HM Insights

Working together to keep families happy(ish) - the role of a private client lawyer

It is often said that there is" now't stranger than family". Never a truer word has been said.

The role of a Private Client Solicitor can be varied, interesting, demanding, stressful, and that's all before lunchtime on any given Monday! If something is to go wrong within a family model, odds are that this will happen over the weekend. That’s life. The experienced gained though is invaluable, and worth sharing with your fellow professionals.

Lawyer Personal Legal Services Private Client Solicitor Law Scotland

The role of a private client practitioner often extends beyond legal support. Knowing your client, and indeed the wider family, is essential – how can an adviser give effective "advice" if there is no real understanding of what drives their client, what causes them concern, and what makes them feel safe and secure. Taking the time to get to know a client is invaluable and the strong relationship that will follow will make the effort feel worthwhile. It's also important to be aware of everything that could assist your client, and how other advisers can play a part in that.

That's one of the reasons why in February I gathered with fellow lawyers and other intermediaries in the east of Scotland for a special personal legal services conference at Dalhousie Castle, hosted by Harper Macleod. Around 50 of us gathered to discuss the legal landscape, the issues we deal with and how to ensure that the people who place their trust in us achieve what they wish to achieve

Whether it's the new rules on succession, pensions, taxation, land reform or anything else, it's essential that as professional advisers we understand what we can each bring to the table to give clients a comprehensive understanding of how the law applies to their situation and what needs to be done for them to feel reassured about the way forward.

Our role in helping people make the right decisions

While some things change, we spent time discussing the recurring areas where discontent is found bubbling away - the terms of mum and dad's testamentary arrangements and who should be given responsibility for their financial and welfare affairs.

As one of five bairns I have had a lifetime of plusses and minuses when I think about my own relationship with my siblings. There has been the odd cross word shared but looking beyond the moment is always the best policy. Sometimes, though, the family model is just so damaged that there is no fixing what has gone before. The root of all evil, more often than not, does turn out to be money!

A Will and a Power of Attorney are probably the two most important documents a person will ever sign in their lifetime. For that reason there must be absolute certainty in the choice of Executor(s) and Attorney(s), as appropriate. The appointment of a son or daughter in preference to another child could have a divisive outcome if there have been issues between siblings.

Making a Will deals with something we know we are going to encounter at some point, however, two thirds of all Scots still die without one. Poor health and old age is also foreseeable and Powers of Attorney can alleviate the financial and health issues that come forth from that. Despite the foreseeability of the issues mentioned above, the vast majority of Scots do absolutely nothing until the last minute. Sometimes it is too late.

You can never please everyone. To avoid family issues, where somebody is considering the appointment of an Executor or Attorney, it is often appropriate to simply bypass family members and appoint instead a professional adviser such as a solicitor to take on one or both roles. At least that way the Executor and Attorney, when the time comes to act, is handcuff free to do what is required of them without unnecessary and sometimes divisive distractions.

If there are tensions between close family members, taking the often difficult choice not to involve them in later life planning is more often than not the right thing to do.

And that's where we solicitors come in. We can provide sound, clutter free advice – and help people make hard decisions now rather than having to deal with potential meltdowns later.

Get in touch

If you would like to find out more about the issues raised in this article, or find out how we could help you, please get in touch