Tuesday, 28 August 2018

A Battle of Wills - Don't leave it too late to makes yours

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It is easy to assume that our property and possessions will automatically go to loved ones when we die, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Many of us are unaware of the unintended consequences for our families by not having a valid Will in place.

If you die without having a valid Will in place this is also known as dying intestate, and there are strict inheritance rules which will be applied in this eventuality called the Laws of Intestacy. In these cases the court will appoint administrators who will be in charge of gathering your assets and paying any debts before distributing the remaining estate according to the rules.

The laws of intestacy vary greatly depending on whether you were single or married, or had children. In most cases, your property is distributed in split shares to your heirs, which could include your surviving spouse, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews, and distant relatives. However, issues can arise for example in unmarried couples or families with step children as the rules do not recognise them as relatives of the deceased. Also, when no relatives can be found, the entire estate goes to the state. The only way to make it absolutely clear who should inherit your property and possessions after you pass away is by making a Will.

Since estate planning can be quite complicated, it may be wise to speak with an estate planning professional who can help you draft a valid Will and give you some peace of mind. If you have any questions or would like to speak to us further about making a Will, please do contact us and we will be happy to help.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Mortgage rates are on the up

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Mortgage rates are likely to rise again after the latest comments from the Bank of England, a rise in the Bank's base rate from 0.5% to 0.75% is likely in May, with another rise expected to follow in the Autumn. In addition to this, two government schemes that currently offer lenders access to cheap funding are due to end this year and the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries agree that these schemes have helped keep rates low in recent years.

In terms of interest rate rises, borrowers with variable rate mortgages or a tracker rate mortgages will be most affected as the monthly payment amount will increase. Those with fixed rate mortgages would not see an immediate rise in their monthly payments however, when such borrowers reach the end of their term, they may find they have to make higher monthly payments. That said, depending on when they took out their loan, they could end up on a cheaper deal due to the competitiveness of the fixed rate market.

In terms of the Funding for Lending Scheme and the Term Funding Scheme which were introduced by the government, most mortgage experts do not think that there will be an instant effect on mortgage rates due to the way the schemes are structured, but we may see rates gradually drift upwards. Of course, there is always the option for the government to extend one or both schemes as it has done previously if they perceive it is beneficial to do so.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Online Investment Fraud - Keeping Yourself Safe

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If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. 

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is warning the public about the increased threat of online investment fraud, particularly those offering investments in binary options, contracts for difference, forex and cryptocurrencies. These fraudsters are targeting the public online and via social media, so while potential scam victims have historically been the over 55's, the FCA's latest ScamSmart campaign found that those aged under 25 were six times more likely to trust an investment offer they received via social media. This shift in methodology by fraudsters comes as people have become more sceptical of cold calls and more people are online than ever before.

The websites and profiles that are used appear highly professional and can feature fake customer reviews, logos and statements. Prices on these types of fraudulent media are often fixed, tie people in with extreme pay-out clauses or do not place trades at all - once money has been handed over the fraudsters disappear leaving the investor with nothing.

Some of the warning signs that an investment opportunity may be a scam include:

  • The promise of  'quick wins', guaranteed or high returns.
  • Downplaying the risks associated with investing.
  • Applying pressure to make a decision quickly, e.g. short availability periods.
  • The offer of additional bonuses or discounts.

The FCA encourage the public to check its dedicated website www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart when considering any investment opportunity, and at the very least:

  1. Reject unsolicited investment offers whether made online, via social media or over the phone.
  2. Check the FCA Register to see if the firm or individual you are dealing with is authorised and check the FCA Warning List of firms to avoid.
  3. Get impartial advice before investing.

Getting impartial advice before making any investment decisions is invaluable, and most financial advisers will be happy to discuss your investment needs at an initial meeting at no cost to the client. Personal recommendations from friends and family is a good way of finding an adviser, you can also find more information about finding a suitable adviser through the Money Advice Service. Ensuring that the individual or firm is authorised by the FCA also affords access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if things go wrong.

The FCA have very good instructions on their website regarding the use of the FCA Register and Warning list, in particular you need to ensure that you:

  • Always access the Register from their website, rather than through links in emails or on the website of a firm offering you an investment. 
  • Check if the firm’s ‘firm reference number’ (FRN) and contact details are the same as on their Register.
  • If there are no contact details on the Register or if the firm claims they’re out of date, call the FCA Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768.

If you suspect an investment scam the best thing you can do is hang up on any unsolicited cold-caller, delete the email or ignore the advert. You should also report it to the FCA at www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart or call them directly on 0800 111 6768, this will allow any potential scams to be investigated and added to the warning list. They will also be able to advise you on what to do next if you believe you have already been the victim of an investment scam, by speaking to your bank or investment provider (if you are transferring an investment, i.e. a pension) it may be possible to stop a transaction going through.