A news item earlier this summer highlights the pitfalls of using so-called ‘budget’ services and reminds us of the value of quality professional advice. In this case I’m referring to a situation where a client used a bank’s low-cost Will writing service. It is apparent that certain key and standard questions may not have been asked by the Will writer, which has ultimately led to an irreparable outcome.
The client wanted half his London home to pass to his own daughter on his second wife’s demise but, as the property was owned by them as joint tenants, the property passed to his widow’s estate and not as he had intended. The Will writer should have severed the tenancy via a notice of severance registered at HM Land Registry and then drafted the Will to include a life interest for the wife granting a right to reside in the house, but passing the beneficial ownership to the daughter. This is very much standard practice but, because this was not followed, the result is that the client’s widow is now the outright owner.
In his adjudication, the Financial Ombudsman concluded that: ‘the half-share in the property….cannot be gifted to the client’s daughter in accordance with his wishes, and there is no subsequent right for this to be contested with the co-owner in a court of law. In order to resolve the complaint, we would usually ask the bank to put the consumer back in the position they would have been had the correct steps been taken in the first instance. Unfortunately, the share in the property is incapable of being gifted now…’.
This is a situation that could so easily have been avoided had the right questions been asked at outset, rather than relying on a box-ticking short-form questionnaire approach. It might be low cost in the beginning, but the outcome cost can be very considerably higher.
Philip Chandler APFS CFPCM APP
Chair of Aspinalls Technical Committee