The public is warned to beware of doorstep salespeople who are peddling expensive legal documents that in many cases don’t work as intended.
Emma Beddows, a partner at Kerwoods, said that luckily a client had come to her for a second opinion after being quoted £6,900 to put her property in a lifetime trust and to prepare two sets of Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) for her and her husband.
There are two kinds of LPA – health and welfare, and property and financial affairs.
Miss Beddows said: “The lifetime trust was recommended to protect the house from care fees even though this would fail as the husband is on dialysis and the wife has Crohn’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
“The creation of a trust under these circumstances would be seen as a direct act of deprivation under the Care Act 2014 and could have landed the couple in trouble with the local authority concerned.”
She pointed out that if someone is concerned about issues which may affect their care arrangements and how their affairs should be handled in their later years, they should consult a legally qualified care specialist.
“The cost of specialist advice from a qualified professional at a law firm would be nowhere near the figure quoted and would mean that the client gets up to date advice rather than something peddled on a sales leaflet or in a cold call.
“Luckily, in this instance, the client had the good sense to seek a second opinion from her local, trusted law firm and we were able to advise her and her husband correctly,” she said.
Kerwoods is offering a free ten-minute phone call where individuals can seek professional advice on this issue. To arrange an appointment, please call 01527 584444.
People are increasingly being sued after failing to legally engage with their neighbours over property alterations, according to Kerwoods Solicitors.
The leading Midlands law firm said that the Party Wall Act 1996 means that a homeowner intending to carry out work which comes within the scope of the Act – work which is on or near shared boundaries – must tell their neighbours via formal notice.
When such notices are served, neighbours have a reasonable say on how things are done, and if there are any disputes there is a legal process where a joint surveyor can be appointed to enable parties to reach agreement.
But failing to serve Party Wall notices before starting building works means there is no such process, which can result in applications for Injunctions to stop the works, often in addition to claims for compensation which can prove very costly.
Julie Fisher, an expert in property disputes at Kerwoods, said: “A reduction in the need for planning permission for small property works seems to have resulted in people thinking they can just go ahead without involving neighbours.
“But failing to appreciate the need to comply with the Party Wall Act means that people are increasingly falling foul of the law, resulting in high levels of stress, expensive litigation for trespass or nuisance, often resulting in costly damages.”
Ms Fisher said she recently handled a case where a homeowner did not agree with a neighbour’s building works, but because no Party Wall notice had been served there was no easy way to resolve the dispute.
She said: “The homeowner issued a claim for compensation citing trespass, nuisance and property damage against the neighbour, who later issued an additional claim against the building contractor, resulting in an expensive, three-way legal dispute that took ages and a small fortune to sort out.”
In another recent case, Ms Fisher said an established homes developer had excavated a trench near a neighbouring property, causing damage.
She said: “Once again, a failure to serve a Party Wall notice before works began meant there was no easy solution, resulting in complex and expensive legal proceedings, as opposed to what could have been a relatively simple process.”
Ms Fisher said not all works needed Party Wall notices, such as minor projects like erecting shelves or altering electrical sockets or wiring.
But she said people should always seek qualified legal advice before starting property alterations, or if they think a neighbour’s planned works might affect their property.
Executors of wills must carefully check that any beneficiaries are not bankrupt or have not agreed to an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA), according to Kerwoods Solicitors.
The leading Midlands law firm issued the warning following a recent case it dealt with where a client who was executor of his uncle’s estate had mentioned in passing that his nephew – one of the beneficiaries – had previously been irresponsible with money.
This prompted Kerwoods to warn the client that they needed to check the Insolvency Register before making any payments to beneficiaries to ensure that they were not bankrupt or have IVAs.
Emma Beddows, a partner at Redditch-based Kerwoods, said: “If I had not have done this search, the executor would have unwittingly paid the money to his nephew who, potentially, might not have informed his Insolvency Practitioner of his inheritance.
“If our client had paid out to a beneficiary direct, who was later discovered to be bankrupt or have an IVA, and if he could then not recover the sums from them, our client may then have been held personally liable to creditors of a bankrupt beneficiary.”
Ms Beddows explained that if a person is bankrupt or has agreed to an IVA, any money they receive must be made known to their Insolvency Practitioner overseeing their case, who must then make payments to creditors where possible.
She added: “The problems arise when people who are bankrupt or have an IVA are tempted to simply bank any money that comes in and not mention it to anyone.
“But in the case of executors, they could be held responsible for not checking this, which is another important reason to take appropriate advice if you are trying to administer an estate personally.”
Kerwoods issued the warning following a judgement in favour of a woman who had received nothing from her late partner’s £1.5 million estate.
Jan Thompson, partner at Kerwoods, said the judgment had again sparked debate about the law on inheritance, and that this should prompt unmarried couples to check that their wills reflect evolving case law.
In the recent Thompson v Ragget case, 79-year-old Joan Thompson pursued a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 against her cohabitant partner Wynford Hodge after he left his whole estate to tenants and friends.
The couple had been together for 42 years, and judges ruled that Thompson was entitled to a slice of Hodge’s £1.5m estate, granting her one of his properties worth £225,000, renovation costs of £28,845 and £160,000 for her future maintenance and care.
Mrs Thompson said: “In today’s world, so many couples decide for their own reasons not to get married, but a regular problem with this is that they also neglect to take care of each other in their wills.”
Without such wills, Mrs Thompson said that whereas cohabitees had previously often been left with nothing because they had no statutory rights to their partner’s estate, the latest judgement meant they could fight for financial provisions that reflected their contribution to the relationship.
She explained that one of the main issues the court decided in the Thompson v Ragget case was that the estate should provide accommodation for the unmarried partner by way of an outright transfer of a property, because of the length of the relationship and the financial dependency involved.
Mrs Thompson added: “This case highlights that a lack of provision in unmarried couple’s wills opens people up to all sorts of complicated and expensive legal battles when one of them dies.
“It would be much better if everyone clearly understood the formal wishes of the deceased, and that these reflected the latest case law.
“The best way for this to happen is for the couple to establish their plans properly via a new will.”
For an experienced eye on legal matters, you couldn’t do better than commissioning Kerwoods Solicitors.
Because just six staff have worked a total of 212 years between them at the historic company, which was launched back in 1880.
The most experienced of all are secretary Alison Styler and partner Stephen Priest, who both who started work at Davis Pipe & Co back in 1977.
That firm’s name subsequently changed to Davis Priest & Co and then merged with Kerwoods in 2011, meaning Alison and Stephen have now worked at the same company for 41 years.
The next longest server is secretary Mandy Lane who joined Kerwoods straight from college in 1980, 38 years ago.
Meanwhile Penny Dunscombe, another secretary, joined Richard Caley & Co in 1986 who then merged with Powleson, Caley & Bell in 1991, that company merging with Kerwoods in 2001, meaning that she’s worked at the firm for 32 years.
The experience spreads all the way to the top, with partner Ifor Hughes joining Kerwoods 32 years ago in 1985, followed in 1990 by fellow partner Jan Thompson, who’s now clocked up 28 years.
Mrs Thompson said: “We pride ourselves on building strong, longstanding relationships with our clients, driven by the experience we have here at Kerwoods.
“Legal matters can be quite complex, but most situations have been dealt with many times by several of us here at Kerwoods, bringing many decades of knowledge and understanding to clients’ legal affairs.
“This means we take a pragmatic approach, taking an overall view of what’s in our clients’ best interests, achieving results and resolving matters in the most efficient and professional manner.”
There are around 25 staff at Kerwoods providing a comprehensive range of legal services to individuals and businesses, from house sales to wills and estates, and from matrimonial and family issues to company and commercial law.
Mrs Thompson added: “Kerwoods’ success and growth over the years has been due to a high level of care, maintenance of professional standards, and satisfied and loyal clients who have recommended us to families and friends.
“This respected reputation has a lot to do with having such a talented team of experienced secretaries handling the diaries and administration.
“Their experience means everything progresses like clockwork beneath the surface, enabling us lawyers to focus on the finer points of law, making sure we are always up to date on the latest changes.”
People living in leasehold homes should extend the remaining terms of their property leases before they drop beneath 80 years, according to Kerwoods Solicitors.
Failing to do this could result in large bills and potentially protracted and expensive legal battles, as highlighted by a recent Court of Appeal ruling.
The case of Mundy v The Sloane Stanley Estate was based on a small Chelsea flat that had only 23 years remaining on its lease, and where appeal judges upheld the freeholder’s claim for a £420,000 payment to extend the terms.
Veronica Du'Quesnay, head of residential conveyancing at Kerwoods, said: “Most leases start at 99 years, and so can be easily forgotten about. But once the time left on the lease drops beneath 80 years, what’s known as ‘marriage values’ apply.
“This means that the freeholder is entitled to half of any increase in the home’s value that happens as a result of extending the lease, which in today’s spiralling property market can cost the leaseholder a lot of money.”
As well as ‘marriage values’, Ms Du'Quesnay explained that allowing a lease to fall under 80 year could have other financial impacts if the home-owner wants to move house.
She said: “The closer the lease gets to the 80-year barrier, the harder it will be to sell – which means the value of your home will start to decline.
“This is because many banks and building societies are reluctant to consider mortgages on properties of less than 70 years.”
Ms Du'Quesnay said the 80-year warning was particularly relevant for people living in Redditch and surrounding areas, where the number of leasehold properties was high.
She added: “In summary, the later you leave it to extend the lease of your property, the more expensive it will be – and those extra costs can easily climb into the tens of thousands, depending on where you live.”
Redditch should send a regeneration team to Birmingham to learn how to transform its town centre by converting former commercial premises into smart apartment blocks.
That’s the message from Kerwoods Solicitors, which is pushing for more creative thinking to help rejuvenate the North Worcestershire town.
Veronica Du’Quesnay, head of residential conveyancing at Redditch-based Kerwoods, said: “The way that Birmingham has driven a renaissance of its city centre with the clever use of brownfield sites in the last decade has been remarkable.
“Several different areas have been brought back to life with the clever use of former offices, warehouses and manufacturing areas for what are now smart, attractive and highly sought-after residential apartment blocks.”
Birmingham’s residential developments include a number of old factories, offices and other commercial properties in locations like the Jewellery Quarter, Millennium Point and the Mailbox.
Meanwhile, according to a recent Hometrack market report, the renovation of several run-down areas in Ladywood, Birmingham have turned what was once a poverty-stricken inner city suburb into the fastest UK postcode for growing property values.
Ms Du’Quesnay added: “Here in Redditch town centre we need more creative thinking to bring our dead space and older properties back to life.
“It would be a great idea for Redditch Borough Council to send a team of its town planners, along with top local developers, into Birmingham city centre to look at the numerous successful commercial to residential developments.
“This would help the local people in charge of regeneration to think more creatively and to be more innovative in their plans for what could then become an exciting town centre here in Redditch.
“In a nutshell, Birmingham has revived its old, tired city centre, making it one of the prides of Britain in regeneration terms, and Redditch should unashamedly take a few leaves out of its giant neighbour’s books.”
Elderly people should be wary of gifting their homes to relatives while they are still alive, say Kerwoods experts.
Couples often mistakenly believe they can avoid future care home fees by passing ownership of their homes to children or other family.
But the Care Act 2014 allows local authorities to investigate whether such gifts can be considered as ‘deprivation of assets’, with no time limit on when gifts were made.
Jan Thompson, a partner at Kerwoods Solicitors with expertise in elderly clients, said: “There’s a myth that gifts made more than seven years ago are exempt from a local authority’s financial assessment of eligibility for state funding for residential care.
“But that seven-year timeline only relates to inheritance tax, and has nothing to do with care fees, as neither the Care Act nor the previous Charges for Residential Accommodation Guide state any legal time limit whatsoever.
“When you go into care, you’re asked whether you own or have ever owned a property, and if you have this is part of the financial assessment – regardless of how long ago you might have gifted your home away.”
Mrs Thompson said local authorities might consider such gifts as ‘deprivation of assets’, based on the ‘timing and motivation’.
She said: “They will decide if it was reasonably foreseeable at the time you made the gift that you might need residential care in the future, based on your medical records or pre-existing illnesses.
“And they will judge whether your motivation in making such gifts was to secure local authority funding for care.”
Mrs Thompson added that each local authority have their own rules and guidelines, and that the depth of investigations depended on their resources.
However, as an example, she said Redditch Borough Council employed its own legal team to consider potential deliberate ‘deprivation of assets’ cases.
Emma Beddows, another partner at Kerwoods with expertise in challenging care decisions, said there were additional dangers in people gifting their homes.
She said: “What if your children die before you? Their beneficiaries might decide to ask you to leave what’s now their home.
“Or what if your own children have financial difficulties, or divorce? In either case, they might be forced to sell what’s now their property, depriving you of what was once your own home.”
Ms Beddows recalled a case where a 75-year-old woman gifted her house to her son, and that he took out a mortgage on it to fund his new business. But his business failed, the house was repossessed and the woman lost the home she’d lived in for decades.
She said: “Bizarrely, the business he launched was as a clairvoyant, so he really should have seen this coming! But in all seriousness, there’s no advantage making an absolute gift of your house while living.”
Ms Beddows said it was possible to mitigate against some pitfalls by putting your home into a trust with ‘retained life interest’, which means your family don’t receive anything until after you die.
But even then, the Care Act could consider the trust as ‘disregarded capital’, and might judge it as ‘deprivation of assets’ depending on the timing and motivation.
She added: “Putting your home into a trust can be done for other reasons, such as ease of probate, but this should only be done when you’re fit and healthy, to avoid casting doubt on your motivation at the time the trust was made.”
Kerwoods Solicitors is urging elderly and vulnerable people to claim their share of what could be millions of pounds in legal fee refunds.
The advice comes after people who applied for loved ones to look after their financial affairs were charged too high a fee.
A Ministry of Justice announcement issued earlier this month has invited people to apply for refunds after its Office of the Public Guardian overcharged for Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) arrangements between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2017.
The announcement explains that refunds of up to £54 a time plus interest can now be claimed for each LPA made in that four-year period.
This is because the OPG was charging £110 for each LPA registration before the fee was reduced to £82 last year, and it had previously charged even higher rates.
Jan Thompson, a partner and expert in Probate and Wills at Kerwoods, said: “Public bodies like the Office of the Public Guardian are only allowed to charge break-even rates, but the LPA fee levels from 2013 to 2017 meant it was making a profit on each registration.
“The fees were reduced last year to correct this overcharge, but this still means anyone who made an LPA during those four years are owed anything between £34 and £54, and even more once interest of 0.5% has been applied.
“There were hundreds of thousands of LPA registrations in that period, and so the government may well have to make refunds totalling millions of pounds.
“The good thing is that the Ministry of Justice has been very open about this error, and Kerwoods is now advising those affected to apply for their refunds.”
Kerwoods Solicitors has welcomed new rules that mean people can buy and sell their homes online without the need for cumbersome paper deeds.
The firm's comments come ahead of changes to the Land Registration Rules on 6 April that will allow HM Land Registry to introduce fully digital conveyancing documents such as mortgages and transfers.
Veronica Du'Quesnay, head of residential conveyancing at Kerwoods, said: “This is great news and should lead to a faster and safer process for everybody involved.
“Currently, when we lodge our application with the Land Registry, especially for first registrations which must be sent via the post for completion, our application can take anything up to three months and sometimes longer.
“Therefore, anything that the Land Registry can do to speed up the registration process whilst not compromising on security will be a bonus.”
Graham Farrant, the chief executive and chief land registrar at HM Land Registry, said the changes would allow fully digital conveyancing documents with the use of e-signatures.
He said: “HM Land Registry plans to use digital technology to make conveyancing simpler, faster and cheaper while enhancing the integrity and security of the register against threats from cyber-attacks and digital fraud.
“The changes will allow HM Land Registry to build new and more flexible statutory services that have been called for by the industry, and other electronic services will improve the assistance offered to them throughout the application process.”
Ms Du'Quesnay at Kerwoods added: “More services using modern day digital technology would be welcomed by all involved.”
Kerwoods has urged property developers to prepare for a 20 per cent increase in planning fees that comes into effect later this month.
Ashley Gurr, commercial property partner at Kerwoods, was referring to a letter sent to local authorities just before Christmas by Steve Quartermain CBE, the Department for Communities and Local Government’s chief planner.
Mr Gurr said: “New government regulations mean that local planning authorities will be able to start applying this increase in planning fees from 17th January 2018.
“This means extra costs will be faced by all property developers, and they will need to adjust the business plans of various projects to make sure these changes don’t have a detrimental effect on their margins.
“This might involve increasing the price of eventual properties in future schemes or, if developments are on behalf of other organisations like housing associations, making sure these extra costs are passed on or shared.”
The new government regulations confirmed in the letter from Mr Quartermain have also introduced a range of other new fees, including:
In addition, the regulations introduce a fee of £96 for prior approval applications to permitted development rights that were introduced in April 2015 and April 2017.
These include the rights for the installation of solar PV equipment on non-domestic buildings, the erection of click-and-collect facilities within the land area of a shop and the provision of temporary school buildings on vacant commercial land for state-funded schools.
Mr Gurr added: “The hope is that these increased and new fees will be used by local authorities to improve the speed and quality of their planning services, and this is something I would urge the government to press for.
“But in the meantime, the price of planning applications is growing, and developers therefore need to ensure their business plans are robust to withstand these extra costs.”
When a business is looking to lease a new property, keeping costs down is, of course, essential. So instructing a solicitor to deal with the lease issued by the landlord can be seen as a hindrance, when you just want to get in the property and start running your business.
Some tenants may just want a solicitor to ‘cast an eye’ over the lease and go for the cheapest quote given, in the hope they can get into the property as soon as possible. Whilst appreciating the demands of business and the urgency of getting up and running as quickly as possible in a new premises, understanding the obligations and responsibilities placed on tenants by landlords within a lease is crucial, particularly as the wording and phrases used in leases do not make it obvious for tenants to appreciate what they are agreeing to.
Often it is the tenants’ repairing obligations in the lease which can cause the biggest headache, especially when the landlord or their agents mention the dreaded word ‘dilapidations’ towards the end of the lease term. Tenants can end up spending thousands of pounds which they have not budgeted for, by not realising what works the landlord can require the tenant to carry out to the property.
Tenants also need to be aware how they can deal with the property during the lease term if, for example, they wish to sub-let the property or sell their business and transfer the Lease to someone else.
Landlords normally require many conditions to be satisfied before they will consider allowing a tenant to transfer the lease to a third party, and tenants often do not realise that, even if the landlord does allow a transfer of the lease, the tenant cannot step away from his or her obligations, including financial, when the new tenant moves into the property.
Instructing an experienced commercial property solicitor who can negotiate the lease terms and point out in plain English what the tenant's obligations and liabilities are can save a lot of unwanted surprises, and allow the tenant to budget for outgoings that may otherwise unexpectedly arise during the lease term. Investing in a good solicitor at the outset can save time and money and lets you get on with the important job of running your business.
To find out more, contact Sarah Rao, Kerwoods' Head of Commercial Property, on 01527 588968; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.