Time To Say Goodbye
Well, here we are in December 2023, and as promised, I am about to ride off into the sunset into retirement. I have had a wonderful time over the past 40 years (and some not so good, but hey, that’s life) in a career I have thoroughly enjoyed. I am grateful to you for sharing the journey with me and for asking so many excellent questions, attending hundreds of courses, listening to webinars, buying books and reading articles. Without you, it would have been miserable.
There have been many changes over my career, not least the move into compulsory CPD hours and the move out of them, only to look like there may be a move back once more on the horizon. The beauty and the curse of law and tax is that it never stays the same, so we are constantly on guard, trying to avoid being tripped up.
Here are just some of the things which have changed over the period, in no particular order:
- Legal Aid – came in, was extended and then retracted across most areas of law
- Inheritance Tax – replaced Capital Transfer Tax and now looks like it will be reformed if not abolished in the near future
- The IHT 205 came in in 2000 with much annoyance and then has gone in January 2023 also with much concern
- Enduring Powers of Attorney – came in in 1985; and the risks of abuse were too great, so we moved to Lasting Powers of Attorney in 2007 and even those have had the protections watered down. We now have to wait so long for registration (20 weeks) that digitalization looks likely even though safeguards are likely to be watered down
- Trusts of Land entered the lexicon in Trusts of Land & Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 and replaced trusts for sale
- Trust Registration came in 2017/18 and has introduced a list of taxable and some non-taxable trusts for the first time with much attendant work and therefore cost
- Risk management is a major concern and our professional rules place it at the heart of supervision of law firms and by law firms. This is not likely to diminish
- Regulation of lawyers changed with the Legal Services Act 2007 and the changes are increasingly causing competitive difficulties and not protecting the consumer as much as they could. The reserved areas for regulation are an historic mess and need a logical system applied for inclusion, review and updating. There are too many regulators (22). The cost of compliance is high, but it is doubtful that the consumer is any better protected (take the current debacle over Axiom Ince)
- The Wills Act 1837 has served us well but is now showing its age and is hopefully going to be overhauled for the better; electronic Wills are not popular with professionals because of the risks for fraud and abuse, but will probably become inevitable over time needing separate regulation.
- The probate process worked brilliantly for hundreds of years and in a moment of madness it was centralised and digitalized at a cost of £5.8 million pounds and is now malfunctioning and causing much grief to the profession, executors of all kinds, administrators and beneficiaries. The centralization of the process meant huge amounts of expertise left and it is only being replaced by very junior people who have to be trained. To achieve anything like the same level of knowledge as those who left will take years. It is a service now which is not fit for purpose despite an enormous amount of engagement with professional bodies. Its current review by the Justice Committee might hopefully ensure improved investment to try and remedy the situation.
- A similar story applies to HMRC in general and HMRC Inheritance Tax in particular where Making Tax Digital is costing millions of pounds but is over budget and late. The self assessment helpline is suspended and generally HMRC are not functioning at all well to the frustration of all practitioners who have to deal with them. Although HMRC Inheritance Tax is run by hardworking people they are compromised by under investment and lack of computerization so that there is a lack of expertise across the piece to handle enquiries adequately and keep on top of the high numbers of IHT 400s which require checking and IHT421 to be issued to keep the probate process moving. Once again junior staff are being employed who then have to be trained.
- The rise of entrepreneurs in the Wills and Probate space has meant new innovations in Will drafting using software, registration of Wills; searching and checking in probate; support in valuations and property management in general as well as other services which have made the work of practitioners better and hopefully less of a risk.
I won’t go on, but there is a long list of changes, and it will never end – let’s just hope that some of the future changes will be for the better.
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