To be valid the will must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must both be present when the testator signs. Making amendments to the will after it has been signed and witnessed. Forgetting to appoint executors — to deal with the administration of their estate, or not realising you have allowed a firm to appoint itself at a high cost later on. They could afford to do this because they had loaded the terms and conditions with a catch that stated that the bank could appoint itself as executor of the will.
That meant when the customer died, the bank could charge as much as 4. Accountants say unless the estate is extremely complex, this can end up being hugely expensive.
This is particularly true for modest estates that have benefited from soaring house prices. Jonathan Hoffman, an accountant who has advised on cases involving inheritance tax and wills since the Seventies, says: Some banks have reduced these fees in recent years — but they are still high.
Lloyds, for example, charges 2. Above, Sheena pictured with her family. A NatWest spokesman says: The first Graham Penfold knew about these fees was when a smartly-dressed woman knocked on his mum's door a few days after his dad, Dennis, died 11 years ago. Graham and his wife Janice were staying at his family home in London to help his mum Margaret, then 79, plan the funeral and sort out his father's affairs. The Penfolds were astounded by the figure, as Dennis's affairs were incredibly simple.
He had been offered a free will by HSBC in the early Noughties as an employee perk when he worked in the print department at the bank. In it, he had stated that everything would just pass to his wife, Margaret. He says the woman then stepped out of the lounge and into the hall to make a phone call.
More than a decade later Graham, 66, says he still feel let down by the whole process. She was in shock after he died and so vulnerable,' he says. I'm so angry for them. A HSBC spokesman says: We did not receive any complaints at the time or since. In this five minute guide to what you need to think about when writing your will, This is Money editor Simon Lambert explains what he discovered when he wrote his - and the things you need to consider. Yet, despite the hefty charges, when a member of Martha's extended family challenged the will Lloyds said it could not help as its fee did not include legal advice in the event of disputes between beneficiaries.
Sheena, 61, from Bideford, Devon, says there is no way her aunt, who was deaf, could have realised the full extent of the fees. A Lloyds Bank spokesman says it reimbursed the family for some of the solicitor's fees they incurred because of the challenging of the will. However, we were forced to seek specialist legal advice to resolve the situation.
The reader also says she was told to contact the utility companies herself, along with sorting out other aspects of her friend's affairs. She adds that she had no idea about the fees until she received the documents back from the bank around a year later.
But now I look back, I think that the bank did very little to earn such a huge fee. So if you've discovered that your bank intends to charge you thousands of pounds to act as executor, what can you do? First, write to your bank and ask if it will stand down. However, if you live in England and Wales, it could refuse. In Scotland they must agree to give up this responsibility when asked. You can also try to negotiate to bring down the fees.
If all else fails, tear it up and start again. In your new will, just include a line to clarify that it revokes all previous versions. If you opt for a professional writing service, choose the firm carefully; will-writing is an unregulated business and there are rogue firms out there.
Check that the company is signed up to an industry trade body, such as the Society of Will Writers or the Institute of Professional Will Writers.
These enforce strict rules to which members must adhere. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority. You will likely be asked if you want to appoint the professional arranging your will as an executor. If your affairs are complicated, this could make sense.
But check the fees. Beware if a firm tries to persuade you to appoint them as an executor. You may prefer to appoint a relative as an executor in the first place, particularly if your estate is relatively uncomplicated. If the executor needs legal help after you've died, they can ask a probate broker such as Final Duties, which should provide a flat fee to deal with the estate.
Even if your estate is more complex and you prefer a professional executor, then wherever possible try to include a relative as executor, too. Most banks, including Zedra which has taken over the Barclays probate business and the Co-operative which runs the former HSBC wills business , claim they will lower fees if an estate is very simple. If an estate like this is being passed to your spouse, the fee should be even less.
Higher charges may be justified if inheritance tax is due on the estate or if it includes stock market shares, which can take time to sell. If you or a loved one has already paid charges to the bank from the estate, you're unlikely to get your money back even if you believe the terms were unfair. However, it is still worth complaining to the bank. Lay out the fees and explain why you believe your loved one's estate was overcharged.
If you do not get a satisfactory response, take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. You can make a complaint six years from the event or three years from the time that you knew or could have reasonably known you had cause to complain. Even if your loved one died long ago, it may be possible to argue that you realised that the fees were excessive only after reading about the issue in Money Mail this year.
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