Professionals Come Together To Discuss Discretionary Trusts

Wednesday 9 September saw the first Today’s Wills and Probate roundtable of the year, and the first one that has been held digitally due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Discretionary Trusts – discussing risk and efficiency in the world of trusts, charities and  probate, sponsored by The Cashroom and Estatesearch, brought together private client and will writing professionals discussing the advantages and pitfalls of Discretionary Trusts, how trusts can be better used and the how the wills and probate sector has been fairing in recent months.

Karen Babington, Director at the Practical Vision Network who publishes the Today’s Wills and Probate trade publication, said:

“It was refreshing to hold a roundtable again; it has been a very long time. Although having a Zoom call isn’t the same as having everyone in a room, and discussing issues over lunch, it was useful to get an insight into the risks and controls the participants of the round table have put / are putting in place.

“Although we’re still adapting to the new normal as a result of the pandemic, two of the companies were back in the office, with the rest of the participants continuing to work remotely. This round table demonstrated that no matter where a professional is based they continue to provide the best service they can.

“It is fair to say it felt like we opened a can of worms when discussing the topic of trusts in an hour and a half, and as such it’s a topic Today’s Wills and Probate are keen to report more on.”

Alex Holt, Director of Business Development at The Cashroom said:

“It was great to be part of a fascinating discussion that could only have been improved with a nice lunch and a few glasses of wine with the group. The area of Trusts in general and their management is a tricky one for legal practices. It seems that efficiency of process, and making clear the benefits of using proper legal support to manage a trust, are two elements that need further consideration.”

Ben Furlong, Client Services Director at Estatesearch, said:

“It was great to be involved in the opening roundtable since Covid first restricted how we would normally meet and discuss industry issues and news. We have always found open discussion the best forum to share best practice, understand potential challenges and identify opportunities for new policies, products or services that can help effect change in the legal sector.”

The main bone of contention for the group was the lack of education that was out there for clients and third party organisations such as banks when it came to setting up, and the continual running of a trust, and what should happen if the decision is made to close a trust.

As a result of this lack of knowledge, costs for administering discretionary trusts can spiral for clients which could potentially be avoided. It was agreed that discretionary trusts can be used effectively but shouldn’t be a go to solution until a legal services professional has ascertained that is the best course of action for them to take.

The concern around banks releasing large amounts of estate funds without seeing a Will or any other probate evidence was also discussed. With an insight from a delegate revealing that the banks are closing a deceased person’s account without any documentation in an attempt to quicken their side of the bereavement process.

Naturally, no discussion involving the wills and probate sector would be complete without touching on the topic of witnessing wills via video.

All of the delegates agreed that video wills would be a complete last resort for them, and would only be utilised when every other solution had been explored and ruled out. The concern surrounding video wills, which was openly discussed is the fact that Wills instructed and signed by video calls could result in a rise in contentious probate issues.

This could be because a private client/will writing professional will be unable to ascertain whether a person is instructing them of their own free will. It was also identified that mistakes can be made if certain questions aren’t asked in a timely manner.

As such video witnessing of wills isn’t the step forward that many in the sector were hoping for.

As a result of the discussion the group reached a general consensus that the wills and probate sector need some form of regulation to ensure clients are getting an efficient, effective and quality service from whatever provider they choose to use for their needs.

More education is needed across the sector, to stakeholders and clients about discretionary trusts to help them run more efficiently and effectively.

Jade Gani, Head of Wills and Probate at Aston Bond, said:

“I think that it is so important professionals and leaders across the sector get the opportunity to come together to discuss topical matters so that we can help highlight issues, apply pressure and drive positive change when needed. This roundtable event really demonstrated exactly that.”

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