Archive for June, 2014

Are you still investing like it’s 1999?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

nest3You may be aware that Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) are to be replaced on 1st July 2014 by “New ISAs” (NISAs). This is the biggest change to tax free savings since April 1999 when ISAs were launched.

Back then and until now, there was a clear distinction made between tax free savings accounts (cash ISAs) and tax free investment accounts (Stocks and Shares ISAs).

Stocks and Shares ISAs had various investment restrictions applied and as a result many only had shares, with no other assets included.

A few years ago, it became possible to move your cash ISA to shares, but not the other way round, and this made little sense for most savers who wanted to keep their cash safe, with no investment risk.

In 1999, most investors would typically have chosen a UK Growth fund that consisted almost entirely of UK shares, and while this was perfectly acceptable when the market was rising, it provided little protection when the market fell.

Over the long term, funds with relatively high equity content have tended to offer better returns. However, the value of equities can fall as well as rise and they can be volatile. Over the years, a great many “multi-asset” funds have appeared as investment vehicles, as have a whole range of risk rated funds,  from defensive to highly adventurous, with everything in between.

The NISA will have a higher annual contribution limit of £15,000 but more significantly you can hold any amount in cash or shares and all the remaining investment restrictions have been lifted. Most significantly, you can now also transfer from shares to cash.

All this means that even risk averse savers can dip a toe into investment waters to escape the paltry interest being paid on cash ISAS, secure in the knowledge that they can switch back to cash when interest rates improve.

Although these changes are happening now, a lot more has changed since 1999. Old investment funds chosen then may not be doing the job you want them to do now. It is unlikely that you are driving the same car, or wearing the same clothes that you did 15 years ago, so why hold the same investments?

These new rules present an ideal opportunity to review all your ISA holdings and find out if you could be doing better. James & George Collie Financial Management offer a full range of investment options that we would be happy to discuss with you. For further information and/or a free initial consultation, contact our investment advisers by email at info@colliefinancial.co.uk or by telephone on 01224 581581.

Vulnerable Clients

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

vulnerableTo some it may appear that if we are dealing with work for, for example, your parents or an aunt or uncle, it can seem that things cannot be started off quite as smoothly and easily as wished.  However, we are constrained by guidance issued by the Law Society of Scotland in such cases.

Like it, or not, your relatives could be classed as “Vulnerable Clients” in the eyes of the Law Society.  This applies where there is a client or a potential client, who may lack full mental capacity, who may give us instructions to carry out work on their behalf such as making a Will, granting a Power of Attorney, making gifts of money or transferring ownership of a property.  Even although the initial contact with us may be made by you or another member of the family, the actual client or potential client is the relative for whom the work will be done.

As a result, there are a few things that we must do.  Not only do we have to issue a Letter of Engagement and Terms of Business to the client or potential client, but we also have to keep on file evidence of identity including something with a photograph. We do appreciate that this can sometimes be difficult to obtain for an elderly person but fortunately the usual bus pass will be enough!  We have to meet that person, and have to be satisfied that the client is able to understand the instructions they are giving us and also the potential consequences of what they are asking us to do.  Obviously, if it is a client that we have known for a while, then this can be quite easy, whereas if it is someone we are meeting for the first time, it may be tricky.

Solicitors are one of the few groups of people authorised under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 to assess whether or not the client who is signing a Power of Attorney has sufficient mental capacity to do so.  If we are not totally certain about this we are authorised to consult with another person, and it is not uncommon for us in these circumstances to contact either someone’s GP or even Psychiatrist to assist.  Unfortunately, they will not discuss matters with us until the Client concerned has given his or her consent.  However, the definition of “capacity” in those circumstances relates only to the granting of a Power of Attorney and not to others matters in general.

The Law Society is worried about a Vulnerable Client potentially being subject to influence by another person.  That is why, particularly when completing Powers of Attorney, we may ask to see a client alone for at least a few minutes. You will see that whilst we will try and progress such matters in as “user friendly” a way as possible, there are things that we are obliged to do and in a certain way which to the public at large, possibly even to our clients themselves, may seem excessive!

Should you wish further guidance on the granting of Powers of Attorney or making a Will, whether for yourself or a relative, please contact our Philip Dawson by email at p.dawson@jgcollie.co.uk

A Traineeship at James & George Collie LLP

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

sarahFirst year trainee, Sarah McAllan, reflects on her legal traineeship so far……..

I started my legal career at James & George Collie in 2011 working as a legal secretary for the commercial department, after having graduated with an LLB. This allowed me to get my foot in the door at a law firm and begin working towards achieving a traineeship. Working as a legal secretary allowed me the opportunity to gain a vast amount of knowledge from the Solicitors with whom I worked.  As a result, when the time came to start my traineeship, I was significantly better prepared and was able to hit the ground running. I have now been a trainee solicitor at James & George Collie LLP for six months and what a six months it has been!

I wanted to carry out my training with a firm that would provide the opportunity to obtain a strong grounding in different legal areas. Due to the breadth of seats offered, James & George is a perfect match for an aspiring Solicitor. As a Trainee Solicitor you are required to spend time in a number of different departments.  My current role is in the residential and commercial departments. This allows me to work with a varied client base and understand the different requirements between these two departments. My time in these departments will last 12 months at which point I will move to the Executry department before completing my Traineeship in the Court Department. Working in a variety of seats will allow me to gain invaluable experience before I decide in which area of the law to specialise.

As a trainee in the residential department I deal with property sales and purchases. This involves progressing the conveyancing and preparing and finalising all the different documents and paperwork that are required for a sale or purchaseto be completed. Recently, I have been involved with help to buy schemes and new build purchases. These types of transaction are very different to a traditional purchase. However, part of the role of a Trainee is to learn and adapt in order to deliver the right level of service to your client. My role has dual responsibility and also includes the sale and purchase of commercial properties. The process of selling or buying a property, whether residential or commercial is quite similar.  There are a number of small differences but these may be as simple as the intended use by the client. As a Trainee Solicitor it is your responsibility to ensure that each transaction is completed in a professional and timely manner. After just six months of my training contract, I am overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge I have gained during such a short period of time, almost exclusively down to the training and support that I have received from my colleagues and from the firm’s Partners.

As part of the Traineeship programme I am also required to attend Citizens Advice Bureau where I provide pro bono legal advice to members of the public. This is an integral part of the training of any young Solicitor, as the variety of legal issues that you have to consider are vast and go far to test your knowledge and build your confidence as a Solicitor.  Some issues require legal research to be able to give the best advice.  Legal research plays an important part of any traineeship and ensures that lawyers keep abreast of all current issues and recent developments in the law.

Trainee Solicitors are required to carry out a minimum of 60 hours of continuing professional development during the course of the traineeship. James & George Collie readily supports this progressive training and development requirement and ensures that all team members continue to develop their knowledge and experience by attending various courses and seminars.

Starting a career in law is a daunting prospect for anyone.  The job we do, and the decisions we make, are important to our clients and to the integrity of the profession.  As a student of law you learn a lot from your lecturers.  This gives you the foundation on which to start building your career.  Traineeship opportunities are limited.  As a graduating law student you are among a large number of people searching for that first chance, the one opportunity you need to start your career.  You work extremely hard at University to achieve the grades to graduate and all you need is one firm to say ‘yes’.  James and George Collie gave me the opportunity I needed to ‘launch’ my career and I ensure that the work I do for the firm and our clients is of the highest possible standard.

James & George Collie aim to deliver the highest levels of service to each and every one of our clients and I am very proud to be part of the team.

Need separation be contentious?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

separateVery often, the first matters which are raised on being consulted regarding a separation is how long the process will take and what the cost is likely to be. This is very difficult, if not impossible, to indicate at the outset, as couples who separate have a number of alternative methods of resolving their disputes, each of which has a different bearing on the likely amount of time that resolution of the dispute will take and indeed on the overall cost.

Potentially the least expensive, from both an emotional and financial perspective, and the quickest, is for the couple to agree between themselves precisely what is going to happen in respect of their children, if they have any, and also in respect of finances.  For protection, they should each then consult their own solicitor and an agreement would be drawn up which records that agreement.  This, of course, is not without its pitfalls as clearly the parties will not have had the benefit of legal advice before entering into the agreement and may not have thought through every eventuality.   They also run the risk that at some time in the future, before divorce, one or other of the parties considers that the agreement entered into is not fair and reasonable and that they wish the agreement to be overturned, with the result that both parties may be back at “square one”.

Many cases are resolved by what might be termed the more traditional method.  This effectively involves each party instructing their own solicitors who will then exchange fully vouched details of their client’s assets, liabilities, income and expenditure. Negotiations will then follow with a view to achieving resolution.  These negotiations can, and often do, take place by means of four-way meetings but these, by their very nature, involve negotiation and are therefore adversarial in nature.  One of the aims of this method of resolution is, of course, to ensure that the parties do not end up in Court.  The cost of this process can vary from case to case as much will depend upon the complexity of the couples’ assets and liabilities and whether conflicting experts reports need to be obtained, such as in the case of the valuation of the matrimonial home, the valuation of shares in a private limited company, etc.

There are a number of alternative methods of resolving matrimonial disputes such as:-


Mediation

Mediation can cover both child related and financial issues and involves the couple attending a series of meetings with a trained mediator who will be unbiased, objective and knowledgeable and will assist the couple in entering into an arrangement in relation to all of the matters in dispute.  Whilst the mediator may well be a lawyer, they can only provide information and cannot advise the couple.  Each party will retain their own solicitor and are free and, indeed, are encouraged, to take legal advice at each stage of the process.  During the process or, indeed, at the end, an Agreement will be drawn up recording what has been agreed.  This may cover all issues or only specific issues such as matters relating to the children of the relationship.

Collaboration

Resolution of family matters by the Collaborative Process is becoming more and more common.  It is radically different from all other forms of dispute resolution and can, in some cases, be less expensive, time consuming and stressful than other methods.  At the very outset the couple sign a contract undertaking to deal with all matters in good faith and not to take matters into Court.  The process involves “four-way” meetings attended by the couple and their respective Collaborative lawyers.  The workload involved in ingathering information, etc. is shared between the two lawyers and the couple, thereby reducing costs.  Communication between the solicitors is limited and restricted, with the result that all involved are aware, at all times, of precisely what is being discussed and agreed.  Both parties are, of course, free to consult their own solicitor outwith the four-way meetings for legal advice, if necessary.  The benefit of this process is that there is full, honest and open disclosure by the parties and, as a result, hopefully children will be insulated from involvement in the dispute.

Arbitration

A number of highly qualified family lawyers and advocates have recently gained qualification to act as Arbiters in family law matters.  The advantage of arbitration is that the process need not be utilised to resolve all issues in dispute between the parties but can focus on specific issues such as identifying the date of separation, whether or not an item is in fact a matrimonial asset, the valuation of a specific asset such as a company, etc.  Arbitration can be quicker than the same procedure before a Court and can therefore prove to be cheaper in the long run.

Court Action

Finally, if all else fails there is, of course, the option of taking matters to Court.  In the eyes of family lawyers this really should be a last resort and should only be resorted to when absolutely necessary.  Not only are the costs involved in going to Court likely to be substantial, the length of time taken to resolve matters and the emotional cost to both parties in doing so can be considerable.

If you have any queries regarding any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact Graham Garden by email at g.garden@jgcollie.co.uk or by telephone on (01569) 763555 for a free informal chat.