Saturday, 31 March 2012

A Salutary Lesson about Goods & Chattells; Will Writers v Solicitors.

YoungNells is growing up.  She'll be 14 next time around and we started worrying about what would happen to her if we pegged out early, well earlier than we hope, as there was no provision for her in our last will which was made long before she was born.

It started us on a discussion about legal costs with others who had used solicitors for various reasons, mostly divorces, in recent times. "It will cost you a fortune to make a new will" we were solemnly told. "£300 per hour and then some. And that's just for a consultation!" another helpful friend gleefully chipped in over my lovingly cooked sirloin of beef.

And then along comes my elderly Uncle visiting for a cup of tea one morning. He waved an undunked biscuit in the air as he enthusiastically sang the praises of Will Writers. He'd found one he said who worked for a very reasonable sum and did a very thorough job. "They even come to your own home. No need to visit some office, mix with townies and pay parking fees!" Was his parting shot.

Ah! we thought. We've cracked it! We can afford to make another will without taking out another mortgage to pay the solicitor's bill.   So we duly contacted Uncle's friendly Will Writer who bustled out to our house to give us a free consultation on what we wanted to do with our goods and chattels.

She got stuck right in - it would cost us £300 to make two back to back wills. She was very keen to point out that she wasn't VAT registered so we would also make a saving there. We couldn't believe our luck!

She asked to see our last wills and spent a few minutes reading them as her expression became ever more worried. She set them aside, took a drink of her coffee and then looked us straight in the eye. It was evident that bad news was on the way.

We needed to create a Discretionary Trust, she said, and unfortunately that would cost another £200. Then she asked about the ownership of our house. When we told her it was jointly owned, she clicked her teeth in disapproval a bit like my Mother, now 97, does with her false one's. It sent warning shivers down my spine.   We would, she advised, need to change the Joint Ownership to Tenants in Common. She wasn't sure how much that would cost; she was going to have to go away and check.

She asked some uncomfortable questions like 'Do you want to be buried or cremated?' and " What do you want doing with your remains?" And then insisted that she would need a detailed List of Wishes on what to do with things like my plastic jewellery, BeeGees & Monkees records and hubbies collection of silver plated youthful cricketing cups and Bridge Club mementoes. Funeral Instructions and Letters of Wishes of course were charged as extras.

When she waltzed out of the door we knew we were looking at a bill of at least £600. But the killer crunch came when she telephoned two days later to say that the cost of changing the ownership of the house to Tenants in Common would take the bill to £650. Then she said, just when we thought we had absorbed all the shocks that were to come, that we also needed to have urgent discussions with her about what would happen on the death of the first of us as this would leave the surviving partner with a tax bill of £75k unless we took further steps to protect ourselves. It meant of course, we supposed, more paperwork and more money for her.

It was our wake up call. So far we'd paid no money over on this free consultation and thought it time to start talking to the solicitors we had used all those years ago to make the first will, before we decided how best to proceed.

The solicitors we contacted also offered us a free consultation. Yes we had to take the car , find somewhere to park and browse shops on the way. Fun for me , misery for hubby, but that's life!  The consultation lasted less than an hour and we found out to our disgust that Discretionary Trusts & owning the house as Tenants in Common had been made unnecessary by changes to the law a few years ago. We also discovered that, as the law currently stands, there would be no taxes to pay on our pitiful estate until both of us had passed over to the other side and probably not even then and that Letters of Wishes and Funeral arrangements could be incorporated into the wills or not as we preferred,without extra cost.

Total solicitors cost £230 plus VAT.

Lesson learned!

Oh and one last thought for those thinking of using a Will Writing service instead of a Solicitor. Will Writers are currently unregulated whereas the written Terms & Conditions our Solicitor provided to us states that he is currently insured for £10million against any claim our beneficiaries might have against him, for bad advice given to us. When the time comes that is!!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Elder Abuse & Maintaining Happy Residential Homes

Well what a few weeks we've had!

My Mum, who is 97, is in residential care, virtually immobile but mentally alert. She's been there two years and it was a lovely happy vibrant place until Christmas.

They changed the manager in December . The new Manager was instantly invisible and the atmosphere in the home took an instant dive.  Staff became sullen, activities for the residents negligible and a strong smell of urine assailed the nostrils as you walked in indicating that toileting was not being done regularly.

It came to a head a few weeks ago when I visited unexpectedly and caught one of the carer's bullying a resident who couldn't walk very well , forcing her to 'hurry' down the hall and calling her lazy. I tried to get a face to face meeting with the Manager and was told she was unavailable. I tried to phone her from home and was told she wasn't there and was too busy to return my calls!

I wrote her a letter, also copied to her by email, outlining my serious concerns and asked for an immediate response. Gave her a day to respond and when she didn't, started phoning, emailing and writing letters of complaint to the Home's Head Offices. They owned 40 other homes . I didn't expect they'd ignore my concerns especially when I suggested the local newspaper might be interested in what I had to say.  They didn't.

They came back to me in under 24 hours. But they didn't immediately promise an investigation and I wasn't satisfied.  So I took my complaints and concerns to the local Adult Social Services/NHS team responsible for the quality of care in residential homes in their area. That action achieved instant results. The company owning the homes promised a team would move in unannounced within 48 hours to investigate. The NHS/Social Services advised they'd be following on it's heels and the Care Quality Commission, responsible for standards in care homes across the UK, was being notified.

Ironically , the manager who had thus far ignored me, finally picked up my correspondence unaware that investigating teams were about to descend upon her , phoned me and said she had everything under control and would be investigating as soon as she had time! I chose not to tell her that I'd already gone over her head and secured assurances that action would be taken by others. The investigating teams arrived and she was swept aside. Haven't seen her since and it appears that she and two other members of her staff have been removed. Rightly so!

We have learnt three valuable lessons from this :

1.   Don't let a well run happy residential home lull you into a false sense of security. A change of manager can bring about instant deterioration and you need to stay alert for it,

2.   Don't be afraid to complain when things go wrong . We were.  We thought complaining might make things personally worse for our own Mother.  It didn't. It brought about a complete change for the better.  Be persistent , if the first layer of authority ignores or fobs you off go to the next and don't be afraid to go to the top.

3.   Be aware of the signs that indicate care is deteriorating. An Officer with Adult Social Services told me that the first sign of trouble is always a strong smell of urine.  Other signs are few activities to stimulate residents, sullen/unhelpful staff who don't talk to the residents or visitors, residents ringing call bells that staff ignore, residents not getting regular showers or baths and small portions of indifferently cooked food.

And don't forget whether the fees of the home are being paid by the resident, family or Social Services or a combination of some or all of those; it costs in excess of £30,000 per year for care in one of these homes.  Companies are well paid, this is a £multi billion industry not a charity! and they should provide a quality service in return for their profits!