A man teaching his grandson to ride a bike.

Will disputes are on the rise. Here are 7 pragmatic steps you could take to minimise conflicts

A man teaching his grandson to ride a bike.

A will is an important way of outlining what you’d like to happen to your assets when you pass away. Yet, figures suggest will disputes are on the rise. If you’re worried about potential conflicts when you pass away, read on to discover some useful steps you might want to take.

According to a report in The Guardian, thousands of families have been embroiled in disputes dubbed “ruinously expensive” by solicitors. As well as the potential legal costs, court cases can be emotionally draining and place pressure on your loved ones.

In 2021/22, 195 disputes went to court, up from 145 in 2017. While the figure is low, it’s thought to be just the tip of the iceberg as many cases are settled out of court. Indeed, the report suggests that as many as 10,000 families in England and Wales are disputing wills every year.

A dispute could mean your assets aren’t passed on in a way that aligns with your wishes, or even that someone who you wanted to benefit from your estate is overlooked. If it’s a situation you’re worried about, here are seven steps you could take to reduce the risk of your will being overturned.

1. Speak to loved ones about your wishes

Speaking to your family about your wishes can be difficult. Nonetheless, it could be an important conversation and mean there are no surprises when your will is read, which could reduce the chance of a dispute arising.

If someone in your life discovers they will inherit less than expected or are not a beneficiary in your will after your passing, they may be more likely to react negatively – especially if they’re also grieving your loss. Discussing it during your lifetime could give them time to come to terms with the decision, as well as allow you to explain your reasons.

2. Write a letter of wishes

Similarly, you can write a letter of wishes that could be read alongside your will. This provides an opportunity to explain why you’ve made certain decisions, which could be useful for beneficiaries, the executor of your estate, and, if a dispute arises, the court.

You should take care that the letter of wishes doesn’t contradict what’s written in your will – you may want to ask a solicitor to review it to minimise mistakes.

3. Include a no-contest clause in your will

You could choose to add a no-contest clause to your will. It doesn’t mean that someone can’t raise a dispute, but it can act as a deterrent. Essentially, the clause means that if someone did challenge your will and lose their dispute, they would forfeit any inheritance they may have been entitled to.

So, if you’re worried that a beneficiary could challenge your will to try and receive a larger proportion of your assets, adding a no-contest clause might be useful.

4. Hire a solicitor to write your will

You can write your will yourself without any professional legal support. Yet, a solicitor could provide essential guidance and check the language of your will.

For example, if you’ve used vague or contradictory phrases, there could be a greater opportunity for disputes to arise. It could be particularly important if your estate or plans are complex. Choosing to hire a solicitor may help you feel more confident that your wishes will be carried out.

5. Ask a medical practitioner to witness your will

For your will to be valid, it must be made or acknowledged in the presence of two witnesses. To act as a witness, a person must:

  • Be aged over 18 (16 in Scotland)
  • Have the mental capacity to understand what they are signing
  • Not be related to the person making the will or have a personal interest in the will.

However, if you’re worried that your will could be contested on medical grounds, you might want to ask a medical practitioner, such as your GP, to witness it. This could prevent later accusations that you weren’t of sound mind when writing your will.

6. Regularly review your will

One of the reasons why a dispute may occur is that your beneficiaries don’t believe your will reflects your circumstances when you pass away. So, a regular review might be useful.

Going over your will every five years or following major life events could ensure it remains up-to-date. For example, you might want to make changes after you welcome a new grandchild into the family, remarry, or your wealth changes significantly.

7. Store your will in a safe place

Finally, make sure your will is stored in a safe place and your executor knows where it is. If you’ve rewritten your will, be sure to destroy previous ones to avoid potential confusion.

Understanding your estate could help you make decisions about your will

If you’re deciding how to distribute your assets or need to update your will, understanding your estate could be an important step. Calculating the value of various assets and how they might change during your lifetime could alter how you want to pass them on. Please contact us to talk about your will and wider estate plan.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning.

Two people watering plants.

ESG for beginners: The basics you need to know about ESG investing

Two people watering plants.

If you’ve come across the phrase “ESG investing” and weren’t sure what it meant or if it’s right for you, read on. You’ll discover what it means and some key considerations if it’s something you want to incorporate into your investment strategy.

ESG investing simply stands for “environmental, social and governance” and involves considering factors from these three pillars alongside financial information when you’re making investment decisions.

It’s an approach to investing that’s been around for decades. Indeed, the initial concept of “ethical investing” is thought to have originated in the Quaker community in the 18th century. However, it’s only since around the 1960s that it started to become mainstream, and it’s gradually gained momentum in the decades since.

It’s an approach that more investors could incorporate into their investment strategy in the future. According to a report in FTAdviser, more than half of investors plan to increase their ESG investments in 2024.

ESG covers a broad range of categories

The term “ESG” covers a huge range of categories that consider how a company operates.

Under the environmental pillar, the following issues might be considered:

  • Carbon emissions
  • Deforestation
  • Waste management.

Social considerations may include:

  • Data security
  • Human rights within the supply chain
  • Customer satisfaction.

Finally, governance might cover:

  • Diversity of board members
  • Executive pay
  • Political contributions.

Factoring ESG issues into your decision-making process could help align your investments with your values. For instance, if you choose Fairtrade items when you’re grocery shopping because you want farmers to receive fair pay, you might consider how a company treats its employees and supply chains when you come to invest.

Some opportunities use other phrases when they’re describing investment criteria. For example, an investment fund that’s focused on reducing its impact on the environment might use “green” or “sustainable”. Or if a business’ practices are scrutinised, it could use “corporate social responsibility” or “CSR”.

Incorporating ESG doesn’t mean overlooking the finances

Incorporating ESG principles into your portfolio doesn’t mean you overlook the financial side of the business or fund. After all, you still want to generate a return on your investment.

You might want to think of your portfolio as having a double bottom line – the returns you receive and the positive impact it could have on the world. So, making ESG part of your portfolio doesn’t have to mean settling for lower returns or adjusting your plans.

In fact, some people argue that ESG investing could deliver greater benefits for investors as companies that have embraced ESG practices are more likely to be forward-thinking and prepared for potential government or economic changes.

Of course, investment returns cannot be guaranteed, and you should still ensure you understand the risk of investing in ESG opportunities and assess if it’s right for you.

You can start ESG investing by buying stocks or using a fund

Much like when you invest without an ESG criteria, you can choose to purchase stocks and shares or invest in a fund.

If you choose to invest in stocks and shares, you’d select which companies you invest in. Understanding if they meet your ESG criteria may be difficult, as there’s no standard way for businesses to report the information. You might also need to consider the individual risk of each stock and how to create a diversified portfolio that suits your needs.

The alternative option is to invest in an ESG fund.

A fund would pool your money with that of other investors and then invest in a range of companies. As a result, using a fund may be a useful way to diversify your investments. The fund will define what its ESG focus is, and how it decides which businesses to invest in.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as ESG is so broad, it might be challenging to find a fund that matches your values exactly. So, you may need to compromise in some areas.

Whichever option you choose, it’s essential you still consider the factors that you would when investing without an ESG focus, such as your investment time frame, risk profile, and how it fits into your financial plan. This can help you balance your ESG goals with your aspirations and circumstances.

Contact us if you’d like to consider ESG factors when investing

Balancing ESG factors and the other considerations you might need to make when investing can be difficult. We’re here to offer support and could work with you to select investments that not only align with your ESG values but support your other goals too.

Please contact us to arrange a meeting to talk about your investment strategy.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The value of your investments (and any income from them) can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Investments should be considered over the longer term and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.

Grandparents gardening with their grandchild.

3 useful options you may want to consider when passing on assets to your loved ones

Grandparents gardening with their grandchild.There’s more than one way to pass on wealth to your family. Which option is right for you could depend on a range of factors, from whether your loved ones could benefit from support now to the implications of Inheritance Tax (IHT).

Read on to find out what you might want to consider when passing on assets using three different methods.

1. Gifting during your lifetime

Providing gifts to loved ones during your lifetime is becoming an increasingly popular option. With younger generations often facing financial challenges, a gift now could provide greater security than if they received an inheritance later in life.

Being able to support your loved ones when they need it most is a key benefit of gifting during your lifetime. It could mean your family can get on the property ladder, pursue further education, or simply manage their budget more effectively.

Many young people rely on family to reach milestones. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that around half of first-time buyers in their 20s received some financial help. Not only did this allow them to buy a home, but it could improve their finances over the long term, especially if they were able to access a lower mortgage interest rate as a result.

In addition, gifting during your lifetime could be useful if your estate may be liable for IHT.

Gifts that were given more than seven years before you passed away are not usually included in your estate for IHT purposes. Some gifts, including up to £3,000 in the 2024/25 tax year, are considered immediately outside of your estate when calculating IHT.

As a result, you could gift assets to reduce the overall value of your estate to mitigate or reduce an IHT bill.

In 2024/25, the nil-rate band is £325,000 – if the entire value of your estate is below this threshold, no IHT will be due. If your estate exceeds this threshold there are often other allowances and steps you may take to reduce the bill. Please contact us if your estate could be liable for IHT.

Whether you want to gift a lump sum or lend regular financial support, there are some key areas you may want to consider before you put your hand in your pocket, including:

  • How could taking wealth out of your estate now affect your long-term financial security?
  • As you’ll be gifting assets during your lifetime, will it affect the inheritances you leave behind for loved ones?

Financial planning could help you assess the implications of gifting to help you understand if it’s the right option for you.

2. Passing on assets in a will

Leaving assets to your loved ones when you pass away is the traditional way to pass on wealth, and it’s an option that’s still right for many people.

It might be attractive because you want to leave a legacy to your beneficiaries. It could provide a wealth boost to your family later in their life and might be used to support a range of aspirations, like retiring early or sending your grandchildren to private school.

A legacy could also be a good option if you’re worried that gifting during your lifetime could affect your financial security in your later years.

If you want to leave assets to your loved ones when you pass away, it’s important to write a will – it’s a way to state how you’d like your assets to be distributed. If you die without a will, your assets will be passed on according to intestacy rules, which may not align with your wishes.

However, there are drawbacks you might need to consider when leaving assets in a will.

Among them is whether the financial boost will come too late in the lives of your family. If they’re struggling financially now, could receiving some or all their inheritance before you pass away be more beneficial?

Again, it might also be useful to consider if your estate could be liable for IHT when you’re writing a will. If you’re proactive, there are often steps you can take to reduce an eventual bill.

3. Using a trust to hold assets

A trust is a legal arrangement to pass on assets where a trustee manages assets on behalf of the beneficiary according to the trust deed, which allows you, as the “settlor”, to set how the assets in the trust should be used and when.

There are many reasons why you might choose to use a trust, including to:

  • Retain greater control over assets you pass on
  • Pass on assets to young children or vulnerable adults
  • Allow you to pass on assets but still benefit from them during your lifetime
  • Preserve wealth for future generations
  • Mitigate an IHT bill.

One of the key benefits of a trust is that you can state how the assets are used. So, if you have a clear idea about how you’d like your loved ones to use the wealth you give them, it’s an option you may want to consider. For example, you could create a trust on behalf of your grandchild and state that it’s to be used for education purposes during their childhood, and they can then access the assets once they reach a certain age.

There are several different types of trusts and, once they’re set up, they can be difficult or impossible to reverse. As a result, you might want to seek legal advice when creating a trust to discuss your objectives and whether it’s the right option for you.

Contact us to set up your estate plan

You don’t have to just select one of the options covered in this article. You might choose to pass on some of your wealth now, but leave the rest of it through a will. Or you might decide to gift assets to some loved ones but use a trust for others, such as young children.

A complete estate plan might encompass more than how you’ll pass on assets to loved ones. You might also want to consider what steps you could take to improve your security if you needed care later in life, how to mitigate a potential IHT bill, set out your funeral wishes, and more.

Please contact us to talk about how to prepare for your later years and discuss how we could help you put an estate plan that reflects your wishes in place.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning or Inheritance Tax planning.

A man looking at stock market performance on his phone.

Investment market update: April 2024

A man looking at stock market performance on his phone.Interest rates and inflation continued to affect markets around the world in April 2024. Read on to find out what else may have affected investment markets and your portfolio in April.

Expectations of interest rate cuts were good news for gold. Investors who feared falling interest rates would lead to lower returns on cash and government bonds purchased more gold. It led to the asset hitting a record high on 8 April at $2,535 (£3,171) an ounce.

Yet, while many experts are predicting that interest rates will fall, Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned that central banks must resist pressure to cut them too soon.

UK

The UK ended 2023 in a technical recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. The latest figures suggest the UK is already out of the recession. According to the Office for National Statistics, GDP grew slightly by 0.1% in February 2024, following 0.3% growth in January.

UK inflation data was also positive. Inflation in the 12 months to March 2024 was 3.2%. While there’s still some way to go before reaching the Bank of England’s (BoE) 2% target, it’s the lowest figure recorded since September 2021.

Clare Lombardelli, the newly appointed BoE deputy governor, tempered the news by adding that inflation is likely to be “bumpy” as pricing behaviour isn’t smooth. However, she added that the overall experience for people should be lower and more predictable inflation.

On the back of good news and with a general election looming this year, chancellor Jeremy Hunt told the Financial Times that he’d like to cut taxes in the autumn fiscal statement “if we can”.

While inflation overall is falling, business group British Chamber of Commerce has warned that new Brexit fees and checks could lead to higher food prices in the UK. Importers of animal products from the EU will face an additional charge from 30 April 2024 and new checks will be applied from October.

Data from S&P Global’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) also indicates that growth will continue. The service sector continued to expand in March and the construction industry returned to growth thanks to increased work in infrastructure projects.

Official data shows average wages, excluding bonuses, increased by around 6% between December 2023 and February 2024. Once inflation is factored in, average wages increased by 2.1% in real terms.

Yet, other information suggests many households will continue to financially struggle. A BoE report suggests it expects the number of households and small businesses to default on debt to rise this summer.

A report from consultancy firm KPMG also found that half of consumers are cutting back on non-essential spending. In fact, just 3% of consumers said they had been able to spend more in the first quarter of 2024. Eating out is the most likely expense to be cut from budgets, which could negatively affect the hospitality sector.

In April, the FTSE 100 proved why investors need to be prepared to weather market volatility.

On 12 April, the index of the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange closed at the highest level for over a year. News that the UK is likely to have exited a recession led to the index rising by 0.9%.

However, just days later, on 16 April, the index tumbled by 1.95% and almost every stock on the index was in the red, with mining companies and banks suffering the largest falls. The downturn was linked to a market adjustment after the US Federal Reserve said it may not cut interest rates as soon as it hoped.

Then there was another turn as the FTSE 100 hit a record high of 8,068 points on 23 April due to expectations that the BoE will start cutting interest rates this year and fears about escalating tensions in the Middle East eased.

The ups and downs serve as useful reminders to focus on the long-term performance of investments rather than short-term market movements.

Europe

Inflation across the eurozone fell by more than expected to 2.4% in the 12 months to March 2024. Despite optimism that interest rates would be cut, the European Central Bank opted to hold rates. Yet, the bank did signal that, if inflation continues to fall, it could cut them in the summer.

PMI data indicates that the eurozone economy returned to growth for the first time since May 2023. The positive figures were driven by stronger than expected output from the service sector, with Spain and Italy providing the strongest boost. However, the two largest economies in the bloc, Germany and France, contracted.

Some EU countries, including Italy and France, could be put under an infringement order procedure for operating budgets with deficits that breach the EU’s rules. Usually, governments have to keep budget deficits below 3% of GDP. The cap was set aside during the Covid-19 pandemic but could be implemented again, which might place pressure on public spending plans.

Similar to the UK, European indexes suffered on 16 April when the Federal Reserve indicated it wouldn’t cut interest rates soon. France’s CAC index fell 1.8% and Spain’s IBEX was down 1.2%.

US

The US private sector added 40,000 more jobs than expected in March 2024, with businesses hiring an additional 184,000 employees. Job growth is one of the measures the Federal Reserve will consider when deciding whether to cut interest rates, so the data led to speculation that rates would fall soon.

Yet, when the rate of inflation was released, it dampened the optimism. In the 12 months to March 2024, inflation was 3.5%, an increase when compared to the 3.2% recorded a month earlier.

Investment markets did benefit when fears that Iran’s attack on Israel would lead to an escalation in the Middle East didn’t materialise. On 15 April, the Dow Jones saw a rise of 0.9%, while the S&P 500 increased by 0.7%, and tech-focused index Nasdaq was up 0.6%.

Asia

China beat its GDP forecast when it posted growth of 5.3% for January to March 2024 when compared to a year earlier. However, China’s National Bureau of Statistics recognised that growth could be hampered. The organisation said the external environment was becoming more “complex, severe, and uncertain”.

Indeed, the country faced several headwinds in April.

First, credit rating agency Fitch has cut the outlook of China’s debt from “stable” to “negative”, as it said the country was facing uncertain economic prospects.

Then, US treasury secretary Janet Yellen voiced concerns that China’s excess manufacturing capital could cause global fallout. She said China was too big to rely on exports for rapid growth and excess capacity was putting pressure on other economies.

While Yellen didn’t make any announcements about trade tariffs on Chinese goods, she said she would not rule out taking more action to protect the US economy from Chinese imports.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The value of your investments (and any income from them) can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Investments should be considered over the longer term and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.