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25 years of dealing with estates has taught me that even in estates that appear straightforward, individual assets can throw up unanticipated challenges.
Three particular examples have come to mind recently. First, I read an article a few days ago that highlighted the fact that it is not uncommon for families to lose significant sums when relatives who have died owned shotguns because no one else in the family has a shotgun licence and the guns are surrendered to the Police. Practicing in Yorkshire, many of our clients enjoy country pursuits and, in fact, in that situation we can generally help because we have connections who are able to deal with shotguns. (Saying that I know someone who can take a shotgun off your hands is not quite as sinister as it might sound - I am referring to established country pursuits companies with the correct licences here!). Even so, it can take some time for often valuable shotguns to be sold and items that might have been in the family for generations might have to be disposed of. If you own a shotgun, have you considered how it would be dealt with upon your death?
The second example is digital assets. In today's world, many of us own assets in forms that did not even exist when I qualified as a solicitor in the 1980s. It can sometimes be the case that the real world has moved on more quickly than the law and passing on digital assets is not always entirely straightforward. For example, if you have a PayPal account with a credit balance, do you know how your relatives would get their hands on the cash?
A client I advised recently was holding her only copies of important family photographs in cloud storage and had not realised that under the terms and conditions of the account, these could be deleted upon her death. Clients often assume that relatives would simply log onto their accounts using their user name and password but this is not always ideal. Using somebody else's log on details can strictly be a criminal offence under the laws relating to the misuse of computers and allowing accounts to continue after your death can give the impression that you are still living and increase the risk of identity theft.
The third example of challenging assets I have come across recently relates to assets held offshore. Many clients have offshore accounts and investments in their portfolios and dealing with them is not always easy. I am not a financial adviser and this is not intended as a comment on the suitability of such investments; they may very well be appropriate as part of a balanced portfolio for many clients and I am simply making the point that in judging whether they are or not clients and their financial advisers do not always take into account the potential costs and difficulties of disposing of them. An estate I am presently dealing with is largely straightforward but has one holding of shares in a company which is registered in Jersey and to sell the shares we are having to go through a process to have the English grant of probate recognised under Jersey law which is incurring several hundred pounds of legal and court costs in Jersey.
The key is to review your affairs regularly to make sure that any potential complications are spotted and considered in good time.
To review your affairs or for further advice generally please contact Mark Jones on 01423 502211 or firstname.lastname@example.org