Robert Simpson of Thomas Simpson, who are based at Hampshire Workspace, has been working in criminal defence for 15 years. Four years ago, he decided to change direction and began helping people with wills, probate and lasting powers of attorney.
He explained, ‘It’s something I did a long time ago. It’s an interesting area and I think that fits in nicely with our way of working in which one person does all the work.’
Rob believes that is what makes Thomas Simpson different from many law firms: ‘At high street firms, even if one person is in charge of the case, they have departments, secretaries, paralegals and others involved. I think it’s quite nice that all of the work is mine. That gives the client continuity.’
He explains, ‘People who are talking about a recent death or their own death tend to like to be able to deal with a single point of contact. Our clients don’t have to chop and change the people they are dealing with.’
It may seem quite a leap from criminal law to advising on wills but Rob believes his experience in criminal law helps. ‘Working in criminal defence, I was dealing with people in thoroughly unpleasant, stressful situations. That’s a useful experience when dealing with the aftermath of a death. And, having been an advocate in the Crown Court, I am able to boil down a situation neatly, succinctly and clearly.’
“You have to face your mortality”
Rob recognises that people often avoid creating wills and lasting powers of attorney: ‘You have to face your mortality in order to discuss it.’ He explains how important lasting powers of attorney are, especially over property and financial affairs. ‘We are all at risk of losing our capacity not only through old age but also through injury or illness, and having that in place when you’re fit and healthy means that the anguish for your family or close relatives is diminished because they are at least able to maintain your affairs.’
The consequences of not signing powers of attorney can be serious, he says. ‘If you don’t do that in advance of becoming incapacitated, it’s too late- one has to go through the Court of Protection to get people appointed to do it.’
There are Powers of Attorney for property and financial affairs and for health and welfare. ‘I’ve done mine’ says Rob, ‘and I should have done them years ago. Lasting powers of attorney are something we should have in place from the moment we reach adulthood because you could get hit by a car, have a brain injury, get meningitis, end up in a vegetative state at any age.’
The situation with wills is different, explains Rob. ‘A will doesn’t necessarily matter until you have assets or dependents. That’s when it becomes important because you get to direct where your belongings go if you write a will. If you don’t, the laws of intestacy direct where it goes and that may not be where you want, especially if you don’t have a marriage, civil partnership or children.’
“There is no such thing as a common law marriage”
Rob brings attention to a little known fact. ‘What a lot of people don’t realise is that there is no such thing as common law marriage. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been living together, you do not have automatic right to your partner’s estate.’
‘In those circumstances,’ he continues, ‘your partner has no rights over the disposal of your body because that vests in the family. If you write a will and you appoint an executor, they then can get involved. In circumstances where co-habiting couples are not looked upon favourably by a partner’s family, that can solve a significant and unpleasant issue after death.’
Even if you are married, it can be a problem if you don’t have a will, says Rob. ‘Your husband or wife or civil partner will get a share of the assets but they may not get all of them, some will be directed to children if there are any. That may not be the most tax efficient way to deal with the estate and it may not leave the surviving partner with enough funds to live in the way you would like them to.’
Rob acknowledges that it can seem expensive to pay a solicitor to help you write a will but he insists it is value for money. ‘The price you pay me to do a will is not really about the document you end up with, it’s about all the advice and my knowledge of what may and may not go wrong that’s important. If it’s not done properly, you may have high probate bills to pay.’
‘When you get to a stage where you’ve got significant assets,’ he points out, ‘you’re then looking at tax planning, mitigating inheritance tax liabilities. There are some very easy things that can be done in order to avoid paying more tax than you need to. That’s part and parcel of the process of preparing a will. You wouldn’t get that in a £9.99 DIY will.’
“It’s not just about professionalism, it’s about taking the burden”
Rob has an advanced certificate in estate administration and is able to help people with probate. ‘Strictly speaking Probate refers to administering an estate in which there is a will,’ Rob explains, ‘but it is used as a shorthand word for all estate administration- collecting the assets, paying the debts and distributing the estate of the deceased.’
‘Perfectly intelligent, capable people don’t want to be doing the asset chasing and debt paying. It’s not just about the professionalism, it’s also taking the burden,’ declares Rob.
‘With regards to estate administration,’ Rob continues, ‘many people don’t realise that it is still possible to amend people’s wishes after their death by doing a Deed of Variation to redirect assets within the estate. If someone has died without a will, you can do a Deed to vary the effect of statute. So it’s not too late to sort out even after the event with some professional help. There is a time limit, it must be within two years of death.’
Dealing with the death of a loved one or the prospect of your own death is undoubtedly difficult. It’s comforting to know that there is someone like Rob Simpson, knowledgeable and sympathetic, available to help you through it.
To speak to Robert Simpson, phone 01962 820 228 or go to the Thomas Simpson website