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Bereaved families “cut off” from digital assets

Bereaved families “cut off” from digital assets

Families often find it hard or impossible to access the digital assets of loved ones after they die, a major study has revealed.

The research, published in collaboration with the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and Queen Mary University of London, recommends “urgent reforms” to help executors access the online accounts required to complete estate administration.

According to the report, families are often “cut off” from digital assets, such as social media accounts, cloud storage, cryptocurrency wallets, and emails, when loved ones die or become incapacitated – causing significant “distress” and “frustration” during estate administration.

The survey of 500 professional inheritance advisors found that 60 per cent have dealt with questions from clients about digital assets, while 25 per cent have had clients who have experienced difficulties accessing digital assets of a family member.

But with digital assets becoming an increasingly common part of estate planning and administration, advisors expect queries to increase to 90 per cent in the near future.

The most common queries related to the ‘big five’ digital platforms, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Dropbox, with one in five clients citing difficulties with uncooperative service providers in situations where accounts cannot be accessed.

Commenting on the survey, author Dave Michels said legislators “must put in place much clearer rules on property rights and rights of access by personal representatives”.

“Digital assets can have great sentimental value, so it’s important that people have legal certainty as to what they can pass on after death. I know I’d want my wife to access our family photos stored in my iCloud account, after I die,” he said.

Donna Smy, a Director with Palmers Solicitors, who specialises in Wills, Probate and Estate Administration, said: “Digital assets have gained increasing importance in recent years. They can include obtaining access to sentimental images such as online photos and other social media content but also more sensitive and confidential information such as emails, passwords, medical and financial records and even Bitcoin investments.

“It is therefore important to consider how you wish your digital assets to be handled after your death and to leave instructions in your Will, with provision for gaining the appropriate access to your records.”

For help and advice on all aspects of making a Will, please get in touch with us.

Government unveils new approach to flexible working

Government unveils new approach to flexible working

New Government plans to allow workers the right to request flexible working from day one, have moved a step closer.

As the country gets back into full swing with the end of furlough arrangements, flexible working has become increasingly popular.

Now the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has unveiled plans which it says will strengthen employment rights and increase the productivity of businesses.

It covers many areas including job share, flexible working and phased retirement.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has previously said he believed flexible working is something that is here to stay.

BEIS has said the proposals would mean:

  • More choice over when and where they work and the right to request flexible working a day one entitlement.
  • A right to one week’s unpaid leave for carers balancing a job with caring responsibilities.
  • Making business more productive, whilst accommodating both staff and employer needs.

The proposals cover such areas as:

  • Job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, as well as phased retirement.
  • Allowing employees to balance their work and home life, including helping people who are managing childcare commitments or other caring responsibilities.
  • Ensuring that people who are under-represented in Britain’s workforce, such as new parents or disabled people, have access to more opportunities.

Mr Kwarteng said: “Empowering workers to have more say over where and when they work makes for more productive businesses and happier employees.

“It was once considered a ‘nice to have’, but by making requests a day one right, we’re making flexible working part of the DNA of businesses across the country.

“A more engaged and productive workforce, a higher calibre of applicants and better retention rates – the business case for flexible working is compelling.”

Samantha Randall, an Associate Solicitor and employment law expert with Palmers, said: “Currently the right to request flexible working, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home, requires an employee to have worked for the same employer for a minimum of 26 weeks.

“The new day-one plans would mean that all employees would be able to make a request for flexible working, known as a ‘statutory declaration’ immediately.

“It is important to be aware that employers will still have the right to reject a request if they have sound business reasons, but they will be encouraged to offer other flexible working methods to meet an employee’s desire to work flexibly wherever possible.”

For help and advice on all aspects of employment law, please get in touch with us.

Family of late Monty Python star entwined in Inheritance dispute, reports reveal

Family of late Monty Python star entwined in Inheritance dispute, reports reveal

The children of the late Monty Python star, Terry Jones, have taken legal action against the actor’s second wife following an inheritance dispute, reports have revealed.

Mr Jones, best known for his acting and directorial roles in The Meaning of Life and Life of Brian, died in January 2020 after suffering complications resulting from a rare form of dementia.

The Welsh comedian married his first wife, Alison Telfer, in 1970 and had two children together, Sally and Bill.

However, after 43 years of marriage together, Mr Jones left his wife for then 23-year-old Swedish Oxford graduate, Anna Söderström. The pair had a daughter, Siri, in 2009, and married in 2012.

But the writer and director was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in 2015, which led to his death in 2020, at the age of 77. The disease is characterised by behavioural and personality changes, as well as forgetfulness and language problems.

While it is not known if the disease prevented Mr Jones from making informed choices, it is reported that his two children from his first marriage are bringing the dispute under the Inheritance Act 1975, which allows family members to seek “reasonable provision” from an estate.

The court documents and contents of the Will are not publicly available, but Ms Söderström is believed to be the main beneficiary and primary defendant in the case.

Commenting on the dispute, which is still ongoing, Sally, 47, and Bill, 45, claimed Mr Jones lacked the mental capacity to draft the Will and are taking legal action against Ms Söderström at the High Court for a “large share of his estate”.

Helen Jago, a Director with Palmer Solicitors, said: “In England and Wales there are no forced heirship laws but courts have limited powers to intervene under the Inheritance Act, where there is judged to be a failure to make reasonable financial provision for a defined class of people connected to the deceased.

“This includes the current or former spouse or civil partner of the deceased; a person who, for the two years prior to the death, was living with the deceased as if they were a spouse or civil partner; children; a person who was treated as a child; and any other person who was being maintained by the deceased.

“This case also highlights the potential issues relating to mental capacity when making a Will.”

Helen added: “If you believe you have grounds to contest a Will, it is important to seek prompt legal advice.

“A claim under the Inheritance Act must be made within 6 months from the date of issue of the grant of probate.

“Whilst there is no time limit to make a claim if disputing the validity of a Will, it is still important to seek legal advice as quickly as possible and preferably before estate assets have been distributed.  Claims may be rejected by the court if it considers there has been undue delay in bringing a claim.”

For further information and advice about either making or contesting a Will, please get in touch with us.

Potential ways to reduce conflict in divorce

Potential ways to reduce conflict in divorce

Divorce does not have to be an ‘all or nothing’ battle. One party’s gain is not necessarily the other’s loss. Nor does divorce need to be an all-out war or a fight.

Yet, all too often the process can turn negative, with conflict and revenge at the forefront of proceedings.

This is understandable as there is often a single event that catalyses the decision to divorce, especially if one party or the other is left feeling aggrieved.

Add to this the way the divorce process is structured and the language it uses, and it becomes ever clearer how couples that were once madly in love are now pitted against each other.

If you are labelled as being at fault for the divorce, your instincts, much like anyone else’s will be to defend yourself.

While ‘no-fault’ divorce will take effect next spring and hopefully help reduce the aggressive metaphors that surround the process, there are things you can do now to improve the chances of divorcing in a way that leads to better outcomes for all involved.

Here, Surjit Verdi, a Director with Palmers Solicitors and Head of our Family Law team, provides several suggestions: 

Resist the urge to punish or seek revenge 

Even if by any objective standard you have been wronged or treated badly by the other party, it is generally counterproductive to try and use the divorce process to punish or seek revenge.

All it is likely to achieve is more conflict and that serves no one in the long term, even if you feel that you have ‘won’ in the short term.

Whether there is any psychological benefit from catharsis is a point of contention, in any case, and there is some suggestion it just leads to a snowballing of emotion.

Think of divorce as an opportunity for a fresh start for everyone 

Thinking about divorce in this way sets a different tone for proceedings that can make an outcome that is fair to everyone much more likely.

In contrast to seeking to punish – which is essentially a negative approach – this way of framing divorce is much more positive and so likely to result in better outcomes for all involved.

An important benefit of this approach is that it accepts the marriage is over and does not involve trying to rekindle the relationship.

But it does require both parties to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Don’t just bow to the other party’s demands 

This might be a surprising or counterintuitive tip for minimising conflict in divorce, but it is an important one.

It is all too easy, especially if you feel guilty about what you might have done or failed to do in your marriage, to simply accept everything the other party asks for.

Similarly, you might simply want the whole process over and done with.

But, to minimise conflict, the divorce and ensuing financial settlement needs to be fair, and not just to the other party. In fact, it is a contradiction in terms for a divorce settlement to be fair to only one party.

If you come out of the process feeling aggrieved, that will simply be a recipe for continued conflict in the future, especially if you have children with your former spouse and so have to maintain some level of contact. 

For further information on all aspects of family law including advice on separation and divorce, please get in touch with us.

Study reveals ‘obvious’ gender gap in estate planning

Study reveals ‘obvious’ gender gap in estate planning

Women are less likely to be included in estate planning than men, resulting in potentially poorer decisions in later life, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in collaboration with financial solutions provider Tower Street Finance, suggests that the gender gap is “no more obvious than in estate planning”.

According to the report, more than one in two (53 per cent) women who plan to leave their estate to loved ones have “no financial planning in place” to ensure the plan is executed effectively.

This is compared to two in five (41 per cent) men who say the same.

More than a third (37 per cent) of women also said they did not have any knowledge of Inheritance Tax (IHT) and how it is paid, compared to one in four (25 per cent) men.

IHT is paid at a rate of 40 per cent on the value of an estate above the IHT threshold (currently £325,000, £650,000 if combined with a spouse or civil partner, or £1 million when combined and passing down the family home).

The gender gap study author, Dicky Davies, warned that the issue is particularly significant, as women have higher life expectancies than men, resulting in them more likely being impacted by estate planning and Inheritance Tax.

“We know there is a lack of understanding about IHT – what the thresholds are, who has to pay, when payment is due and what happens if you can’t afford to pay Inheritance Tax,” he said.

“And the reality is that it’s more likely to be an issue for women who, because of higher life expectancies, have greater wealth to leave behind and therefore are more likely to have to pay IHT.”

The ONS analysis is not the first to reveal a gender gap in later life planning. In September, the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing (MICRA) found that men within couples have substantially more private pension wealth than women.

Married men have the most, with those aged 45–54 having a median pension wealth of about £86,000 (compared with £40,000 for women), while those aged 55–64 have £185,000 (compared with £55,800 for women).

Tim Steele, a Director with Palmers Solicitors, who specialises in estate planning, said: “The study underlines the importance of seeking good estate planning advice. Regardless of gender or age, putting your financial affairs in order before you die is not something that should be left to chance or put off until another day.

“In fact, the earlier you start, the more opportunities you will have to structure your affairs in the most constructive way.

“The steps you take need to reflect your needs and goals, which will be significantly influenced by your personal circumstances and age.

“At Palmers Solicitors, we have extensive expertise in estate planning issues, including making a Will, inheritance tax planning and addressing long-term care issues.”

For help and advice with related matters, please get in touch with our later life and estate planning team today.

Watch our free webinar on legal protection for couples who are living together

Watch our free webinar on legal protection for couples who are living together

Many people believe that if they live together they have the same rights as married couples or civil partners.

Sadly this is a myth. The law does not offer the same protection to cohabiting couples. And this means if the relationship breaks down or the worst happens and you or your partner dies, sorting out ownership of your home and finances can be a hugely complicated matter.

If you missed our recent live webinar earlier this month, you can catch up by watching the recorded session here now.

During the webinar, our Director Helen Jago who specialises in Wills, and fellow Director Surjit Verdi who is an expert in Family Law including cohabitation matters, explain how you and your partner can have peace of mind by putting in place the right legal protection.

The webinar covers:

  • The simple steps you can take to ensure the rights of both you and your partner are protected
  • How to ensure your property is held securely
  • Cohabitation agreement and pre-nups – why both are vitally important
  • How a Declaration of Trust can avoid any financial headaches in the future
  • Why failing to make a Will could mean the people who you least wish to inherit, could have a stake in your assets

Alternatively, if you’d like to speak to a member of our team about writing a Will or any other matters relating to cohabitation legal issues, please get in touch with us today.