The Importance of having an accurate Will

Solicitors are always advising their clients that it is important to have a Will. If you die without a Will your nearest relatives would have to petition the court to be appointed as your executors which can cause delay and additional costs. Although your spouse or civil partner do have certain rights if you were to die intestate , they will not always receive your entire estate and co habitants and friends have no automatic entitlement to inherit.

However, not only is it crucial to have a Will, but that Will needs to be clearly drafted and contain no ambiguities. This message was recently publically emphasized in an English case. Joan Edwards, a former nurse, who died when she was 90 left her estate amounting to £520,000 to “whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit.” She died in 2012.

Miss Edmond’s estate was initially divided up between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats. The Tories received £420,576 while the Lib Dems received £99,423. The bequest had initially been interpreted to mean that Miss Edwards’estate was to be used as a party donation. But there was an outcry. The former Labour Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott said the parties “must hand back” the cash, while Ian Austin a Labour backbencher urged them to “do the decent thing.” Conservative Zac Goldsmith also joined in the criticism saying no one could believe “this lady wanted her money squandered on electioneering.”

Despite the wording of the Will being unclear, Cameron and Clegg ordered the parties to return the funds to the estate to then be passed on to the Treasury. They decided that the wishes of the deceased were paramount and that they did believe her intention was to benefit the nation rather than any particular political party. This was supported by friends of Miss Edwards, a church goer whose career as a nurse included spells as a midwife. Her next door neighbour Lucy Sanders is reported to have said “I would think she would have wanted the Government to do something good with her money, something to do with looking after children as she did.”

So just having a Will is not enough as this case illustrates. It is essential that the wording of the Will reflects the Testator’s intentions without ambiguity. Solicitors in our Private Client Department write Wills for all types of clients with different financial and family circumstances.

If we can help please contact  Kathryn Bready –

Freaky Friday

Last Friday was Friday the 13th, a day considered unlucky by many. According to folklorists, there is no real written evidence for the “Friday the Thirteenth” superstition before the 19thcentury , when several theories were proposed about its origin.

One theory is that in numerology the number 12 is considered the number of completeness: there are 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a clock, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 signs of the Zodiac whereas the number 13 is considered incomplete and unrounded. Many cities do not have a 13th Street or Avenue and many buildings do not have a 13th floor. If you have 13 letters in your name then some believe you will have the devil’s luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson). Luckily for me I have a middle name!

There is also the concrete taboo that if there are 13 people seated at a table one is going to die within a year. This superstition it is suggested comes from the Ancient Vikings.  12 gods were invited to a banquet in Valhaila. Loki, the evil one, the God of Mischief, was excluded from the guest list but gate crashed the party anyway, bringing the total number of guests up to 13. In typical fashion, Loki raised hell and incited, Hod, the Blind God of Winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was the favourite God. Hod , killed Balder and the Vikings apparently concluded that from then on 13 people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.

Add onto this, the notion of Friday being an unlucky day. It is said that you should never change your bed on a Friday, as this will bring bad dreams. If you cut your nails on a Friday, you cut them in sorrow.  A Friday was regarded as an unlucky day to start a journey. Friday was also the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. About a hundred years ago it was thought that to set sail on a Friday may lead to misfortune. The British Government sought to quell this longstanding false belief among seamen by commissioning a special ship with the name H.M.S Friday. They laid her keel on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected her crew on a Friday, and appointed a man named Jim Friday to be her captain. To top it all, H.M.S Friday embarked on her maiden voyage on a Friday and astonishingly enough the ship was never seen or heard of again.

Not everyone, however, fears the number 13. The Chinese regarded the number as lucky, as did the Egyptians in the time of the Pharaohs. To the ancient Egyptians life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages- 12 in this life and the 13th stage beyond that, thought to be eternal afterlife. The number 13, therefore, symbolised death, not in terms of dust and decay but as a glorious and desirable transformation. Though Egyptian civilisation perished, the symbolism   conferred  on the number 13 by its priesthood  survived, but was corrupted by subsequent cultures who came to associate  13 with a fear of death, not a reverence of the afterlife.

There are people called Paraskevidekatriaphobics who are afflicted with a morbid and irrational fear of Friday the 13th.Some people refuse to go to work or eat in a restaurant. There is a social impact from this. According to the Stress Management Centre and Phobia Institute in North Carolina an estimated 17 -21 million people in the USA are said to be  affected by a fear of this day and it is stated that around 900 million dollars are lost in business in the USA on a Friday the 13th.

But none of the above could persuade me to take the superstition seriously. In fact on Friday the 13th there, I was bold. On that very day, I walked under a ladder, I spilt salt and a black cat crossed my path. Yet in truth all I wanted to do all day was to go home early, lock the doors, pull up the shutters and go to bed- not because I had become a Paraskevidekatriaphobic but because I was somewhat unglamorously laid low by a Glasgow common cold. Bad luck ?

‘Crime and Punishment’ at The Citizens

As we took our seats on Thursday evening for Crime and Punishment, a play based on Dostoyevsky ‘s novel of the same name, there was already much activity on the stage. The ten actors, who took on various roles throughout the play, were already there: chatting, smoking cigarettes and drinking vodka. The scenery was minimal and the large stage was exposed right to the brickwork at the back.

As the play began, a light blanket of smoke covered the stage floor creating a sinister atmosphere. The central character, Raskolnikov or Rodya, is a penniless former student who has become more and more isolated from the rest of society: he has dropped out of university and spends his time closeted away in his small rented apartment. We see him wrestling with the idea of murdering an unscrupulous pawnbroker who preys on the poor and vulnerable in society by charging extortionate interest rates. The pawnbroker’s deviousness presents Raskolnikov with a potential justification for the perpetration of the crime as he expresses his belief that he could put her ill-gotten gains to much more honourable use.

After receiving a sign propelling him to commit the crime, Raskolnikov makes his way to the pawnbroker’s house, believing that her sister will be out for some time and that they will not be disturbed. He follows the pawnbroker through a curtain to her office and it is here that he commits the murder. The ominous atmosphere at this point was exacerbated by the atmospheric music and the red ‘blood’ dramatically splattered across the curtain. Unfortunately, Raskolnikov’s plan begins to fall apart when the pawnbroker’s sister returns unexpectedly. He is faced with little choice but to kill her too.

Following the murders, we see Raskolnikov’s descent into further mental torment. He comes under the radar of Porfiry Petrovich, the lead detective investigating the murders. Petrovich is Raskolnikov’s main antagonist, questioning him and attempting to lure him into confessing to his crimes. The interaction between the two is captivating as the pair engage in a cat and mouse game of wits.

For me, an absolute highlight of the evening was to watch the way in which the actors slipped seamlessly between roles, with those not involved in a particular scene watching on from the outskirts of the stage, voyeurs of the unfolding drama. This was a highly enjoyable play and I would definitely recommend that you go and find out for yourself how the plot unravels!

Tickets Galore

Not long to go now to register your interest for tickets to next year’s Commonwealth Games as the ticket ballot closes on Monday, 16th September 2013. The people of Glasgow are starting to really buy into the idea of world class sporting action taking place on their doorstep with last year’s Olympics undoubtedly boosting the mindshare ahead of the action getting underway in 313 days time at Celtic Park.

Organisers are said to be ‘delighted by the enthusiastic response’ amid rumours of public interest being far stronger than expected. While I am thrilled that ticket sales are going strong, it also fills me with trepidation that we could see a repeat of the ticketing fiasco that marred last year’s London Olympics. I hope that lessons have been learned and we can avoid ruining Glaswegians’ growing goodwill towards the competition by implementing a fair ticket selection process.

The prestige event is of course the 100m at Hampden Park on 28 July 2014. If as rumoured Usain Bolt does compete then it could be one of the last times to see the legendary Jamaican sprinter run the 100m at a major event. Ticket prices range from £15 to £90 and must be the golden ticket of the competition, even if you probably have no chance of getting one! I however am more realistic and my current ticket applications are for the ‘less fashionable’ sports – Boxing at the SECC, Table Tennis at Scotstoun and Gymnastics at the Hydro. There will be no athletics or cycling for me.

I, for one, am very excited for the games to get underway and expect Glasgow to show itself to the world as a city we can all be proud of. Don’t miss your chance to be part of history. Remember “People make Glasgow.”

Caurnie Cats

Caurnie Soap

A conversation between myself and Fiona Fleming,  one of my colleagues,  about my  love of all things  feline  resulted in a table in our office kitchen being set up to display a wonderful array of hand-made soaps from The Caurnie Soaperie in Kirkintilloch. The soaps have proven to be a great success with colleagues, who have placed hefty orders. The Soaperie – first opened in 1922 – makes fine soaps from locally sourced ingredients, and by using ethical processing methods produces soaps for both clear skin and a clear conscience. There is a vast selection to choose from including geranium & orange, lime & thyme, bog myrtle, patchouli, peppermint & sage, spearmint, and heather & lavender to name but a few. Shampoos, conditioners and moisturisers are also manufactured and the Soaperie’s Nettle range has been highly praised for its effective treatment of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. All items are long lasting and reasonably priced. But where is the connection between the sale of soap and my adoration of cats? I was delighted to hear from Fiona that she is involved in selling  soaps for Caurnie Soaperie at the Cats’ Protection annual Open Day at their Kirkintilloch Shelter  but I was even more enchanted when I discovered that one half of the proceeds of her sales is donated  to  Cats’ Protection. Purrfect.

Mitchells Roberton, Built to last?

I was reading online Douglas Mill’s blog in “The Firm” magazine entitled “Built to Last” and noticed that towards the end of his words of wisdom he mentions Mitchells Roberton which just happens to be my favourite firm.

“Built to Last-Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry Poras is a management book which makes for interesting reading, particularly in the current climate of uncertainty in the legal profession with many firms ceasing to trade, widespread redundancies and an epidemic of takeovers and mergers.

In September 1985, I joined Mitchells Roberton as a newly qualified rookie. Fresh from completing my traineeship with an Oban firm, this was my first job as a solicitor holding a full practicing certificate.  On my inaugural day I arrived with much trepidation at the office, which at that time was located in West George Street. I was made very welcome and for the few years I was with Mitchells Roberton I was happy, I loved the work I was doing, I enjoyed the client contact , I learned a great deal from those with much more experience and made lasting friendships. I left in 1988 to broaden my set of skills but in 2011, some 23 years later, I was mightily pleased to return to Mitchells Roberton , the firm with whom I properly started my career and the firm with whom I hope to end my working life.

What charmed me on making my comeback, was that despite the passage of time, the changes in personnel, some different partners and the bold embracement of very modern IT systems, the firm was just the same.

Now obviously I know the history of the firm, that its origins date way back to the 1740s and the present firm is the result of different amalgamations over centuries, basic organic development. Yet I have never really thought closely about exactly why this particular firm has stood the tests of time.

Jim Collins one of the authors of “Built to Last” however believes that in a world of constant change, certain fundamentals are more important than ever. He states “In this era of dramatic change, we’re hit from all sides with lopsided perspectives that urge us to hold nothing sacred, to re-engineer and dynamite everything, to fight chaos with chaos, to battle a crazy world with total unfettered craziness. Everybody knows that the transformations facing us-social, political, technological, economic-render obsolete the lessons of the past.” Jim Collins submits that “everybody” is wrong.

Collins and Poras refer to six timeless fundamentals which enable prosperity of a business in the long term and looking at these ideals I think that each of these are engineered by Mitchells Roberton. The first is to make the firm the ultimate product. Mitchells Roberton is a law firm which has thrived  after the tenure of certain leading partners has past and it has survived through multivarious life cycles. Whilst there is no evidence of exactly what went on in the firm centuries ago , Mitchells Roberton is still here  and is a firm confident in its knowledge of what it stands for.

Secondly being guided by a core ideology is essential. Core values and a sense of purpose, beyond just making money, are important. A deeply held core ideology brings a strong sense of identity and a rope of continuity holding the firm together in times of change. Thirdly add into the mix a culture, bred to reflect an ideology of quality, service and fairness passed down generation to generation and you have the recipe for durability.

Another sacred tenet noted by Collins and Poras, and steadfastly in place in Mitchells Roberton is “home grow” your partners. Insiders preserve the core values, understanding them at a gut level that outsiders usually cannot. This provides stability. Of course a fixed core ideology needs to be counterbalanced with a relentless drive for progress. These two components must coexist. Whilst a core ideology provides continuity, stability and cohesion, the drive for progress promotes change, improvement, innovation and renewal.

The final cornerstone is called “the genius of the and”. As Collins and Poras put it “A truly visionary company embraces both ends of the continuum: continuity and change, conservatism and progressiveness, stability and revolution, predictability and chaos, heritage and renewal, fundamentals and craziness. And, and, and”.

I know that Mitchells Roberton is clear about its core values and guiding purpose, about what it should not change, but is sensitive to the need to stimulate progress in everything but the ideology. So how did this modus operandi  came about as it seems to have followed a natural birth and evolution. I think it’s backbone comes from having an honest approach. Maybe  the advice of Polonius to Laertes  has been followed :

“This above all-to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou can st not then be false to any man.”

Is it legal to employ only good looking staff ?

The French Watchdog Defenseur des Droits recently announced that they were investigating the Ohio-based chain store Abercrombie & Fitch over concerns that it was employing staff based solely on appearance. The chain which specialises in clothes popular with younger customers , is known for its dimly lit shop floors, loud music and attractive staff. Male employees ,known as “topless greeters” stand at the entrances of the largest stores, including the flagship stores on The Champs Elysees in Paris and London’s Old Burlington Street.

Dominique Baudis, the spokesman for Defender of Rights, said that solely employing handsome people not only discriminates against the aesthetically challenged but sends out the wrong message to those buying Abercrombie & Fitch’s products. Mr Baudis highlighted comments made by Mike Jeffries the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO : “We want to market to cool, good looking people. We don’t want to market to anyone other than that.” Mr Jeffries has also been quoted as saying he “doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store.” The chain has indeed been criticized for its sizing policy, the biggest size it sells is equivalent to a UK size 14.

In the U K under sections 39 and 40 of the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful to discriminate, victimise or harass a person during the recruitment process based on any of the nine specific “protected characteristics” which are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Indeed compensation in a discrimination case is uncapped and can include an award for injury to feelings.

Whilst Abercrombie & Fitch may not be acting unlawfully in terms of European Union discrimination law, their recruitment policy attracts a lot of interest for moral reasons and certainly leaves the company open to many potential legal pitfalls. For example , if a black person or an older person were not employed, as they were deemed not attractive enough they may be able to claim indirect discrimination on the grounds of race or age.

Abercrombie & Fitch is no stranger to controversy. In 2009 a law student called Riam Dean who has a prosthetic arm was awarded compensation of £8,000 by a London employment tribunal when she complained that she was made to work in the stockroom because she did not fit the brand’s “all-American” image. She was not allowed to wear a cardigan in summer to cover her arm as this breached the strictly applied “look policy”.  If another such case was brought the company may put their reputation at risk which could cause massive problems.

Whilst I appreciate the objections to a sizing policy and a recruitment policy excluding all but the physically blessed I can see no way of enacting legislation to make the lack of beauty ( such a subjective and amorphous concept) a “protected characteristic” in terms of Equality Legislation. That is going too far.

All in the Family

If I asked my mother to close her eyes and think of the word “family” she would more than likely  describe to me a married mum and dad, two children, a dog and a house. If I asked my son  to do the same, he would no doubt conjure up a picture of divorced parents, one sister, three half sisters, a step mother, two step sisters , a step brother and of course a dog but perhaps no particular house. That is his reality. There is little doubt that the face of the modern family is changing rapidly and family law is altering to keep abreast of this new social phenomena.

Divorce is no longer an unusual occurrence and although it is reported that in 2011 divorces in Scotland fell to their lowest rate for 30 years, there are still on average 11,500 divorces a year. Even with divorce no longer carrying any social stigma, it still has a resounding and frequently troublesome effect on the family unit as both childcare arrangements and finances require to be agreed. It does not therefore come as much of a surprise that our family law department often assist our clients to prepare for “the worst case scenario” by drafting Pre Nuptial Agreements. These agreements can be extremely useful if a marriage were to end and do allow individuals to have some control over their destinies. Although it is harder to make childcare arrangements in advance, financial arrangements certainly can be determined.

Interestingly enough I recently was at a dinner party and out of the ten diners there I was the only one who had only been married once .Because people are remarrying step parents are much more common than they were, even ten years ago.  Step parents have no automatic parental rights and responsibilities for their step children although they are expected to “safeguard the child’s health, development and welfare”. A step parent, however, can apply to the court to obtain parental rights and responsibilities or adopt the step child. Again our family law department can help.

Talking of adoption, this area of law has also seen change in recent years. The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, in force from 2009, allows unmarried couples, including gay couples to adopt jointly.  The Act also introduces “permanence orders”. These orders can be granted by court to secure a child’s long term future with a carer and, although they are a measure short of adoption, they do provide children with more security in relation to their care arrangements.  Our firm can guide you through the adoption process if needed.

We have been marching through very difficult economic conditions over the past number of years, and much more now than ever before grandparents are playing an increasingly valued role in the modern family unit.  Most mothers return to work after having children and grandparents are stepping up at an unprecedented level to help with child care. Grandparents do not have any automatic parental rights and responsibilities for their grandchildren but can apply to the court to have such rights and responsibilities granted. For such an order to be awarded the court would have to be persuaded it was in the child’s best interests to do so.

At the end of 2005 we saw the introduction of Civil Partnership for same sex couples and in July 2012 the Scottish Government announced that they are to legislate to allow same sex marriage, although religious bodies who consider that contrary to their faith will not be compelled to conduct them.  I wonder what picture the word “family” will produce in the mind’s eye of future generations.