An important probate case this summer, Keeling v Keeling, demonstrated the unwillingness of the courts to believe in so-called “deathbed gifts” without the credibility provided by the presence of a bona fide Will or, failing that perhaps, reliable and impartial witnesses.
The case concerned the alleged deathbed gift of a 91-year-old woman who, according to her 86-year-old widower brother, gifted him her £900,000 house in Westhampnett near Chichester during her final days.
In throwing out the widower’s claim, Judge Charles Hollander QC, reprimanded him for what he said amounted to a "shameless sense of entitlement" which had led him to "ride roughshod" over the interests and rights of other family members, including a third sibling who is 87-years-old and suffers from dementia and physical disability.
Probate is one of those legal processes that almost everyone will need to negotiate at some time in their lives. Unfortunately, the complexity juxtaposed with necessity can leave the legal services consumer feeling trapped – in desperate need of assistance at a difficult time but dissatisfied and disempowered by the options presented before them.
Above all, at a time of grief and uncertainty, with all the emotional and familial difficulties that may emerge, the client is likely to want and need clarity regarding who is providing them with a probate service, how much it will cost, and just what it will entail. But this is not always as simple as it sounds. And in the case of those faced by the prospect of handing over the probate reins to a professional executor named in the Will, any notion of choice appears to be completely snatched from their hands.
Oratto, the legal services website that matches consumers to the right lawyer for their particular needs, has launched a fixed-fee probate quote engine which provides consumers with the ability to compare quotes for probate. Customers could save four figure sums on probate fees and, crucially, are empowered to find the solicitor who is right for their particular situation.
With the launch of its fixed-fee probate quotation system, Oratto offers consumers with unprecedented level of ease, efficiency and pricing transparency when finding and comparing quotes for fixed-fee probate services. The process is simple to use and, once the detailed but quick-fire questionnaire is complete, users are presented with a selection of named lawyers, each offering a fixed-fee quote for services based on the information provided.
Lawyers in Britain are hopeful that some level of cooperation between the United Kingdom and the European Union can help ensure a smooth transition following Brexit, particularly in relation to cross-border legal disputes, as well as in relation to civil and commercial law generally.
In a new paper, ‘Providing a cross-border civil judicial cooperation framework', which was published on 22 August, the government says that non-EU protections are already in place in many areas because of instruments such as the Hague Convention. However, it has also made clear its intention to foster "close and comprehensive cross-border civil judicial cooperation on a reciprocal basis" in other areas. This is undoubtedly necessary. The Hague Convention, for example, does provide certain protections in relation to the return of abducted children, but these are not as swift or effective as those that exist within EU agreements.
The Law Commission says that Wills need to be brought into the 21st century. In many ways, the urgency makes sense. For at least a decade now most of us have been using digital technology to help us negotiate our banking, shopping, working lives, dating, and family lives, – the list could go – but one area in which we are yet to fully embrace the digital, remains Wills, where we are still doing things in largely the same way our Victorian forbears did.
But, before we throw out the baby with the bathwater, not everything that is old is out-dated, so the question has to be, is our current Wills system fit for purpose in the year 2017 and for the foreseeable beyond? Does it do enough to protect vulnerable members of society; does it provide fairness, cost effectiveness, efficiency, reliability and accessibility?