Climate Change: Feel The Fear

As part of my seven “Share The Magic” articles that share my feelings around climate change, I have decided that I would start with the emotion of FEAR, which feels fitting because it was actually fear that almost stopped me from writing this week. Fear of judgement. Fear of rejection. Fear of people “unfriending me” for banging on about this climate stuff too much. Fear of facing the truth myself.

And even as I write this, I can feel it rising in my body. The heart-beat skipping when I think of pressing the “publish” button. That nervous few hours while you wait to see if anyone has read it. Liked it? Commented? What if there are trolls or haters? But I press on anyway. Because I must.

I had always known about climate change and global warming, or at least since I was a teenager who learnt about it in science class at school. But it always felt like some far-off problem. Something that generations of humans waaaayyy off into the future would have to face. We had time to fix it…I thought. Yeah, it was happening – the science was clear – but it was centuries away from being a problem, wasn’t it?

Then one fateful night, about six months ago, I read THAT IPCC report. (Side note – for those of you who are about to shut off because I used an acronym or mentioned the word “report”, please don’t – it is so important that you hear this!) The IPCC is basically a fancy name for a group of scientists getting together to talk about climate change and how well we are handling things.

If you haven’t read the report yet, basically the answer is “we’re not”. We have less than 12 years, 11 now, to make radical changes to the way we live, or we simply cannot stop the freight train – the Earth will become more and more uninhabitable until all life is wiped out. And that could happen a LOT quicker than we expect. Our children could end up facing a lot of the consequences of a barren planet. Like this terror-inducing post by Marc Doll points out, it is actually much, much worse than the IPCC says it is. Honestly, once you go down the climate change rabbit-hole, it is utterly terrifying.

When I first read the report, it was like my whole world had already ended. I felt my stomach lurch and my heart start pounding out of my chest so fast that I thought it might explode. I felt sick to my stomach and lay there weeping at what humanity had done. It was what inspired me to write THIS poem: The Monster In My Room – which likens climate change to a monster that we are too afraid to look at in the night.

I fell into that rabbit-hole and wallowed in despair for several months. I found myself lying awake every night scrolling, endlessly wading through Facebook and Twitter, and reading article after article about climate change. Note to self – do not read the comments on environmental Facebook posts. There is some seriously dark content there. A lot of people have completely lost hope.

I would spend my whole night searching, trying to find just one positive post in the sea of negativity, just so that I could relax enough to go to sleep. To take the edge off the terror.

I was afraid of our world getting hotter. Terrified about what horrors my children might face in the future: famine, sea levels rising, extreme heat/cold, climate wars as countries scramble to fight over territories, uncontrollable spread of diseases, water shortages…the list goes on and on.

I am still terrified for my children’s future now, and for my future, and for all life on our beautiful Mother Earth. It continues to keep me up some nights when another particularly scary article gets published.

As the UK seemed to rejoice at the summer weather last month, I was mortified – could I be the only person who thought that it wasn’t normal to have 20 degree heat and daffodils sprouting in early February?! Was this the beginning of the end? Every time I heard the phrase “lovely weather we’re having”, I felt like I had to clamp down on my tongue to stop myself from talking, or face becoming a bit of a social pariah. THAT person who bores everyone moaning about the environment.

But here’s the thing about fear. It can paralyse us into doing nothing if we let ourselves sit there for too long. It is much easier when faced with fear to just ignore it and do nothing. To block those friends who share articles about climate change, or un-follow those environmental Facebook pages. Or convince yourself that the one article that you read about “that climate change hoax” was actually the truth and 97% of climate scientists were wrong or liars.

Fear can turn us into ostriches, or, if we choose, it can be the spark that sets us into action to creating a new world. I don’t believe that we can reverse all of the effects of global warming now. We have done too much damage already, and I think we have some very difficult years ahead, but the sooner we feel the fear and DO SOMETHING ANYWAY, the more likely we are to create that green-filled, community-based utopia that I see in my dreams.

Because these days, my goal-setting is less personal than collective. I couldn’t really give a shit how many zeros I earn in a year, or whether we can get a new car with fancy gadgets. I am like the Eagle – soaring above the world surveying the bigger picture, but simultaneously staying laser-focused on that vision. An Earth robed in green. Communities living off and with the land – cooking and thriving together. A life that is abundant AND sustainable, and where greed, corruption and toxic behaviour are a thing of the past. A future where life on Earth HAS a future. That is the only goal that I am interested in these days. That is my vision.

I know that you are afraid as you read this – if your fear has even let you read this far. I feel that fear too believe me. I am terrified. Part of me is to afraid to try, because what happens if we fail? What if we don’t change our ways in time? What does the future look like then? Some days, I am just so frightened that all I can do is weep.

And some days, when the fear gets too much to bear, I take myself off into nature on my own Climate Change Fearto be with the trees. Sitting at the roots, with my back pressed against a huge oak tree, feeling the support as it holds my weight and almost pushes back on me, telling me it feels my fear too. Feeling the wind in my hair and the soles of my feet rooted into the ground. Standing out there, open and receptive – I can feel our world trying to connect with me. Sometimes, if I listen really carefully, I can almost hear the whisper back from the trees, carried on the wind from their leaves – like a soft voice sliding into my ear. “You can do it. You do make a difference. Help me look after my babies and I will look after yours.”

So, dear reader, this is my invitation. Take my hand, and the hand of your brothers and sisters beside you, and let’s go face this fear head on and do something about this mess. Because fear can only control us if we let it. Instead, let’s start with looking fear straight in the eye and seeing it. Feeling it. Embracing it.

And then we can harness the collective power and let fear motivate us into crafting our own vision of a new world.

Who’s with me?

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The Monster In My Room

There’s a monster lurking in my room.
I can’t bear to turn around.
Just there…in the corner of my eye. 
I mustn’t make a sound.

There’s a monster prowling in my room,
That I’m trying to ignore.
But it takes up so much space.
Creeping up to roof from floor.

There’s a monster biting in my room.
I wish someone could save me.
But it also lurks inside their house,
If only they could see.

Maybe if I just don’t look,
The monster will leave me.
Someone else can deal with him,
And I can run and flee.

I feel the monster moving now,
Heading for my babies’ rooms.
I promised them I’d keep them safe –
Yet here the danger looms.

And whilst our generation may escape
The monster’s full attack.
Our children will most certainly
End up taking all the flak.

There is only one way to defeat
The monster that waits there.
We have to look it in the eye
And show how much we care.

Accept that we have put him there
And through our actions made him grow.
We have to grieve and shed the tears –
Let those healing waters flow.

Then when all the tears are done –
And there will be a few –
We’ll roll up our sleeves and face this mess
The way that humans do.

Together arm-in-arm we stand
Against that monster grim.
With kindness, love and empathy
We can challenge him.

And when we stop to really look
At the darkness up above,
We’ll see there’s no monster after all.
Just a world in desperate need of love.

By Sarah Claire Ryan

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Tomorrow’s Men

Changing A Will After Death

When someone dies, theprobate solicitor hertfordshire bedfordshire buckinghamshire executors who are appointed will look to their Will to find out their wishes and see who is to benefit from the estate. However, sometimes the beneficiaries who are due to inherit from the estate may not want to. This could be for many reasons, e.g. because the inheritance will push their own estate over the inheritance tax threshold, or they simply feel comfortable with what they have. In those circumstances, the beneficiaries may wish for someone else to benefit in their place, such as grandchildren or their siblings.

Other reasons for changing a Will may be to equalise the gifts. So, for example, if one child was left a smaller percentage than another, it can be agreed that the percentages are evened out using a Deed of Variation. It can also be used if one child is not as wealthy as the other and would benefit more from having a larger share.

Deed of Variation

If all of the executors and the beneficiaries who are affected agree to the changes, the terms of the Will can be changed after death using something called a Deed of Variation. This must be signed by the executors and affected beneficiaries within two years of the death to be valid. If the agreement of all parties can’t be obtained, the Deed cannot be signed and the terms of the original Will stands.

If any of the beneficiaries are under 18, then this would need to be approved by the Court.

Do I Need to Register The Deed of Variation?

There is no need to register the Deed of Variation. It is simply a contract outlining the agreement between the executors and beneficiaries, so it only needs to be signed to ensure that it is legally binding. It is important that none of the parties are compensated for what they have given up and that none of the original assets were affected by a Gift with Reservation (where the asset was given away during the deceased’s lifetime, but they continued to benefit from it). However, the parties must keep a copy of the signed Deed in case the Revenue has questions regarding it in the future.

If you are considering a Deed of Variation for an estate you are involved in, I would strongly suggest that you seek independent legal advice, as the effects can be wide-ranging. A simple Deed of Variation starts from £400 plus VAT and can be drawn up within a couple of weeks. If you want more information on this topic, contact me today.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

Why You Might Be Putting Off Your Will

probate solicitor leighton buzzard bedfordshire hertfordshire buckinghamshireUnsurprisingly, writing your Will is not the most popular activity on the planet. In the UK alone, recent research suggests that as many as three in five adults don’t have a Will – with a whopping 68% of 35-55 year olds falling into that category (the figure falls to 36% for the over 55s). Many people put it off – so if you haven’t done yours yet, you’re not alone. But it is important. Here is a list of the most popular reasons for procrastinating about writing a Will – and also why you should get on and do it!

  1. I don’t have anything to leave
    For the vast majority of people this simply isn’t true – most of us have possessions! You might have a car; you might have savings; or life insurance or a pension through your work. If you own your own home there will probably be equity in it through rising house prices even if it is mortgaged. At the very least, a Will gives you the opportunity to decide where your stuff goes, who inherits your assets and you can specify your wishes for any funeral arrangements when you die.Most importantly, if you have children then you need to decide who you want to be their guardian when you’re no longer around to look after them (see point 6 below).
  2. It’s too expensive
    Many people have a vague idea that preparing a Will is going to be expensive. It’s not something that gets budgeted for in a normal month. Solicitors are often seen to be pricey. Maybe you’ll do it next year when you’ve had a pay rise…But it doesn’t have to be expensive. As a consultant solicitor I am able to keep my drafting prices very reasonable compared to those on the high street as I have lower overheads. I also offer a free 30 minute consultation to review your existing Will or discuss what you need to consider for drafting a new one.Even if you don’t instruct me to prepare your Will, I would still urge you to bite the bullet and get it done. If you have a simple estate you can always go down the route of a Will-drafting kit (which start at as little as £10-£20), and provided you follow the instructions carefully, can be done simply and effectively.
  3. It’s tempting fate… or It’s too depressing
    Ok, so it can be depressing thinking about dying. But it’s better to have a plan in place. For the sake of your family get it done. Losing a close family member is devastating enough, without the added stress of no Will, no funeral plans, no life insurance to pay the mortgage… it will be much easier for your family if all this in place and things can proceed smoothly. As for tempting fate, when your time is up, it’s up. Having a Will or not is not going to change that.The act of preparing the Will needn’t be depressing in itself. A lot of my clients will tell you that we often end up giggling in our appointments. I try to keep it light hearted – I know it’s a difficult topic.
  4. It just isn’t a priority now
    Unlike a mortgage or a wedding, there isn’t really a life event that really gives us an immediate push to prepare our Will. Some people think about it when they have children, but it often gets overlooked in the haze of the newborn days when you have a lot on your mind or plate! Unless something serious happens, like ill health  or an operation, we tend to think that we can put off Will-making to another day.One day, it will be too late, so best to get it done now!
  5. My husband/wife will get everything anyway
    Yes… if you are married with no children. However, if you do have children, your spouse will only automatically inherit the first £250,000 of your estate (plus interest), and your personal belongings. Anything over that sum is divided into two equal shares – one half to your spouse and the other to be held in trust for your children until they reach the age of 18 (or 16 and married, randomly!).If you aren’t married then your partner has no automatic right to any of your assets and they will pass under intestacy rules to your children, parents and siblings if you do not have a Will. There is no such thing as a ‘common law’ spouse in our legal system.So don’t assume your partner will get everything. If you book in for a free 30 minute consultation I can tell you what would happen to your estate if you died and help you work out if you need a Will or not.
  6. I can’t decide who to appoint as guardians
    I do hear this one a lot and I agree that it can be a really difficult decision to make. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is probably the number one reason that parents of young children put off making a Will – they simply can’t decide who would look after their children if they died.The advice I always give in this scenario is to make a decision based on who you would have looking after your children today. You can always update your Will if circumstances change… but it is better to have someone appointed and it not be quite right, than nobody appointed and having the State decide who should look after your children. In a worst-case scenario, the children could be placed into temporary care until a proper assessment and decision can be made. In my mind, appointing guardians is the single most important reason for parents to write a Will. Losing your parents is hard enough without worrying about where you will be living and with whom.
  7. It’s complicated
    It’s actually much less complicated than you might think. In fact, many of my clients exclaim ‘Is that it?’ at the end of our signing appointment as they expected it to have been much more complex. In practice, you can rest easier knowing that it is done. I try to make matters as straightforward as possible – offering home visits and evening or weekend appointments so your Will can be drafted, safely stored and ticked off the to-do list in a simple, painless way.

If any of these resonate with you, then it is time to stop making excuses and get your Will prepared! Come and have a chat to iron out any concerns or uncertainties you might have, and enjoy the peace of mind in knowing that the future of your children and assets are taken care of.  

Probate Delays: A Guide for Executors

probate solicitor bedfordshire hertfordshire buckinghamshire leighton buzzardBefore a deceased person’s estate can be administered by the executor(s) named in the Will (or the administrators if the person died intestate), a document known as a Grant of Probate or Grant of Representation  needs to be issued by the court to confirm that they are entitled to do so. A commonly held view is that obtaining Probate is a lengthy process, but once the application is ready to submit, it usually only takes around 7-10 days for the Grant to be issued.

Whilst processing the Probate application is pretty quick, the process of administering an estate can be lengthy and there are several hoops that need to be jumped through along the way.

Before you can apply

  • All of the assets owned by the deceased must be valued, including bank accounts, investments, pensions, property, personal effects, cars and anything else they might own. Any debts such as mortgage or credit cards must also be valued so that this can be taken off the final figure.
  • Inheritance tax needs dealing with. If the value of the assets is above the personal inheritance tax threshold of £325,000 and you can’t make use of the spousal exemption or transferable nil rate to reduce the liability, then inheritance tax will need to be paid before the Grant can be issued. See this article to counteract the Catch-22 situation of having to pay the tax before you have access to the deceased’s bank accounts.
  • Place statutory notices. It is recommended that you place adverts in the London Gazette and local newspapers to seek any unknown beneficiaries or creditors. This protects you from having people coming back to you in the future demanding payment. These notices require a minimum of eight weeks to allow  any creditors or unknown beneficiaries to come forward so can delay proceedings quite a bit but they allow you to distribute the funds without liability.

After the Grant is issued (and following the taking of an Oath)

  • It can take several months to collect the assets in from the various banks, building societies and investment accounts. If a property has to be sold then this can obviously take longer.
  • A self-assessment tax return may need to be filed if there is a high level of income paid by the estate, or perhaps capital gains to declare and getting final clearance by HMRC can take several weeks or months.
  • Distribution to beneficiaries is usually quick and straightforward, but there may be delays if individuals need to be traced, or if it’s not clear who the beneficiaries are (e.g. a gift to ‘all my grandchildren’ without specifying how many there are).
  • Disputed estates or family disputes can cause major delays until matters are resolved.

If you need any help with the process of obtaining Probate or administering an estate as executor – or you simply have questions, please do get in touch and we can book in a free 30 minute consultation.

Five Questions to Ask When Buying A Leasehold Property

probate solicitor hertfordshire bedfordshire buckinghamshireThere are extra considerations that you must think about when buying a leasehold property over a freehold one. For an explanation of the differences between freehold and leasehold, see my earlier post here.

To summarise, if you buy a leasehold property, you own the dwelling but not the land it stands on. In this arrangement, you’re known as a ‘leaseholder’. On the other hand, when you buy a freehold property, you become the sole owner of both the building and the land. Depending on whether you buy a freehold or a leasehold, there may also be limits on what you can do to your own home.

In England and Wales, flats are most commonly owned on a leasehold basis, while houses are normally sold as freehold properties – however, there are exceptions.

Leaseholders have to get permission from the freeholder to make certain alterations to the property. They will also have to pay rent each year – known as ‘ground rent’ – and often have to pay an annual fee to a managing agent.

Here are my top five questions to ask when thinking about buying a leasehold property:

1. How long is left on the lease? 

Most lenders require a lease to have at least 85 years to run and anything below 90 years may make the property difficult to sell unless you pay for a lease extension, which can be costly.

Bonus Q: How much does it cost to extend the lease? The management company is unlikely to be able to give you an accurate fee until the day that you are ready to extend the lease, but you can get an idea of their fees. In terms of the premium, Martin Lewis has an excellent calculator at MoneySavingExpert which will give you an idea of how much this is likely to cost.

2. How much is the service charge/ground rent?

An obvious question perhaps, but this will tell you how much you will have to pay monthly or quarterly towards the costs of common parts at the property and will help you to budget once you move in.

Bonus Q: What are the provisions for these charges rising? There has been a lot in the news on this issue recently. It is worth speaking with your solicitor and checking the terms of the lease carefully to determine what provisions there are for these charges increasing. It is relatively normal for them to rise in line with RPI, but if there is provision for frequently doubling (e.g. every five years) or to be raised at the discretion of the management company, further questions need to be asked.

3. Are there any big items of expenditure anticipated in the near future?

Most management companies will keep a reserve for future works, although this is another matter to check. However, even if there is a reserve, any large items of expenditure (e.g. a new roof), may raise bills to be shared between the properties.

4. Has the management company experienced any issues in collecting service charges/ground rent from any other leaseholders?

This may cause issues in the deterioration of the block and communal areas, which may start to deteriorate as the charges fall unpaid.

5. What restrictions are there in the lease?

Make sure you find out if there is anything that is not allowed under the terms of the lease. For example, it is very common that pets are not allowed in certain buildings, or that washing may not be allowed on balconies. You don’t want to breach the lease on day one over a silly issue.

If you are thinking of buying a leasehold property and have questions, get in touch for a free consultation today.

Q. What happens if the Executor dies before finalising the Estate?

probate solicitor hertfordshire bedfordshire buckinghamshireSadly, this can, and does happen, especially when executors themselves are sick or elderly. This happened on one of my probate files a few years ago and it was such a sad situation, The Grant of Probate had been issued a few weeks before and then the executor died suddenly.

What happens next depends on where things are at with the administration of the estate and if the executor had a will or died intestate.

In the simplest scenario, where the Grant of Probate has not yet been issued, then any other executors named in the will can take over the application in place of the main or original executor.

If the executor died intestate, then their duties would cease and a substitute executor would step in (as above). Their own estate would be administered according the process for Intestate Estates (see Article 2).

In the case I dealt with, the Grant of Probate had been issued and the executor had a will of his own. In this circumstance it is the executor’s executor who has to act on both estates. This may seem a bit surprising as it could end up that someone completely unrelated to your estate ends up administering it!

To give you an example: Mr H’s estate was being administered by his main executor, his best friend – Mr B. Another friend, Mr K, was a second or substitute executor. When Mr B died following the issue of the Grant of Probate, his wife and executor, Mrs B, was responsible for the administration of both his and Mr H’s estates. You would assume that Mr K would have stepped in a substitute, but this is not the case. This is known as the Chain of Representation.

If you find yourself in any of the above scenarios then I am here to help!  Please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation and I can advise you on the next steps to take.  

Q. Who can apply for the Grant of Probate if there is no Will?

probate solicitor hertfordshire bedfordshire buckinghamshireIf the deceased person left no will then they are considered to have died intestate. Since no instructions were left about the administration of the estate, a different procedure has to be undertaken. An application will need to be made for Letters of Administration rather than the usual Grant of Probate. Rule 22 of the Non-Contentious Probate Rules (1987) sets out who is entitled to apply for Letters of Administration, and in which order:

  1. Spouse or civil partner (as long as they survive the deceased by 28 days). In most cases a second Administrator will need to apply, especially if there is property or money to be held in trust for children. The second person should be appointed from the next category.
  2. Children (or grandchildren if the children have predeceased). A guardian may apply on behalf of a child or grandchild aged under 18, provided they have parental responsibility.
  3. Parents of the deceased.
  4. Siblings of the deceased.
  5. Half-siblings of the deceased.
  6. Grandparents of the deceased.
  7. Uncles or aunts of the deceased.
  8. The Crown if there is no-one from categories 1-7.

There is a slightly different procedure to follow if someone has died without leaving a will. A different Oath needs to be prepared, and time allowed for tracing relatives, so it may take longer to process the application. If you have any queries or need advice on dealing with an intestate estate, please book in for a free 30 minute consultation and we can work out the best way to take things forward.