* LAWYER LADY *

'You're the kind of Lawyer guilty people hire ...'

— Betsy Kettleman to Jimmy McGill, ' Better Call Saul '

Meet *Lawyer Lady*: she’s very high-powered, completely arse-kicking and I will certainly never be able to afford her hourly rate. However, the good news is that when she’s not busy making grown men cry, she’s all about the Sisterhood and has kindly agreed to answer a suitably interesting and engaging Fifty Sense reader’s genuine legal query (I quote) ‘whenever I have some free time, darling’. Send your query to *Dear High-Powered Ass-Kicking Lawyer Lady* via the ‘Connect’ page. 

 

Dear *Lawyer Lady*

I have just been down to the polling station and X-marked the LEAVE box.

My partner is currently at work and will be voting REMAIN when he walks the dog via the pub this evening. 

Tomorrow, one or other of us will probably be filing for divorce.

He says that whichever one of us ‘wins' the Referendum gets to keep the house. (He can have the dog). 

Is it remotely likely that this could be written into post-Brexit policy?

Brexity wishes,  

 

Liz, London SW   

Dear Liz,

My, my, what an excitable pair you are!

Is it really worth throwing him under the (new Chinese trade deal) bus, simply because he wants to take the fast channel through passport control on your next trip to Venice?

Whichever bunch of politicians/pundits win this argument, will it really matter if you are enjoying a fabulous cult German Riesling that costs three pounds more or less when you are both snuggled up watching the news about the state of the economy — and how it has all worked out brilliantly whatever the outcome?

I think not!

My point is that whatever the result, everyone will still believe they were right, no-one will be wrong... One of you will be able to be more smug at passport control whilst the other can elaborately eye-roll about the price of croissants and Swiss chocolate... because you both KNEW that was going to happen and you were right all along!

Tomorrow is a new day. A deep breath and an air of world- weary sagacity will remind him once again what a fabulous independent mind you are. And honestly, darling, can you imagine anything duller than saying "We broke up over the Referendum!". (And then everyone saying they never knew you were Scottish).

Yours, from a boatload of Euros and Negronis (because one or other of them will be more expensive tomorrow),

*Madame* Lawyer

London, NY, Anywhere but Brussels

Dear *Lawyer Lady*

 

We — that is, my husband, me and our three pedigree Schnauzers — recently cashed in our urban chips and moved from a townhouse in North London (N1) to a detached villa in a seaside town the Sunday Times' property section has literally just described as 'The New Brighton’. (Hallelujah!).
While there is much to enjoy about our new neighbourhood, including a recently opened branch of Borough Wines (Hallelujah!), there are a few aspects of small-town life that are taking a bit of getting used to for we native Londoners.
Just yesterday, for example, our next door neighbours (whom we took to be ‘our kind of people’) positioned a giant inflatable Santa plus sleigh and reindeer onto their roof and are, as I write, festooning our boundary wall with fake illuminated ‘icicles’ and yet more flashing Prancers and Dancers and Chancers and Rudolphs. It has been made clear to me that they have barely got started and that there will be an official 'switching-on' ceremony by a local celebrity later this week, plus a charity donation box (the local hospice) for passing visitors.
Discreet enquries of my neighbour on the other side reveals not only that this family has been dong this for 25 years but each year’s illuminations are more elaborate than the previous year. Quite aside from the fact that my idea of *Christmas decoration* is a discreet real tree in the corner of the formal sitting-room, replete with white and/or silver decorations only (pref Conran Shop) plus a real holly and ivy wreath on the front door (Farrow and Ball’s ‘Downpipe’, fyi), the boundary wall my neighbours have today decorated with reindeer is in fact OUR boundary. I would like them to remove their reindeer from our wall (if not Santa and friends from their roof) however if/when I attempt to enforce this, where do I stand, legally? 

Regards, Mary       East Sussex

Dear Mary

 

Well, Mary, I can see the spartan Christmas decor is only one of the limitations on your Christmas spirit. 

It sounds like an absolute nightmare having neighbours expressing their slightly more festive style by creating a huge, fun, charitable Christmas display for one whole month every year. Yup, quite the inconvenience for you, in terms of both standing up and shutting your curtains and, possibly, objecting on the grounds of your own (fabulously good) taste. 
The thing about neighbours is, you see, that they are there for 365 days of the year... and as relative newbies to the 'hood, you would be better advised to spend some money in Borough Wines and start serving some hot toddies to all those who visit and donate.

Better still, why not hang up a few tasteful baubles of your own and join in with the Christmas spirit?

In legal terms, you could complain to the council about light pollution, however when the enforcement officers swing by your neighbours will immediately know it was you who complained. I am pretty sure they would not be Your Kind of People at all after that conversation... and I doubt the council would take action in view of the short term, seasonal nature of the light show.

Of course, if you really feel offended you could invest money in solicitors to write and enforce your point about the boundary wall. I should however point out that even if they comply you will have only bought yourself the prospect of everyone in the street regarding you as a miserable Scrooge-alike. Is that how you planned to launch yourself into local society?

If it's Christmas traditions you're after try this one for size: Neighbourly disputes traditionally make everyone concerned extremely miserable and far poorer than when they started... which is why everyone in North London looks the way they do, darling.

As your Learned Friend, I suggest you start letting a little bit of christmas spirit into your life or you could find your Hallelujahs substantially reduced in 2016. However, if it is simply all too unbearable you can find me in St. Kitts for the entire winter season. Festive pips…

Ding-Dong Merrily, etc           *Laywer Lady*

'Look, I'm not giving up Latitude — come Hell or, um...'

Dear *Lawyer Lady*

In order to offset a diminishing income as I hit Five-Oh, I invested a chunk of redundo and cracked open an old company pension prematurely to invest in property. A few years down the line and I now find myself in the happy position of being quids-in equity-wise but with the prospect of Gapital Gains looming (meanwhile my income is still negligible).

As I am also about to shack up with my long-term partner (we are unmarried, but his career is still on the up while mine has flat-lined), I am wondering how best to protect my assets without making him feel unduly put-upon? 
We will each have a 50 per cent share in our new home (I will be purchasing with cash while his half will be mostly mortgaged), however as narcissistic middle-agers who think we’ll live forever, obviously neither of us has a Will. I assume that we shall also need some sort of document saying that we both own the house, and that if one of us has a coronary at Latitude, the other is allowed to stay in the house until such time as they choose to leave (despite the fact that we both have children from previous relationships who would be our beneficiaries in the event of our demise… if we’d bothered to make Wills)? 

Finally, both our names will be on the mortgage document, too. However if we both own 50 per cent of the house does this oblige me to pay 50 per cent of what is effectively *his* mortgage, even if I have already contributed 50 per cent of the value of the house in cash? 

Lots of ‘FiftySense' type questions here. All of which make me feel a bit tired, frankly…

 

 Jill, Manchester

'Lynch, not Lynn; Loretta Blatterfu**er to my friends'

Dear Jill

Whilst *Lawyer Lady* loves a woman who is planning and plotting her way forward, you need to take a big step back and get some big lawyerly ducks in a row BEFORE you sign the papers.

There is a very great deal to think about here — starting with your children and then your beloved. Nothing spells disaster quicker than throwing all your money in a big pot of 'joint assets' without thinking about how it might be extracted if/when it is not all roses and strawberries-dipped-in- Chardonnay.

One thought is that you set up the Jill & Handsome Company Ltd, in order to purchase your new joint asset. That way the property is held in a company with no CGT in the future — and you can both be directors. Within this company you can have agreements in place as to how the asset is split, if you decide not to be together. You can both make loans to the company to finance the purchase — and if you have more than one property this might be a very sensible idea that you should discuss with your accountant, particularly as you have been bitten by hefty CGT on your last investment.

Who wants to give the government so much hard earned cash, particularly when you know Amazon and Apple aren’t paying it — and perfectly legally?!

If you find that too onerous, however, then you must sit down with your partner and get a 'Declaration of Trust' executed between you. This simple document sets out the terms of your equal ownership of the property and explains what happens next if one of you no longer wants to be part of the Serendipiditous Harmonials. Practical and sensible issues — such as how the sale price is set, how one can buy out the other, and who is responsible for what.

I am not sure you would want your children to be left with their inheritance tied up in a property they may not even live in if you were, for example, flattened by the Latitude bus, so you should also explain, as part of the document, how they can cash out.

Finally I am concerned that you are committing 50 per cent of the cash and still signing the mortgage document. If you put your cross on that piece of paper you are potentially liable to the bank for every penny of the mortgage — yes, all 100% of it — if he fails to pay. You must therefore have very clear terms in the Declaration of Trust to dealwith this — so that if you do end up paying the mortgage, a larger share of the ownership of the property accrues to you with every extra payment made.

Also, your children need the security of Wills and, frankly, you are quite old enough to know this! Guardianship, school fees, where they live, money in trust for Rainy Days... this is how they know you love them. Not finding out, as they digest your recent, tragic demise in the mosh pit at a particularly savage Coldplay gig, that you forgot all about it/them.

Dear Jill, I know you must be feeling very menopausally exhausted reading my dreary old missive, however a couple of visits to the Solicitor and Accountant today will enable you to sail into your new adventures — and indeed dotage — with all the comfort and security that well- drafted legal documents can provide. 

Right, I'm off to juice up the Jag.

Love, *Lawyer Lady*

London/Provence/Creamfields

Dear *Lawyer Lady*

Prior to last week’s Election, all the party candidates who knocked on my door assured me they would do 'the very best' for me and my family.
However in the light of the debacle that followed (during which they all turned out to be liars) I am re-thinking the nature of my relationships, both personal and political. To that end I’d like to move north of the border by Christmas.
My partner of 26 years, a landscape gardener, is absolutely adamant that he won’t relocate, however the nature of both our jobs (I'm a Reiki healer) means that we not only can but I think we’d be mad not to. Plus a friend-of-a-friend of mine lives two doors down from Jim Murphy and if ever there was a man in need of Healing (and maybe even Landscaping) it is surely Jim?
We’re empty-nesters and have never seen the point in marrying, while it is my name on the deeds of our pretty terraced house in Camberwell Grove, which my grandmother left to me in 1983. If I did decide to move to Scotland without my partner for a trial period without in any way intending to *split* permanently, is there any kind of legal advice I should take to secure my few assets down south. I have a much better record collection than my partner, for example.

Many thanks — Lisa, London SE5

Dear Lisa,

I can understand the allure of a gorgeous landscape where everything we value — transport, education and a health service — is currently free. Plus, the magnetic charisma of The Sturgeonator as your leader, putting lesser men to shame, could bring out the Braveheart in any of us. However, as your lawyer I would advise a cautious approach. With the Nationalists in full roar (I hear that Alex 'Leaping' Salmond is preparing to release lions into the Glens), an English lass and her reiki habit might not get quite the welcome you hope.

I would suggest you try it for six months and, in the meantime, get an agreement signed with your boyfriend establishing the terms by which he is staying in your house whilst you are flinging your highland. He has no legal rights just by living in your property, no matter how long, if you are not married. However if he contributes financially to anything other than the utility bills he may be able to claim that he thought he was buying an implied trust, and try to establish an ownership interest. If you do find that a Scottish future beckons long term, you may wish to sell that prime piece of Camberwell real estate — and the last thing you will need if you do is tedious litigation with an Ex who won’t move to Scotland and won’t move out. Who needs a Klingon when your (doubtless) massive London sale price could be reinvested in a couple of castles and a loch just north of Aberdeen (make sure you save some money for central heating)?

As for your important LPs and assorted hippy ephemera, you either have to trust that he won’t create a bonfire in the garden with it when you announce you are moving to another country permanently — or you need to put it in storage. Common-sense now, darling; if it will ruin your life should you lose it, then move it out

Even if we're discussing Scotland, a man who won’t move with his Beloved is already forty percent out the door, tbh. I’ll clink a whiskey sour with you when I have finished drafting your agreement.

Och Aye ! * Lawyer Lady*  — London / New York/ Shanghai / Glasgow

Dear *Lawyer Lady*

*Susan*. *Posed* by a *Model*...

 

I find myself in a very tricky situation… I am 41 and sixteeen years into a relationship — unmarrried — with the father of my four children (13, twins of 11, and a 4 year-old) with whom I also run a property business. After the birth of our last child — a happy accident and our first daughter — the delicate balance of our relationship seems to have tipped in the wrong direction. Not only do I no longer find my partner physically attractive, the feeling appears to be mutual. We have ‘discussed’ splitting-up (a euphemism — it always ends up in a shouting-match) however this results in my partner revealing a side of himself that has been well-hidden for the past sixteen years… because apparently, having put all my eggs into our ‘family’ property business it turns out that my name is not on the right documents and, as we are unmarried, were we to split up I would be (in his words...) ‘completely financially fucked — because I own everything’.

I’m not a stupid woman and I had a career when I met my partner, however having focussed largely on our family and the home for most of our time together I now see that I am potentially in a very vulnerable position. I discussed this with my closest female friend the other day and told her that I’d always assumed that as a ‘Common Law Wife’ I would never be ‘completely financially fucked’. At which point she rolled her eyes and said ‘but there is no such thing as a Common Law Wife — it’s a myth!’

Where *the fuck* do I stand, precisely?…

Sincerely, Susan — Hertfordshire

Dear * Susan*,

'Fuck it — let's go with the McBeal pic. It sounds a bit like McGill...'
‘Potentially…. vulnerable position’ does not cover it, my love. Indeed I regret to inform you that you have been both literally and metaphorically screwed. Contrary to the widely-held belief in that mythical creature, ‘The Common Law Wife’, I am afraid that just like the unicorn, she does not exist. Unless married or in a civil partnership, just because you were sweet enough to give up work and take care of the family, home and business for sixteen years, you do not acquire a single right to your partner’s earnings or assets. 
Where no marriage exists, legal documents signed to cover homes or businesses jointly-owned are the only thing the law recognises — and it seems that you do not have any. If you split up now your erstwhile partner can indeed ask you to leave his house and his business and while you can ask the court for the right to remain with your children, the outcome is highly uncertain. You are not entitled to maintenance for yourself (though your children will be) and I foresee lengthy legal troubles ahead.

Solutions? There are only two.

1)      You rediscover some love for your selfish swain, pour oil on your troubled waters, *romance* him until he caves in and you persuade him to get married — after that he will be at your mercy. 
2)      You gird your loins, step back into the *real* world , revive that old career and spend the next half of your life in command of your own destiny — and money.

Fact is, marriage remains a Bronte-ish construction; it has its uses but only if you are the financially weaker party, wherein it provides handsome protection. Without it, sadly, you will always be at this man’s mercy. In your case, Susan, there’s still plenty of time to blow away the cobwebs and a) either drag that man up the aisle or b) strike out for sunny independent pastures. As ever, I am at your service to deal with documents pertaining to either the break-up or the make-up.
Here's to having a lot more fun in your fifties, Sweetheart...

Regards, * Lawyer Lady * (Halfway up an Alp, Switzerland)

Dear * Lawyer Lady *

I am a 53 year-old woman who has yet to make a will. I know that’s foolish of me but it’s one of those things it’s very easy to put off.  However, my husband of 24 years (we have three daughters, aged 21, 19, and 15) is a solicitor and made his first will shortly after we were married — he’s amended it a couple of times — and has badgered me to make mine on and off ever since. The problem is that while I have seen his will — indeed, I am its executor — I would not want him to see mine, because... 

 

 

*Jane*, 53, clearly enjoying (a tastefully beige) life in West Sussex as a model for Shutterstock library images

I have had a long-term affair my husband knows nothing about and in the event of my passing before him I would want to recognise my lover in my will — but discreetly. While my husband is my next-of-kin and I have no plan to divorce, he and my daughters stand to inherit the bulk of my not-inconsiderable estate. I do not wish to cause anybody any shock or unhappiness after my death — especially if it is premature — so how best can I overcome this problem? Is it possible to have two wills?

 

Sincerely — Jane, West Sussex

Dear *Jane*

How your letter lifted my spirits! A long marriage to a responsible (though slightly dull?) man, three children raised apparently successfully and without prison spells, a delicious man-truffle on the side to spice up the mundane parts... and no-one any the wiser.

Unfortunately you will have to do a considerable amount of work now to ensure there is 'no shock or unhappiness' after your death.

Leaving no will is obviously out of the question, otherwise your gentleman-on-the-side will show up at your funeral and, like a bad French movie, confusion will give way to fury and embarrassing scenes for all. (Picture, if you can, your husband hurling a torn-up bunch of roses into your grave and rewriting the eulogy in a manner that, frankly, no woman — dead or alive — would ever wish to be thought of, while your children try desperately not to imagine you actually having sex. It's not a pretty picture, is it?)

Rosie the Riveter (who also kicks-arse), because the royalty-free pictures of arse-kicking lady lawyers were limited to, um, Ally McBeal...

 

Two wills just won't work, I'm afraid; your last will-by-date is legally your final will so any decoy you choose to share with your husband now is going to be succeeded by the new will... and its lavish gift to Mystery Man, once again creating confusion and embarrassment for all.

The only sensible solution is to begin creating a storyline in your lifetime, with regular cello lessons from a fabulous instructor including necessarily gushing reviews at home about the truly transformative power of music. Of course, your paramour is cast as the saintly and inspiring maestro, therefore any generous gift in your will, even if executed later as a codicil, is going to be understood by all... plus you will have the added benefit of becoming proficient in an exciting new skill.

Of course, for a small percentage I would be happy to act as your executor and ensure the smooth distribution of your estate according to your wishes.

As to where you will find all the time for these thrilling new activities... darling, I am a lawyer not a magician.

 

Love, * Lawyer Lady *                  London, NYC, St Barts...

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