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.

Sep 13 16

Power of Attorney Essential if you have Drawdown Pension

Roger Wastnedge

If you have a draw-down pension – that is a pension pot that you draw from as opposed to an annuity – then it is essential that you consider setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). The point about a draw-down pension is that it requires ongoing management until you die. For most people who are now retired it is likely that at some point they will be in a position where they are unable to do so on either a temporary or permanent basis. This means that, without the appointment of an attorney, they will be unable to instruct their adviser on making any alterations to their draw-down arrangements, with potentially devastating impact on the financial situation of themselves and their family.

There are two types of LPA, a Health and Welfare, and a Property and Financial Affairs. You can find out more by clicking through here. However you can only set one up whilst you have the mental capacity to do so. The alternative is for your relatives to apply to the Court of Protection for the appointment of a Deputy to manage your affairs; not only is this a slow process that could leave your family in financial difficulty in the meantime, or mean your investments lose significant value because your advisers were unable to manage them, but it is also much more expensive than making an LPA. Typically it could cost you (since the fees will eventually be drawn from your assets) upward of £2000, with ongoing costs on an annual basis. Clearly it is much better to sort this out now whilst you can select who you want to act as your attorney, rather than leaving it to others to do.

For more information contact me using the form, or call me on 0151 559 0695. Whatever you do, don’t delay.

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Sep 7 16

Back to School

Roger Wastnedge

Whether you are sending your pride and joy to school for the first time this September, or they’re into their second, third or fourth year, most parents feel a flutter of apprehension when letting go of their hand on the first day.

Doing everything to protect your child comes naturally. From planning a safe route for your kids to get to or from school and ensuring they know the green cross code to protecting them from bullying.

Protection comes in many shapes and forms. At this time of year, once they are safely in school, now is the time to make sure they are protected should something happen to you.

24,000 children a year experience the death of a parent according to charity Winston’s Wish. Did you know that if both of a child’s parents die and there’s no valid will and therefore no appointed guardian, children could be put in foster care until the courts decide who they should live with?

Added to which, most of us don’t live in the nuclear family of the past which adds additional complications.

Making a will allows you to

  • Decide who will take care of your children should something happen to you
  • Make it known how, and where, your children should be educated
  • Ensure that there won’t be any family disputes or court battles over who takes care of your children
  • Plus, any other wishes you have from what they eat to what they should receive as pocket money….

As parents, we all want the best for our children, and this is probably one of the easiest ways of protecting them. Making a will also costs less than you may think. Contact Roger Wastnedge using the form on this page, or call me on 0151 559 0695 to find out more.