An aspect of separation and divorce that is rarely talked about with any level of seriousness is what happens to the family pets? As anyone with a cat, dog, turtle, axolotl or miniature elephant will know, pets are more than secondary to a family life, in fact they form part of a family's dynamics and may even be viewed as another family member. For children, pets can be constant and anchoring presences who keep confidences while offering unconditional love and affection at a time when they may question their parents' love for them. In short, family pets may offer comfort and companionship during a tumultuous time in a way that no human can.
The Ministry of Justice recently provoked consternation with news that it would introduce a massive hike in probate fees for those estates valued over £50,000. Currently the fee is £155 (if grant of probate is obtained through a solicitor) or £210 (if an individual applies).
However, with the increase in place, fees will range from £300 to a whopping £20,000, with the higher sum applicable for estates valued at £2 million or over and, depressingly, the Government Response to the consultation on fee reform makes clear what the real reason is for the proposed increases: "a properly funded courts and tribunals service".
Three women who faked their elderly neighbour's Will have received custodial sentences following a trial at Cardiff Crown Court. Karen O'Brien was sentenced to four and a half years, Gemma Gauci to four years and Leanne Collins to one year - all for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
The women claimed to have found the Will while cleaning the home of the deceased man, Mr James Wilmot. The faked Will named Karen O'Brien and Gemma Gauci as executors and beneficiaries, and Leanne Collins as another beneficiary. The late Mr Wilmot's estate was worth an estimated £320,000.
The recent decision from the Court of appeal, which upheld the original judgement by Judge Tolson QC, has created a huge amount of uncertainty for those seeking a divorce. Judge Tolson's original decision to dismiss Tini Owens’ petition for a divorce effectively said to Mrs Owens' that her husband's alleged behaviour was not so severe that she could not be 'reasonably expected to live with [him]'.
The Court of Appeal judgement contained some of the details of the examples used by Mrs Owens in her divorce petition, as well as her later amended petition. What was surprising about the examples was that they were spread over a wide span of time. In some incidents, the alleged behaviour had occurred years previously. The standard legal approach would be to cite an example from the last 6 months of the couple living together as husband and wife, and then to include a dated specific example that demonstrates the effect of the alleged behaviour on the petitioner. This effectively, and to use the words in the CoA judgment, is a good way of 'beefing up' the petition.
However you want to characterise it, if we are indeed in the post-truth age or the era of "alternative facts" it is likely that it would be, by definition, so confusing a state of affairs that we would be unable to tell. But the sheer brazenness of the government‘s budget announcing a May 1st hike in Grant of Probate "court fee" does feel indicative of a huge disconnect between policy and reality, and as such is couched in suitably misleading language. But make no mistake it is a tax on death that strikes right to the heart of families, their sense of security, their sense of self-worth and their self-reliance. We should not be surprised if ultimately it undermines families, their connection to their land and their legacies.
Currently the probate process is, basically, fair. Probate solicitors have to pay a flat rate of £155 when making probate applications, while personal representatives who manage the process themselves pay a slightly higher £205. But with the new banding fees to be calculated before inheritance tax settlement, estates will soon face bills of thousands of pounds while those worth in excess of £2 million will be saddled with probate fee bills of £20,000.