“I’ll leave it to the cats’ home!”

It’s a fact – you do have the right in law to leave your money to anyone you like – even the cats’ home – and I’m sure they would be very grateful. The problem comes when you don’t provide for certain categories of dependents who can argue they are entitled in law to receive some provision.

Private client lawyers are always advising their clients to think carefully before cutting off relatives who have upset them and who have stopped visiting.  The Court lists are full of cases where these dependents are seeking to, in effect, re-write the terms of a will after death because they can claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependents) Act 1975

This act aims to allow the Court to look back at the deceased’s estate and balance against that the fair and reasonable provision for certain people who come within certain categories, such as spouse or civil partner. This can be where there is no will and the deceased died intestate, where the provision left for them is not enough or where they have been left out of the will entirely.

There is no substitute for proper legal advice firstly, in drafting your will and secondly, if you are dealing with the after effects of a devastating will provision.

https://www.curwens.co.uk/private-services/wills-probate-and-trusts/disputing-a-will/

Contact Adrian Boulter on 0208 363 4444

 

 

 

 

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Going legal ? Read this first…

If you are in business, dealing with individuals who sometimes don’t pay, you may be thinking about “going legal“.  The County Court rules relating to debt claims are due to change in October 2017 and you must be aware of the new protocol to follow or the Court will impose sanctions.

You can check out the full version here :

https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/pdf/protocols/pre-action-protocol-for-debt-claims.pdf

The main changes are the work that has to be done and the longer timescales before you can safely issue a court claim. You have to allow the debtor a lot more time, pre-action, providing more details of the debt itself and also listening more to any proposals for settlement. This may sound frustrating when you’ve done the work and expect to be paid, but there has been a trend for some time now for the Courts to require the parties to try to settle without using the Court’s time and resources, which are constantly under pressure – as are those who haven’t been paid, one might argue!

In particular, note that “individuals” now includes “sole traders” – so this not only relates to private debts but also could take in some commercial work.

The significant point is to make sure that you have all the details you need before you start chasing the debt so that you can keep up the pressure within the Court’s timeframe. The lesson to learn from all this is that it is more important than ever to keep accurate records, emails, evidence of communications etc when you’re in business and expect to be paid for the work you’ve done.

If you need any help with this, contact the Dispute Resolution team at Curwens – Rose Albay – 0208 363 4444.

https://www.curwens.co.uk/business-services/business-dispute-resolution/

 

Spencer Laymond is a company lawyer with Curwens Solicitors. He sets out here his seven reasons why you may not need a partnership agreement and save yourself the money.

This may seem an unusual headline.  Why would you not want or need a partnership agreement? After all, isn’t it common sense? If you are in business with someone, shouldn’t you have a written partnership agreement? Surely it would be bad practice not to have a partnership agreement, especially if cost was not an issue?

Well, without giving the game away early, yes, if you are in business with other people, then there really should be some agreement in place setting out the expectations and exit strategy.  Yes, there will be a cash investment, in order to prepare a suitable partnership agreement but it can be dull reading explanations of things we know we should be doing, especially if it is the same old information, said the same old way. So we have turned this subject on its head, to make it a little more interesting and persuade a few more people, not only to take notice but also to take action.

We make one assumption – that you are in fact in partnership.  So here they are – seven reasons why you may not think you need a partnership agreement…

Reason 1 – You and your business partners are immortal 

If you and your business partners believe you will never die, will never suffer a serious accident or illness, or will never find yourselves incapable of continuing your role in the business (whether through age, mental capacity or otherwise), then, as much as you do not need an agreement to breathe, you may not need a partnership agreement regulating what to do if one of you should die.

If you want to check the law for yourself – the Partnership Act 1890, section 33(1) provides that a partnership is automatically dissolved on the death of any partner. That’s it. Without an agreement, on death of a partner, the business comes to an abrupt end.

But, if the death of a partner is not enough grief and aggravation, the business coming to an end itself sets a process in motion. When a partnership is dissolved, the dissolution means the start of a process of winding up. The process of winding up then disposes of the business, settling accounts with creditors and returning any surplus assets to the partners. At the end of the winding up, what once was the partnership business will be confined to history. Winding up can also give rise to unexpected and adverse legal and tax consequences.

So if you and your business partners are not immortal, the takeaway point is that there can be fatal consequences to the business, if there is no partnership agreement in place.

Reason 2 – It is reasonable for any one partner, at any time, to put the business into dissolution

Staying with the same doom and gloom theme of dissolution, if it’s perfectly reasonable for all the partners to walk around as if they have full and unrestricted access to a “button” which can be pressed at any time, a button which if pressed will kill the partnership immediately, irrespective of the circumstances and consequences to the business and other partners, then you may not need a partnership agreement.

If you want to check the law for yourself – Under the Partnership Act 1890, there are not one, but two sections that enable a partnership to be brought to an end by any partner at any time. These are sections 26(1) and 32(c). So, without an agreement, any partner, at any time, for any reason, can immediately trigger the dissolution of the partnership, and its winding up.

However, even if you and your partners have all the trust and confidence in the world in each other, even if you are family or lifelong friends, to protect the business, to provide some assurance in the event of a change in circumstances, a partnership agreement will be required.

Reason 3 – You and your business partners are happy to divide profits and losses equally, even if you have contributed different amounts of capital

Say, for example, you are in a three person partnership. Partner 1 has invested £10,000, partner 2 has invested £20,000 and partner 3 has invested £30,000. We are treating the investments as genuine capital contributions, in the sense that once the money has been invested in the partnership, it becomes permanently endowed to the partnership. The total capital invested is £60,000, of which partner 1 has invested 16.67%, partner 2 has invested 33.33% and partner 3 has invested 50%.  Each partner does exactly the same work and contributes exactly the same amount of the time to the business. Each year the business makes profits of £100,000, and each year all partners are happy to share the profits equally so that each partner receives £33,333.33. Equally if each year the business makes losses of £100,000, then the partners are happy to share the losses equally. If all partners are happy for the profits and losses of the partnership to be shared evenly, then you may not need a partnership agreement.

If you want to check the law for yourself, it’s section 24(1) of the Partnership Act 1890.  However, if you and your partners wish to share profits (or losses) in a way which reflects the original investments and perhaps different on-going contributions, then a partnership agreement will be required.

Keep in mind also that capital contributions may not be solely cash, but other property such as land and equipment. Whilst partnership accounts may make clear what assets are owned by the partnership and what assets are retained personally by an individual owner, there have been occasions where the courts have not accepted the evidence of the accounts – my third reason for a written agreement.

Reason 4 – It is reasonable for a majority of partners to oppress a minority of partners

Here we are concerned with the day to day management of the partnership business as well as its longer term direction. If you are a partner, you will automatically have a right to participate in the management. However, if you have no issue with your voice and opinion effectively falling on deaf ears and counting for nothing; if you have no issue with the seniors steering the ship as they please; if you have no issue with how decisions, big or small, are resolved, then you may not need a partnership agreement.

If you want to check the law for yourself – the Partnership Act 1890, section 24(5) provides that every partner is entitled to take part in the management of the business. Section 24 (8) then provides that differences on “ordinary matters” connected with the partnership business may be decided by a majority of partners.

The law being the law, the rules are subject to two exceptions, a few provisos and a qualification.

The exceptions:   There are two matters where even a minority partner has a veto. First, changes to the nature of the business, for example, going from software development to fish farming. Second, whether to admit a new partner – but that is about the sum of it so far as the statutory veto rights go.

The provisos:   All partners have a right to be heard; have a right to be notified of meetings; owe a duty of good faith to all partners; nevertheless, when it comes to voting, the minority can still be outvoted.

The qualification:   The rule is the majority decide “ordinary matters“, but what may be regarded as an ordinary matter in one partnership, may not be regarded as an ordinary matter in another partnership. So it is not just the number of partners voting for or against a matter that may count, but what the matter itself relates to. Is it an ordinary matter or not?

The point to takeaway here is that the Partnership Act creates scant protection for partners who find they are being oppressed by the majority. If this is acceptable then a partnership agreement may not be required.

If certainty and fairness are important, then a partnership agreement will be required.

Reason 5 – It is reasonable for a partner leaving the business to (a) freely take with them existing partnership clients (b) work for a local competitor (c) poach existing partnership staff

If the loss of clients and customers, if the loss of staff and other partners, and if the expansion of a local competitor business at the expense of your own business is of no concern to the partnership, then you may not need a partnership agreement.

 If you want to check the law for yourself, it will be a quick exercise. With the exception of a very few very limited and case specific examples, there is no law by default that provides any of these or other restrictions on partners. On the contrary, the law that there is on the subject, is law which provides for the framework as to whether any restrictions in an agreement are in fact enforceable, and whether restrictions are fair and reasonable to protect a legitimate business interest.

So if protecting your clients and customers, your staff and partners and if you do not want your competitors to get richer at your expense, are important, then a partnership agreement will be required.

Reason 6 – Even if a partner’s conduct is akin to gross misconduct, they are disqualified from their profession, they have committed murder, it is reasonable not to have a right to expel them

The principle of the partnership is “partners until death do us part”, so no matter what behaviour or scenario affects another partner, once in the partnership they have guaranteed membership for life, then you may not need a partnership agreement.

If you want to check the law for yourself – the Partnership Act 1890, section 25 provides that no majority of the partners can expel any partner unless power to do so has been conferred by express agreement between the partners.

If on the other hand you may be concerned with not having an effective remedy if a partner breaches an agreement, suffers prolonged mental or physical ill health, becomes insolvent, gets disqualified, ceases to hold relevant qualifications, neglects to perform his or her duties, is found guilty of a serious criminal activity or otherwise brings the partnership into disrepute, then a partnership agreement will be required.

Reason 7 – It is reasonable for one partner to take full responsibility for paying the debts and liabilities of a bankrupt partner

If your business partners all become bankrupt and the partnership has liabilities to pay, if those liabilities are either not covered by insurance or there is no insurance at all and you are happy to meet all the liabilities yourself, as your partners do not have the means, then you may not need a partnership agreement.

If you want to check the law for yourself – the Partnership Act 1890, section 9 provides that every partner in a firm is liable jointly with the other partners for all the debts and obligations of the firm.

Whilst there are some finer distinctions to this rule, the joint liability rule is a sound principle on a statutory footing.   Furthermore, keep in mind another consequence of partnership is that all partners are jointly liable for (a) wrongful acts and omissions of the other partners – in other words all partners are jointly responsible for the negligence of another partner; and (b) the misapplication of property or money received from third parties by one partner – in other words all partners being jointly responsible for another partner “doing a bunk” with a client’s money.

So if you don’t fancy being the “fall guy” and having to risk losing your home and jeopardising the financial integrity of your family assets, then a partnership agreement will be required. Moreover, depending on the nature of the business and availability of insurance, it may even be necessary to incorporate your partnership into a limited liability partnership (LLP); the subject of which is a blog for another occasion.

Concluding thoughts…

In conclusion, you may not need a partnership agreement and you can save yourself the money in having one prepared, if (and only “IF”) :

  1. You and your business partners are immortal;
  2. It is reasonable for any one partner, at any time, to put the business into dissolution;
  3. You and your business partners are happy to divide profits and losses equally, even if you have contributed different amounts of capital;
  4. It is reasonable for a majority of partners to oppress the minority;
  5. It is reasonable for a partner leaving the business to (a) freely take with them existing partnership clients (b) work for local competitor (c) poach existing partnership staff;
  6. Even if a partner’s conduct is akin to gross misconduct, they are disqualified from their profession, they have committed murder, it is reasonable not to have a right to expel them; and
  7. It is reasonable for one partner to take full responsibility for paying the debts and liabilities of a bankrupt partner.

However, if none of the above applies to you and you are in a partnership, then you really should consider putting a partnership agreement in place.

If you have any questions relating to this blog then please contact Spencer Laymond, our company law specialist either by email at mailto: spencer.laymond@curwens.co.uk or by telephone on (020) 8363 4444.

“The Italian Job” …..re Spousal Maintenance

SHOULD THE UK COURTS FOLLOW THE ITALIAN SUPREME COURT ON SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE?  Vijaya Sumputh, Solicitor, Family Law specialist at Curwens asks whether this case will have any effect.

According to “The Telegraph”, Vittorio Grilli, the former Italian Economy and Finance Minister (2012-2013) and his former wife Lisa Lowenstein, an American businesswoman, divorced acrimoniously in 2013.  Vittorio was ordered to pay his former wife the monthly sum of €2M to maintain her lifestyle but that was not the end of legal proceedings as Lisa then returned to Court to make Vittorio pay her debts.

The Court of Appeal in Milan rejected her claim for maintenance payments for life on the grounds that her Income Tax Returns were incomplete and Vittorio’s income had since reduced, so Lisa took the matter to the Supreme Court in 2014.

In May 2017 the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome ruled that divorcees do not have the right to automatic indefinite maintenance payments.   The Judges stated that divorce should be modernized and not be seen as “set up for life”.  They concluded that divorcees who have independent means or the capacity to work, should not expect to receive maintenance payments indefinitely. They stated that divorced parties are not all entitled to maintain the same “tenor of life” as when married and, if possible, they need to learn to be self sufficient.

The Judges further recommended that keeping up payments indefinitely can be “an obstacle to starting a new family”  and have called for the divorce law to reflect modern relationships.

Now that the Italian Family Law system has rejected the idea that divorced spouses are guaranteed their previous standard of living, it is likely that many Italian divorcees will want to challenge their divorce settlements, however, the Italian Family Court will have to be incredibly careful not to discriminate against the financially weaker party and unfairly disadvantage those without the means to gain financial independence.  While they may no longer guarantee life long maintenance payments, they must guarantee provision for those who lose their earning capacity because of their commitment to marriage.

Given Italy’s trend, it will be interesting to see if other justice systems will also be tempted to reform the reasoning behind divorce settlements.

In contrast, only a few months ago, in a UK divorce case, Mills v. Mills, the former husband asked to end indefinite maintenance payments under English Law.  The parties were married for 13 years. The wife said that in the early years of the marriage, she ran her own beauty business and financially supported the family while the husband finished his studies, after which they both then worked together to set up his business as a surveyor. The parties have one son, who is now at university.

Towards the end of the marriage, the wife suffered serious health problems and had to reduce her working hours. The parties separated in 2001 and divorced in 2002. They reached an agreement that the family home would be sold, the wife would receive £230,000.00 from the sale to buy a new home for herself and their son, and husband would keep his business assets. Additionally, the husband agreed to pay the wife spousal maintenance of £1,100 per month. In 2014 the husband applied to court to end those payments and the wife cross-applied to increase them. The judge disagreed with both of them so they both appealed.

The Court of Appeal found that the original judge had erred in not increasing the maintenance to cover the wife’s shortfall, despite knowing that she could not meet her basic needs and the husband could afford it. The appeal court increased the maintenance to £1,440 per month indefinitely.

This shows that in the UK, maintenance payments continue to be set for a limited period of time or until one party dies, marries or enters into a civil partnership but the Court calculates maintenance payments based on the financially weaker party’s income needs and earning capacity, considering a range of factors such as their age, the length and living standard of their marriage, their health and caring commitments. While each case is specific to its own facts, the Court’s objective is always to enable a party to make a transition to independence where possible. On the facts of the Mills case, the wife was not able to make that transition

At Curwens we are regularly faced with the issue of claims for maintenance, acting for either the person making or challenging the claim.   We provide expert advice on what is a reasonable amount to expect to be awarded or agreed.  We will also guide you through the procedure and explain the financial risks where agreements cannot be reached.  It is therefore essential that you obtain expert legal advice on your position.

Vijaya (Asha) Sumputh

vijaya.sumputh@curwens.co.uk

Family Law Solicitor – Curwens LLP.

Vijaya offers both fixed fees and flexible pricing for all family law services. For an initial consultation, call Vijaya direct on 0208 884 7221 and she will be happy to help you with all your family queries.

www.curwens.co.uk                                                                                      CURWENS LLP

“Neighbours…everybody needs good neighbours…..”

That’s true, not just in an Australian soap opera, but all over the world, so the worst thing we can do is fall out with our neighbours because, as we all know “good neighbours become good friends“… or at least they don’t start a war which ends up in Court as happened in this case – “BOUNDARIES, BORDERS AND COSTS” reported in Civil Litigation Brief  by Gordon Exall

Solicitors are often contacted by one aggrieved party who feels that they’ve been slighted because their neighbour’s tree overhangs their garden or they think a new fence has been put in 3 centimetres too far over. Those are common gripes but on the other hand, it can often be that they may really have their property rights at stake, for example, where an extension is being built up against a party wall without following the procedure laid down in the Party Wall Act 1996 which provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings.

Other common problems can be boundary disputes, the blocking of shared drives and the fallout from buying a house where the sellers have failed to disclose material issues about their neighbours, such as complaints they’ve made for years about rave parties.  If these are not disclosed during the sales process, it is possible for the new owner to bring a claim against the seller for that non-disclosure and the amount to which the problems have diminished the value of the property. Many household insurance policies contain Legal Expense Insurance which usually covers advice on neighbour/boundary disputes, so it’s always worth checking your policy documents. These are complex matters of law which need the advice of an experienced lawyer who specialises in property dispute resolution.

If you need any further help with this topic, call Adrian Boulter on 0208 363 4444

adrian.boulter@curwens.co.uk

www.curwens.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

PRE-NUP – WHAT’S THAT ? DO I NEED ONE ?

With the romance of Valentine’s Day now behind us, let’s talk again about the practical aspects of our relationships.

With the unavoidable increase in divorce and separation rates, it means that more of us who are getting married or moving in together are not “first timers“. Not only that, either one or both parties may have children from a previous marriage. This can mean ongoing financial ties to an ex-partner and possibly having a home or assets to bring into the new relationship.

So it’s  more important than ever for couples to take a small step back from the romance of their new relationship or wedding plans and think about the practicalities. If they are about to start living together, or planning to tie the knot, they should take legal advice on having a Cohabitation Agreement or Pre-Nuptial Agreement.

These don’t have to be long or complicated documents. The aim is to record what can be agreed amicably straight away, to cover what would happen if you ever did split up:-

  • Do you get to keep the property you brought into the relationship ?
  • Do you have to financially support one another after separation ?
  • How do you split anything held in joint names ?
  • Do you have to share any debts ?

The idea of considering a pre-nup early on is to avoid the time, anxiety and cost of a complex legal battle further down the line. Of course no-one has a crystal ball and your thoughts on how assets should be divided between you may change if you are married for many years, or if you have children together but in that case, no problem – you simply agree to review the terms of the Agreement on certain “trigger” events.

If you would like more information on having a Cohabitation or Pre-Nuptial Agreement drawn up please contact

Enfield:  

Vijaya Sumputh

0208 363 4444      vijaya.sumputh@curwens.co.uk

Hoddesdon/Royston:

Amanda Thurston 

01992 463727       amanda.thurston@curwens.co.uk

Curwens LLP is your local firm of solicitors offering you expert legal advice when you need it most.

Offices in Royston, Hoddesdon and Enfield.

www.curwens.co.uk