward to do so whilst you are able.

To appoint an LPA please contact me using the form below.