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No.12 – The Right Track

Those of you reading this who have followed our series of monochrome images highlighting some of the elements of our legal services may appreciate that we are ending the series with an image that perhaps is most associated with Darlington – a steam locomotion.  It was natural that the series ended with this image with our heritage of providing legal services to the people of Darlington going back nearly 50 years.

12 months ago the series started with our ‘Zebra’ who has now become synonymous with the firm. We embarked upon the 12 months series of black and white images to utilise our firms black and white colour scheme, also the colour scheme of Darlington. This choice was not incidental all those years ago but rather to reflect that as a firm we are proud to be headquartered in the heart of Darlington town center.

Whilst the railway is a clear part of Darlington’s history, it is also important to look to the future and the Council and associated organizations have some exciting plans for the development of the town  to continue to make the town a destination where people want to live and visit. As a business we must also look to continue to develop how we provide legal services so that we can continue to serve the community of Darlington from our offices in the town centre. The recent pandemic has highlighted the relevance of flexible IT and telecoms and our prior investment in these elements has meant that we have been able to continue to provide a full range of services throughout, albeit at a distance. We continue to recruit our future talent, whether legal or operational, and invest in training and developing existing staff as part of our clear strategic vision to ensure we remain  at the forefront of legal services in Darlington, across the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire for the next 50 years.

As we set out on this series of images, we highlighted that black and white also represents clarity which is one of the core focuses of our service – making legal issues easy to understand. The legal world, legislation and terminology can often be confusing to members of the public and cause frustration as to what the legal position may be. We believe that the legal world should be made simple. As a firm we explain options clearly, in plain English to ensure our clients fully understand their position to make informed choices. As a firm we are Lexcel accredited by the Law Society as a quality mark for our practice management and client care and our individual team members hold additional qualifications and accreditations relevant to their area of law meaning their is also substance and experience to our advice.

‘The Right Track’ is the final image in our series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over the last 12 months across our social media channels. Whilst you may not have a legal issues today, why not follow us  on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn to keep up to date with legal developments and know who to turn to the next time you may need a local, trusted solicitor to keep you on the right track. Whenever you have a need for personals legal advice, whether it is buying your first home, appointing guardians for young children as you start a family, needing Divorce advice, making a Will or other, our approachable and friendly team are here to help.

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

Increase in scams and frauds during property boom.

The lifting of lock down restrictions coupled with the stamp duty changes has seen a boom in the property market. As a result fraudsters are trying to take advantage of that situation. This has meant that there has been a huge increase in fraud attempts on Solicitors firm and their clients. This can range from email interception to firm impersonation. Fraudsters create email addresses to look very similar to firm email addresses and can try and dupe people into transferring money to bogus accounts.  It is therefore important to be absolutely vigilant with the following steps:

  • Check emails you receive carefully and in particular check email addresses
  • Look at the content of the email – does it look right?
  • Check any emails you receive asking for money- call the firm and speak to the team to check it is genuine
  • If you receive changed bank details – do not sent money and check
  • If in doubt    – check BEFORE sending any money.

 

We are all in the fightback together against the ever increasing and sophisticated fraudsters.  By following the above steps you will reduce your chances of being the victim of a fraud.

Coles Solicitors Closure – SRA Intervention Advice & Support

As a former Director and Head of the Wills & Probate team at Coles Solicitors for many years, it is extremely saddening to see that Kingly Solicitors Ltd, trading as Coles Solicitors, have been intervened by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

This is a deeply distressing time for clients and the staff at Coles, many of whom I have worked alongside for a number of years and, through no fault of their own, find the firm they work for shut down with immediate effect. I have spoken to a number of my former colleagues and it is testament to their integrity as individuals that their main concern at this time is the wellbeing of their clients. Naturally they will be worried over what is happening to their matters and the safety of Wills and other documents stored with Coles.

Having acted for a number of these clients personally over the years, some have contacted me directly to ask what an SRA Intervention means, worried over what is happening to their matters and the safety of Wills and other documents stored with Coles.  Given my historic involvement with the firm and to assist my former colleagues, I wanted to put some information out to support those affected.

What is an Intervention?

In an intervention, the SRA closes a solicitor’s practice immediately to protect clients. This means that Coles can no longer act for its clients and the SRA takes all ongoing matters, stored documents and clients money to keep safe and return them to clients. The offices are all closed and normally the telephone numbers will be diverted towards the Intervention Agents.

Anyone currently instructing Coles does not have to worry that their papers and money are secure.

Intervention Agents have been appointed and they have taken all of the files and documents for safe keeping. They will then start the process of reviewing what they have and contact clients in priority of urgency. Due to the sheer scale of the firm and number of client matters this may take several weeks before people are contacted.

I wish to stress that the SRA Intervention is due to the investigated actions of a small number of the new Kingly Solicitors Ltd owners and that the solicitors, support staff and former owners of Coles Solicitors have not been involved in any activities subject to the intervention and are now actively seeking new roles.

What do I need to do?

If you have an ongoing matter or Wills and other documents stored with Coles, you will need to appoint new solicitors to finalise your matter or to store those documents on your behalf. That firm will need to acquire your current file or documents from the agents.  If you would like our assistance in retrieving your matter or documents then please do not hesitate to contact me.

You can contact the Intervention Agents directly to provide your instructions and authority to them to transfer your file or documents to your new chosen law firm. You will need to write or email them with copies of relevant identification documents. Once they have located your file or documents they will then send these to you or your new solicitors.

Gordons LLP, 1 New Augustus Street, Bradford, BD1 5LL. Email: kingly@gordonsllp.com, Tel: 0113 227 0360.

How long will it take to get my file or documents?

I have been speaking with Gordons LLP about urgent matters and have been advised that approaching court hearings and property transactions that have exchanged contracts will be prioritised over other matters. It is likely to take several weeks before files and documents can be located and transferred to new firms to continue acting.

Due to these timescales it may be possible to undertake some work whilst the file is obtained and we would recommend clients engage a new law firm as soon as possible to understand their options.

Where can I get more advice & support?

Whilst I fully appreciate that this is a stressful time for Coles clients, I do wish to reassure people that safety of client matters and documents is the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s prime concern and that documents are safe. I also take the opportunity to extend the invitation to anyone affected by the intervention, who may be worried to contact me and the Clark Willis team for advice and reassurance.

 If you are a client and are worried, please call me on 01325 281111 or email a.spurr@clarkwillis.co.uk.

For more information on a SRA intervention, please see the SRA website https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/faqs/faqs-for-consumers/#solicitorsclosed

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