Welcoming you back to our offices

We are now able to see clients in our offices but only by appointment. Please do not come to either of our offices without phoning first to book an appointment. If your lawyer is available, we will often be able to offer you a same-day appointment, even at 30 minutes notice.

 

We are maintaining two metre social distancing in our offices and we will invite you to sanitise your hands on arrival. We do not insist on face-coverings.

 

If you wish call at the office to deliver or collect documents or letters, please phone a few minutes before you arrive to let our receptionists know you are on your way. We are trying to avoid having too many people in the office at the same time, so we may ask you to delay your arrival for five or ten minutes.

 

If you prefer not to visit our offices we can usually discuss your matter with you by email, phone or via a Zoom meeting. We can send documents that you need to sign to you at home.

Still open for business

Although our offices are closed to the public we are still open for business. We are working from home but we can be contacted by phone or email. If you wish, we can set up a face to face meeting via Zoom.

Email is the quickest and most reliable way to contact us.

Calls to the main office number (01865 241814) have been diverted to our receptionist who is also working from home. Technical limitations mean that she cannot transfer calls but she will let your lawyer know that you have rung.

For enquiries about making or changing a Will or about winding up the affairs of someone who has died, please contact Chris Wallworth

For enquiries about conveyancing and property matters generally, please contact Sue Whitehead, Bill Short or Louise Breen

Coronavirus Update

Our offices are now closed for client appointments in accordance with the Government’s coronavirus restrictions.

 

Our lawyers are working from home and can be contacted by email in the usual way:

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

 

You can also ring and leave a message on our voicemail which we will pick up and return your call.

 

Please click the links below for advice on specific types of work.

Wills

Probate

Coronavirus – Probate

If you have recently lost a loved one and need to know whether we have their Will, please email [email protected] or [email protected] or phone 01865 241814 and leave a voicemail. Please tell us the name of the person who has passed away, their address and the date they died.

We will ring you back as soon as we can to confirm whether or not we have a Will and the names of the executors. We regret that we will not be able to release any further information or a copy of the Will until we have seen the death certificate for the person who has died.

In most cases there is no pressing need to deal with probate immediately. You should take the following steps following a death:

  • When you register your loved one’s death, the Registrar will give you information about the Tell us Once scheme, and may help you with it during the registration process. This will automatically notify the Department for Work and Pensions in respect of state pension and benefits, HMRC in respect of income tax, your local council in respect of council tax, and any other government departments the person had dealings with.
  • Arrange the funeral. Your funeral director will advise you on any changes in procedure during the coronavirus crisis.
  • Take a death certificate in to the bank. The bank staff will take a copy and update their systems to note that the person has died and freeze their accounts. If your loved one had accounts with more than one bank, take a death certificate into each bank. Banks are remaining open during the current restrictions on other businesses.
  • If the utility bills are paid by direct debit, there is no need to notify the utility companies yourself. They will be notified by the bank that the account holder has died. That will trigger a condolence letter from the utility company addressed to the executors at the deceased’s house. Please note that the utility company will not chase for payment of any outstanding bills and, most importantly, will not disconnect the supply.
  • If your loved one has a company or work pension, ring the pension provider and let them know that the person has died.

In most cases, when you have done all that, anything else can wait a few weeks without any problem.

Coronavirus – Wills

In most cases, I do not need to meet you face to face to discuss making or changing a Will. I can take your instructions by email, phone or letter.

Email will be the most reliable way of making contact. Please email [email protected]

If you phone, please leave a message on the voicemail saying that you would like to make a Will and giving your name and number to call you back on. Please do not tell me in the voicemail message what you wish to include in your will – I will call you back to get the details.

Letters will be slowest way of contacting me. There is some disruption to postal deliveries in Oxford because of coronavirus. I am currently working from home and only visit the office every few days, so it could be some time before I receive your letter.

There is guidance on making Wills here.

When we have discussed your wishes, I will send you a draft Will and covering letter by post (and by email if you wish).

When you are happy with the Will I will prepare the top copy for signature.

While the current coronavirus restrictions are in place you cannot visit our offices to sign it. I will send the Will to you for signature with signing instructions. Signing a Will requires three people to be present in the same room at the same time – you and the two witnesses. There is no way round this – the Will is not valid unless it is signed in the presence of two witnesses.

The witnesses cannot be people mentioned in the Will or their spouses / civil partners. Usually people ask their neighbours to witness their Wills. However, please do not ask anybody to witness a Will if they are self-isolating because they have coronavirus symptoms or are a vulnerable person.

Chris Wallworth

Coronavirus

During the current crisis, our offices in the City Centre and Headington are still open for business. We have arrangements in place for our solicitors to work from home  if we have to close either or both offices. They will be contactable by email in the usual way and they will give you a phone number you can ring them on.

Please avoid coming to the office to see us unless it is absolutely essential. We can deal with most things affecting our work for you by email or phone.

Postal deliveries in Oxford are currently subject to disruption because of staff shortages. If you post anything to us, please ring a few days later to check we have received it. If possible, please email us instead.

We are in a rapidly changing situation and we will update this blog as necessary.

Hike in probate fees abandoned

The Government has announced that it has now withdrawn the plans to increase probate registry fees substantially.

Law Society president Simon Davis said:

A hike in probate fees would have been a tax on grief

We campaigned vigorously against the increase on behalf of bereaved families and are relieved the government has listened to reason.

It is inherently unfair to expect the bereaved to fund other parts of the courts and tribunal service when they have no other option but to apply for probate.

In its review of court fees government should bear in mind that it is a false economy to impose charges that go beyond cost recovery. Equal access to justice is a fundamental part of the rule of law.

The proposed probate fees would have cost families in Oxfordshire £2,500  in probate fees on an average estate with a modest house and some savings. Ferguson Bricknell are delighted that this punitive charge has abandoned.

Probate Registry Delays

In March the Probate Service introduced a new IT system for processing applications for probate.

Previously, applications for probate were processed and the grant of probate issued within two weeks of submitting the application. Within days of the new system being installed the software suffered a major glitch and the time taken to process an application increased from two weeks to several months. We are still waiting, in mid-June, for applications submitted in mid-March to be completed.

We cannot close the deceased’s accounts or sell or transfer assets without a grant of probate, which means that the debts of the estate cannot be paid and there is no money to pay inheritance tax that may be due.

It is also having an impact on house sales and purchases. Executors cannot complete the sale of a house until they have a grant of probate. This affects not only the beneficiaries of the estate, who will have to wait longer for the money they are entitled to, but also the other transactions in a chain of linked sales and purchases. Many sale and purchase chains start with an executor selling an empty house – if the buyer of that property has to sell their own house, then their buyers will have to wait until the executors at the end of the chain have received the grant of probate.

We regret that the situation is out of our hands and there is nothing we can do to speed up applications for probate. Probate Registries are not taking phone calls and emails just receive an automated reply. The Law Society has raised the profession’s concerns with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (which has repsonsibilty for Probate Registries) but has just been given the usual platitudes – see here

Christmas and New Year Closing 2018

We close for the Christmas and New Year holiday at 5.00 pm on Friday 21 December and re-open at 9.00 am on Wednesday 2 January 2019.

We wish all our clients and professional colleagues a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year

Government hikes probate fees again

The Government has announced that probate fees will be increased by 3,721% from 1 April 2019. This a rehash of the proposal made in March 2017 which was only abandoned because a general election was called before the Government could get the proposal through Parliament. We warned at the time that the Government would look to reintroduce the proposal and they have now done so. The scale of fees will be:

Estate value Fee
£0 – £50,000 £0
£50,001 – £300,000 £250
£300,001 – £500,000 £750
£500,001 – £1,000,000 £2,500
£1,000,001 – £1,600,000 £4,000
£1,600,001 – £2,000,000 £5,000
£2,000,001 + £6,000

Although the top fee has been reduced from £20,000 to £6,000, the increase is wholly unjustified. The Probate Service already covers its costs from the present fee of £155 for applications made through solicitors. The Government is using the increased fee to subsidise other parts of the Court Service.   The press are rightly calling it a tax. The effect is that a £1 million estate left to a surviving spouse or charity, which would be exempt from inheritance tax, will now incur a payment of £2,500 to the Government.

A considerable body of legal opinion considers that an increase of this amount is not authorised by Act of Parliament and it may well be challenged in the courts. In the meantime, if you have concerns about this, please write to your MP.

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