Monday, 3 September 2012

The personal side of the law

I wanted to experience a substantial amount of client contact as a trainee and, in my Private Client seat, I am getting that and more. Given the nature of the work, clients discuss with us, in confidence of course, their finances, hopes and dreams, health and views on their family and friends. My typical week involves dealing with wills, tax planning and estate administration matters. As straightforward as these tasks sound, there are often moments of great amusement – that’s the beauty of being in a practice group with so much client contact. 

I was instructed by a lady to draft her will so that, in the event she died first, her husband’s new wife could not benefit too much from her money.  That, in my opinion, is a valid concern and one I had not considered before that meeting.  I have drafted deeds of appointment distributing enormous amounts of money to beneficiaries of trusts, registered a death, assisted in making a claim against the beneficiaries of an estate and assisted in defending an estate against a claim. 

On the tax planning side, I have attended meetings where the benefits of trusts and, in particular, discretionary trusts are discussed. The person “settling” the trust (the Settlor) gives assets or money to a group of people (the Trustees) to hold on trust for a defined group (the Beneficiaries). Trustees are bound by numerous duties including a duty to act fairly, use reasonable care and skill when they act and comply with the terms of the trust. On the other hand, the trustees of a discretionary trust have discretion as to how the assets of the trust are applied for the benefit of the beneficiaries and how the trust is administered. 

I learnt that, aside from the obvious ways of revoking a will (including my personal favourites of burning the will or ripping it up), unless it is apparent that a will was made in contemplation of the marriage and it is clear the will was not intended to be revoked by the marriage, marriage too can revoke a will.

Also, after marriage, it is easy to presume a surviving spouse would inherit everything if a married person dies without leaving a will (they die intestate), but that isn’t true. The surviving spouse would inherit all the chattels, a statutory legacy of £450,000 and half of the estate after all legacies and liabilities have been discharged. The other half of the net estate would pass to the deceased's parents (or siblings or sibling's children). If the deceased had children, the surviving spouse inherits even less, regardless of whether the children are those of the surviving spouse. Surviving spouses may have to sue family members in order to gain control of assets – awkward does not even begin to describe a family dinner in those circumstances.

Actually, Private Client is personal, technical, quirky and fun.  So, if you need to speak with a solicitor about planning for the future, contact our Private Client practice group.

Posted by Araba Amissah-Arthur, trainee in the private client practice.

Araba Amissah-Arthur -

Araba joined the firm as a trainee in September 2011. She graduated from the University of Warwick with a BA (Hons) in Politics and International Studies and completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School in London. She then worked as a consultant in a national Employment Tribunal representation service for three years.

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