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No.11 – ‘Legal Problems – We Are All Ears’

The penultimate black and white image in our series of monthly images, entitled ‘Legal Problems? – We Are All Ears’, highlights a number of important elements of our legal service.

  1. Firstly, a timely reminder that during the Corona virus pandemic we have remained open and available to our clients to assist them with their ongoing and new legal matters across all our departments. Whilst we have had to deploy our advice in a remote manner, via telephone, video calls, emails and external appointments maintaining social distancing, we have continued to be available around the clock where necessary and ready to listen to our clients legal issues. Whilst some legal firms have temporarily closed their doors for some services, we have risen to the challenge of providing a full range of services during a pandemic. As we continue to evolve through the pandemic our team will continue to adapt to be available.

 

  1. Listening is often more important than talking. Only by listening to you fully can we then provide you with the correct advice and options available to you. We do not steer you towards a pre packaged product nor presume to tell you what you need rather listen to understand you, your concerns and priorities and then provide our professional legal advice.

 

  1. As with any service, the experience of instructing a legal firm can vary greatly, especially in the sale and purchase of residential property (conveyancing) which is often the first contact many people have with legal services. It can be frustrating when there is no direct person responsible for your matter and so we provide a dedicated specialist to deal with your matter so that you have a direct point of contact. We are rated 4.7/5 for customer satisfaction and appreciate that instructing solicitors can be daunting and often at emotional times, where aspects as basic as being able to speak to your solicitor on the phone can make a real difference and challenge the traditional reputation of solicitors appearing aloof.

 

  1. We also provide a core of personal legal services to ensure we can meet an individual’s legal requirements throughout their lifetime. Some of our core services include buying or selling Property, Will writing and estate planning, Divorce and Childcare, Personal Injury, Dispute Resolution and then finally assisting in sorting our matters through Probate when a person passes away. This core of services ensures that whatever your legal problem, we have the specialists to advise you or, in the rare instances where your requirements exceed those offered by your local high street legal practice, can point you in the right direction.

 

‘Legal Problems? We Are All Ears’ is the latest in a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com

Cycling Accidents & Highway Code Review

Following government advice to commuters to avoid public transport and use alternative forms of transport to work, cycling retailers are reporting significant increases in the sale of new bicycles and increased demand for parts and servicing.

Moreover, the Department for Transport and local authorities have expressed intention to invest heavily in cycle friendly transport infrastructure. At a local level, the Tees Valley was also selected as a pilot area to trial the use of E-Scooters with a view to legalisation of same.

The government has, in addition to announcements and initiatives to promote alternative forms of ‘active travel, initiated a review of the Highway Code for pedestrians and cyclists. One of the key elements of the proposed reform is establishing a road user hierarchy which places vulnerable road users at the top together new rules and guidance on distancing and road position in order give greater consideration to, and prioritisation of, the needs of vulnerable road users.

The increase in alternatives forms of transport, such as bicycles and E-Scooters does give rise to an increase in risk to users of those modes of transport, particularly if cars are being preferred to public transport. It is important that if the Highway Code is reformed in favour of vulnerable road users, motorists will also need to be mindful of any changes and modify their driving accordingly.

The risks to cyclists are laid bare in a Government report (March 2018)* which suggests that in the period 2011 to 2016, an average of 2 pedal cyclists were killed and 62 seriously injured per week in reported road casualties. Moreover 92% of cycling casualties and 75% of cycling fatalities involved collision between a cyclist and a motor vehicle.

The potential effects of a collision between motor vehicle and cyclist can be devastating for victims and their families, potentially resulting in life changing injuries and potentially fatality. The same can also be said of collision involving motor vehicles, including motor cycles, and pedestrians.

Whether you are a motorist, pedestrian, cyclist, motor cyclist or passenger, our expert Personal Injury team can assist you and provide sensible, practical legal advice to enable you to assist with the handling of claims arising from such incidents.

 

*https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/686969/pedal-cycle-factsheet-2017.pdf

Witnessing Wills by Video Link Legalised

The Government is introducing legislation to allow people to use video-conferencing technology for the witnessing of Wills being made during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ordinarily, a Will is required to be signed in the physical presence (or at least line of sight) of two witnesses which has caused a number of problems during the pandemic, especially with those self isolating. Largely, this is due to ensuring the person creating the Will fully understands its contents, has capacity and that there is no influence being exerted on them to dispose of their estate in that way. Whilst solicitors have been taking extra steps to ensure the formalities can still be complied with to protect clients, a number of providers have utilised video signing in a  desperate attempt to get Wills signed.

In response to this the law (the Wills Act 1837) will be amended to state that whilst this legislation is in force, the ‘presence’ of those making and witnessing wills includes a virtual presence, via video-link, as an alternative to physical presence. The legislation will apply to wills made since 31 January 2020 and will apply for Wills made up to two years from when the legislation comes into force (so until 31 January 2022), however this can be shortened or extended if deemed necessary.

Alex Spurr, head of our Wills team and member of the Society of trust & Estate Practitioners (www.step.org) and Solicitors for the Elderly welcomes the news, however urges caution.

“It will still be necessary to ensure that all the usual checks are carried out, that the video calls are accurately recorded and should only be used as a means of last resort.  Throughout the pandemic our team have been able to assist all clients except those hospitalised with signing Wills correctly and will continue to do so in preference to video signing. Where we move to execute a Will via video link under the legislation, we will then re sign the Will under normal protocols once we are able to do so for security purposes”

Full guidance is yet to be issued by industry bodies as to the exact recommended process for signing Wills by video link and once these have been issued we can provide further guidance to our clients on the availability of video link witnessing. It has been suggested that the following steps will be included.

  • The will maker should hold the front page of the will document up to the camera to show the witnesses, and then to turn to the page they will be signing and hold this up as well.
  • The will-maker should ensure that the witnesses can see them actually writing their signature on the will, not just their head and shoulders.
  • The same, original Will document should then be taken to the two witnesses for them to sign, ideally within 24 hours.
  • A second video call will then be required with the witnesses should hold up the will to the will maker to show them that they are signing it and should then sign it.

 

The same Will document is required to be signed by all the parties which may cause some issue for the Wills already witnessed remotely and cause them to be excluded form the legislation and remain invalid. our advice is to have your Wills resigned in a compliant manner to ensure that they are valid and anyone who has signed a Will remotely should speak to their provider and ask for written confirmation that their signature is in compliance with the new legislation. If you are aware that the above process was not followed, for example counter part documents were signed, then we would advise you to insist on it being now done so correctly. Anyone encountering problems with this from their provider should seek legal advice.

The signing section of the Will should also be amended to make reference to the fact the Will has been signed via video link.

For anyone wishing to make or update  a Will during the pandemic, our specialist team remain operational and ready to assist you.

 

LPA Digital Notification Service Launched

The Office of Public Guardian (OPG) has commenced a new digital service to help people acting as an attorney in England and Wales confirm that a  Lasting Power of Attorney exists and to help update to financial institutions, healthcare providers and other interested organisations.

Once a lasting power of attorney (LPA) is registered, attorneys and donors will be sent an activation key to allow them to create an account online and add the LPA to the account. They can then create an access code that they can give to any other relevant organisation, so that it can view an online summary of the LPA and authenticate its holder. This should enable attorneys to more easily confirm their authority to act where necessary. Currently a certified copy of the LPA has to be provided to each bank or institution, often having to have these sent through to legal departments to check the validity and status, causing delays in activation. The new process should enable a more speedy verification.

Initially the service will be for LPAs registered from 17 July 2020, although the OPG has plans to extend it to previously registered documents in 2020 in due course.

This is a welcome use of technology to potentially assist attorneys to act on behalf of Donors of LPAs, especially where Donors may need assistance as soon as the LPA is registered. This will certainly assist in some cases where Donors and Attorneys are comfortable using IT but there will still be a need for certified paper copies for the foreseeable future as not all have access or confidence in the digital world.

Trust Advice Darlington

Challenging An Estate After Someone Has Died

In England & Wales, a person is generally able to write a Will to distribute their possessions and wealth as they wish to do so or, if they have not written a Will, the Intestacy Rules stipulate who will inherit. There may however be occasions when there is cause for concern and someone may wish to either challenge a Will’s validity or the gifts under the Will.

Q1 – Can I challenge the validity of a Will?

The validity of a Will can be challenged on a number of grounds and the most common reasons are:

  • Invalid execution of a Will – there has been some error in creating the Will, for example it has not been correctly witnessed.
  • Undue influence – the deceased was manipulated into writing the Will.
  • Lack of Capacity – the deceased did not understand what they were writing or signing.
  • Fraud –  where perhaps a signature has been forged or the Will pages tampered with.

 

Q2 – Can I challenge the contents of a Will?

The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 enables a claim to be brought against an estate by certain classes of person who are financially dependent upon the deceased and have been excluded from a Will entirely, or not provided for adequately.

Generally, those entitled to bring such claims are spouses, cohabiting partners or minor children. In limited circumstances adult children may be able to bring a claim.

Where someone has acted significantly based upon a promise of inheritance, it may also be possible to claim.

Q3 – What are the time limits involved?

The time limits depend upon the type of claim being made, however there is often a strict 6 month time period after the Grant of Probate/ Letters of Administration are issued to the Executors/Administrators, so it is always better to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Q4 – Can I get a copy of a Will? 

Once  a Will goes to Probate, it becomes a public document and you can apply for a copy from the Court. It is possible to lodge a search with the Court to see if Probate has been granted or be notified of when it is, and receive a copy of the Will.

Q5 – Can I stop Probate being granted if I have a claim? 

A ‘Caveat’ can be entered at the Probate Registry.  The caveat effectively places a block on the issuing of Probate and alerts the Court that their may be a dispute. A Caveat will last six months unless it becomes ‘sealed’, after which it can only be removed by agreement or Order of the Court.

Due to the short time limits to bring a claim, and often the emotional aspects of doing so, we would recommend that you speak to our legal experts as soon as practical to explore any potential claim you may have and your options.

 

New Divorce Legislation – A landmark day for separating couples?

What has happened?

On 25th June the ‘Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020’ received Royal Assent.  The new legislation will also apply to judicial separation and civil partnership dissolution petitions.

Why was this needed?

This is a landmark day for Family Law Solicitors. For many years there have been calls for the divorce laws to be changed. At the moment the divorce legislation dates back to 1973 and requires blame to be laid at one person’s door. Otherwise you must wait at least two years after separation to divorce by agreement or even worse 5 years without an agreement.

For many separating couples, this extra layer of unnecessary conflict makes things even harder when in reality it isn’t needed. If a relationship has broken down, there are more than enough things for people to contend with.

What does the new Law say?

We have not got all the information yet but the new Act says that you will be able to petition stating just that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. You will even be able to make a joint statement with the other person to say this. The opportunity to contest the proceedings has been removed.

The new Act does however create a minimum time limit of 6 months for the proceedings. This is intended to give parties time to reflect and to sort out any arrangements.

When will the new divorces start?

There is no firm date but we are told that it is unlikely to be until Autumn 2021. This is to allow all the new measures to be implemented. There will need to be new forms and systems. Undoubtedly there will be some problems to iron out along the way but overall this is good news.

What happens between now and then?

Unfortunately, we are stuck with the existing legislation for now. Whilst we continue to work with what we have, we continue to work hard to reduce unnecessary conflict even within the existing rules.

For advice on any family matters and to discuss your personal circumstances, please contact our Family team on 01325 281111 or family@clarkwillis.co.uk.

No 10 – The Right Team

No. 10 ‘The Right Team’

In July 1940, the skies over England were the next phase of Nazi Germany’s European conquest plans as the Battle of Britain commenced. Lasting until the 31st October, the Luftwaffe was intended to destroy the RAF and pave a way for an invasion of England from the continent.

Confident after defeating England’s allies and outnumbering the RAF nearly 4:1, the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the RAF and the invasion of Britain was cancelled, leading to one of Churchill’s famous quotes. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” Whilst not as large as the Luftwaffe, the RAFs strategy, intelligence, and tenacity secured victory over sheer weight of numbers.

Often large legal firms boast that their size is an important reason to choose them as this provides strength, but that may not always guarantee success or a positive legal experience. With national and larger regional practices, a legal matter may be dealt with by paralegals rather than solicitors who lack the same qualifications or experience as a solicitor and may rotate frequently between departments meaning your matter is repeatedly passed between them. Your matter may also be dealt with by a team of people which can cause repetition of information and cause frustration with no one person having responsibility for your matter.

A sole dedicated, experienced and accredited solicitor dealing with your matter from start to finish can have a more significant impact on the outcome and experience.

In addition to the substantive training requirements to become a solicitor, our team have also undertaken additional training and qualifications to make them specialists in their respective areas of practice and respected amongst their peers. This in terms of both legal knowledge and the deployment of it on your matter.

Our Wills, Probate Tax & Trusts team include members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and Solicitors for the Elderly. Our Family & Divorce team include members of Resolution Specialists, Collaborative family lawyers and trained mediators to whom other law firms refer their clients  Our residential property team have been awarded the Conveyancing Quality Scheme to reflect the quality of their work on property sales, purchases, and mortgaging whilst our Dispute Resolution team includes mental health accredited panel members. A full list of our firm and individual accreditations can be found on our website.

In both personal injury matters and property transactions local knowledge can have a significant impact, whether is the notoriety of a specific road junction in the area or a repetitive issue with all properties on the same estate, the intelligence of the area can save time, costs and prospects of a positive outcome.

We can also use our experience to consider what issues may arise in the future and help you plan to face them in advance so that you are prepared and protected. Whether that is a pre-nuptial agreement ahead of a marriage, a Lasting Power of Attorney for illness or asset protection for residential care fee planning, we can take a proactive approach to assist our clients.

With a history of nearly 50 years providing legal services to individuals and members of HM Armed Forces across Darlington, County Durham, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire, we may not be the biggest firm but we put our emphasis on expertise and quality as we believe this has a more positive outcome for our clients than size. What’s more, we don not camouflage our advice behind legal jargon but use plain, straightforward, clear advice.

‘The Right Team’ is the 10th image in a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com

Armed Forces Compensation Scheme & Personal Injury Claims For Armed Forces Personnel

There are almost 200,000 UK armed services personnel, which means that the MOD is a major employer, and like any employer has a duty and responsibility to its personnel. There is also the possibility of injury arising from other 3rd parties, just the same as for all members of the public, such as road traffic accidents, medical negligence or public liability claims.

Personal injury claims brought on behalf of armed forces personnel bring a number of complexities, both in relation to legal liability and quantification of loss, particularly in cases of significant injury which either impair or end a military career.

By virtue of the principle of Crown Immunity, claims could not be brought against the MOD by serving personnel until the principle was repealed in 1987. The present position is that no claim can be brought by a member of the armed forces in respect of tort(s) arising during service prior to February 1987. Cases previously defeated by Crown Immunity are now likely to be fewer in number as there are unlikely to be many remaining armed forces personnel who were in service before February 1987.

In cases against the MOD it is important to determine whether the situation gives rise to a duty of care on the part of the MOD and if so, whether that duty has been breached, however it should be noted that each case will turn upon its own facts and an assessment of same by a solicitor and or counsel.

From April 2005, service personnel who have sustained injury whilst on duty have been able to claim compensation through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS). This is a ‘no fault’ scheme and therefore the injured person does not have to prove liability on the part of the MOD., though it is advisable to seek legal advice as to whether the circumstances of the accident are outside the scope of the AFCS.

Claims made through the AFCS must be brought within 7 years of the date of incident, compared to the 3 year time limit for bringing a civil claim through the courts. The AFCS does not prevent a civil claim being brought against the MOD alongside the AFCS claim, however it should be noted that AFCS compensation awards can be offset against any compensation paid to the injured person in a civil claim against the MOD arising from the same incident.

It should be noted that AFCS awards are based upon a set tariff and may not adequately compensate a claimant for all aspects of their injuries and losses, which would be properly assessed in the preparation of a civil claim brought through the courts.

Should an accident have an adverse effect upon a military career, the value of these claims can be significant and therefore require a solicitor with understanding of military career structure, remuneration and pension schemes, though the detail of quantification is generally the subject of expert evidence.

The expert will have to assess and provide an opinion as to the claimant’s career prospects but for the occurrence of the accident. The Claimant’s service and medical records will therefore be crucial in such cases.

The assessment of a claimant’s career prospects is dependent upon: intended length of service; periodic physical and mental fitness assessments (referred to as PULHEEMS assessments); disciplinary record; records of appraisal.

If the claimant’s military career prospects are curtailed or ended entirely, awards of damages for loss of earnings and pension can be significant, particularly to a claimant who is invested in a long term career up to full 24 year engagement and who may also be considered a strong promotion candidate.

Armed Forces pensions are, in general terms, linked to that member’s earnings and therefore loss of pension claims can be substantial. There are a number of pension schemes dependent upon the date of enlistment, some of which are based upon final salary, however the more recent schemes provide pensions and lump sums based upon earnings throughout their career. The various schemes and the basis of calculation highlight the importance of expert evidence in these cases.

Other allowances or benefits may also increase the value of the loss of earnings claim, such things may include: accommodation; overseas operational allowances, campaign continuity payments for long assignments.

It is therefore crucial that members of the armed services seek expert legal advice at an early stage if they have suffered personal injuries, either caused by the MOD or a third party, in order that careful preparation of the case may be undertaken.

With a specialist personal injury and medical negligence team combined accessible in our office in Catterick Garrison or Darlington, if you have suffered an personal injury and want to seek further advice, contact your nearest office today or email enquiries@clarkwillis.co.uk and we will call you to discuss your circumstances.

Divorce & Separation During Covid-19

As we move into the 4th month of the Covid-19 pandemic in England, Tanya Bloomfield, Head of Family Law at Clark Willis, looks at the impact that it is having on divorce and separation.

Fundamentally, the ability to start the separation process has remained available throughout the pandemic but the restrictions on movement, financial impact and those self isolating because they have contracted the virus have caused a number of issues with the process.

The courts, already operating with a slight delay in dealing with applications and paperwork prior to the pandemic, have had those delays compounded. To address this, the courts  have been adapting their operations and embracing the digital world to a greater degree, for example accepting electronic applications and scanned signatures, to ensure that cases can be progressed as swiftly as possible. From the early days of the pandemic, the ability of the courts to progress matters and hold digital hearings has notably improved.

Our Family team has also continued to harness technology to support our clients with telephone or video call client meetings, remote working capabilities and even hosting Mediation meetings digitally through our dedicated Mediation service, meaning that we have remained fully operational during the coronavirus pandemic.

The effect on the economy, being furloughed or redundancy possibilities have caused increased concern over the financial implications of separations and what will happen in the short, medium and long term. For those people facing uncertainty, a degree of flexibility to revisit financial negotiations if there is a sudden change in financial circumstances of one party may mean a Separation Agreement may be appropriate until the pandemic is over and a full Consent Order secured through the court to finalize a financial break.

There are also added complications of how to manage children from separated households in light of the government guidance. Schools starting to return have added yet more considerations on childcare during the pandemic and the varied approach to this from individual schools and across different age groups means parents are having to be a little bit more flexible. With further changes to furlough arriving from July and the summer holidays starting, there may be more adjustments required.

The lock down has also been difficult for those couples already experiencing strain in their relationships and is likely to lead to a number of new separations as we emerge from current restrictive provisions. Considering separation comes with many questions about how to separate, what happens with finances and/or children and our specialist solicitors are still working during the pandemic and available to help you understand your financial position and options.

We have the largest Family Law team in Darlington, including Collaborative solicitors, Resolution members and qualified Mediators, so you can have peace of mind that you are receiving the best advice from expert negotiators.

We can meet with you confidentially by telephone, Facetime, Teams or Zoom. We will also explore whether you might be entitled to Legal aid. We also offer fixed fee initial consultations and pay-as-you-go services.

Contact us on 01325 281111, visit www.clarkwillis.com or email family@clarkwillis.co.uk directly for further information and to speak to a member of our team confidentiality.

No. 9 – Fashion

No. 9 ‘Fashion’

With nearly 50 years of providing legal services we have seen a wide range of fashion trends come and go across the high street. From the bell bottoms of the 70s, the shoulder pads of the 80s, 90’s Britpop through to the fast fashion of the millennium they have all had, or will have had, their day and will be replaced by the next new trend. Whilst clothing fashion is seasonable and short term, trusted legal advice never goes out of fashion and for our clients we are there when they need us with practical advice.

At Clark Willis we believe in being a law firm for life, in being there for our clients and their families when life events mean that they require a solicitor and to help them plan for the future. Whatever the season, whatever the weather we have a range of experience solicitors to support them for their personal legal needs. We invest in this ethos in four main ways:

  1. Ensuring we have a core of personal legal services to ensure we can meet an individual’s legal requirements throughout their lifetime. Some of our core services include buying or selling Property, Will writing and estate planning, Divorce and Childcare, Personal Injury, Dispute Resolution and then finally assisting in sorting our matters through Probate when a person passes away. This cradle to grave mentality means we can genuinely be a law firm for life.
  2. Focus on delivering excellent customer service levels to ensure that our client’s experience of a law firm is positive. We are highly rated for customer satisfaction and seek feedback off every client as we strive to constantly seek new ways to improve our customer journey with us. Instructing solicitors can be daunting and often at emotional times, where aspects as basic as being able to speak to your solicitor on the phone, being made to feel at ease and emotionally supported can make a real difference to the experience and challenge the traditional reputation of solicitors appearing aloof.
  3. Rewarding loyalty. Existing clients receive discounts on our standard rates for future work and those people utilising our residential conveyancing service or family team services also qualify for discounts on writing our updating Wills to reflect their new circumstances. We also offer complimentary storage of key documents as standard.
  4. Like a fashion brand, we continually look ahead to the future and invest in future talent, recruit to retain and provide a positive working environment for our team. Many of the current team have trained with us and we have even had several team members who have left to explore life outside of firm and who have returned back to the fold. The longest serving employee has been with us for over 40 years. We believe this internal ethos flows through positively into our service.

So, whilst fashion trends on the high street may change seasonally, we remain true to our aim of providing clear legal advice, with clear costs making us the clear choice for legal advice regardless of the latest trends. Whether you need a solicitor because you are getting Divorced, moving home, need probate help or have suffered a personal injury, our team are here for you.

‘Fashion’ is the 9th image in a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com