What are your views on a STEP testamentary capacity assessment course?

Emily Deane TEPSTEP is considering the development and implementation of an online testamentary capacity assessment course and is keen to assess members’ appetite and enthusiasm. With very little guidance or industry training currently available, an online course could be a valuable educational tool for anyone required to interact with capacity assessments.

The background to the course

In 2017 the Law Commission of England and Wales produced a consultation report on reform of the law of wills. While its work was postponed, it is likely to recommence early next year. Paragraph 2.132 of the report notes ’stakeholders have raised the possibility of introducing an accreditation scheme.. this would deal with the problems raised by the Golden Rule by directing testators and professionals towards people competent to undertake capacity assessments. An accreditation would mark out who could best assess capacity in difficult cases. Accreditation would also be persuasive in litigation should capacity be contested after the death of the testator…’.

It continued, ‘a scheme might be operated by a private organisation who would accredit lawyers, medical professionals and social workers to assess capacity… we recognise the value of private accreditation schemes’.

STEP believes it is exceptionally well-placed to offer its members an accredited scheme of this kind, if they would find it beneficial and valuable to their professional duties.

The proposed course

The course is likely to be webinar-based, comprising a series of interlinked sessions provided by relevant experts including solicitors, counsel and medics. Modules are likely to include:

  • Capacity – and the issues that affect it.
  • Law – the legal tests of testamentary capacity (for example considering the Banks v Goodfellow test in contrast to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 – and how these tests are treated by courts).
  • Practice – dealing with medics, matters to include in file notes, the importance of family trees, assessing clients.
  • The introduction of a standardised testamentary assessment questionnaire.

Other considerations are whether the course will be adapted for implementation across the common law jurisdictions, and whether completion will provide accreditation.

Join the debate

We would like to invite you to a free discussion on Wednesday 30 June at 4.30pm (BST) to explore the proposals for this course in more detail. Claire van Overdijk TEP (Chair of the STEP Mental Capacity Special Interest Group (SIG)) will moderate a panel discussion including Professor Robin Jacoby, Alexander Learmonth QC TEP, Australian neuropsychologist Dr Jane Lonie and Stephen Lawson TEP. The panel will discuss its views and there will be opportunities for questions.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Practitioner perspective: We need to work together to help vulnerable clients

Robin Melley TEPVulnerability is not synonymous with poverty or age, it can happen to anyone, at any time.

While I have been interested in vulnerability for many years, it was the development of my firm’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy, with the theme, ‘vulnerability and combating financial abuse,’ that really crystallised my desire to develop my technical knowledge.

The issue was highlighted for me when I started working with NS&I Premium Bond winners, who had each scooped a GPB1 million jackpot. You might not think such a group are people to be concerned about, but I discovered there are sometimes substantial difficulties faced by those who come into ‘sudden wealth’, particularly vulnerable minors and elderly people who have lost mental capacity.

For me, it highlighted the fact that we, as professional advisors, should not try and pigeonhole people as vulnerable, but look at a person’s overall circumstances and make sure we consider potential vulnerabilities for all clients.

Everyone is potentially vulnerable

Importantly for financial planners such as myself, and, I’d think, most STEP members, dealing professionally with vulnerability should be at the core of our work. It is too important an issue to be relegated to a compliance tick-box exercise. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is in the middle of a consultation on vulnerability; and the risk is that advisors fall into the trap of viewing ‘vulnerable clients’ as a defined group of people and focus on complying with a set of regulatory requirements.

In real life, everyone is potentially vulnerable, and the signs of vulnerability are often not immediately obvious. Consequently, the issue of vulnerability has to be embedded in the advice process for all clients.

I believe it’s also vital for chartered financial planners, lawyers, and other professionals to work together. For example, when there is an application to the Court of Protection for gifts to be made, the legal advisor usually needs to demonstrate that the attorneys are acting in the donor’s best interests and fully meeting their obligations under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. A chartered financial planner can provide support by undertaking detailed analysis, incorporating a lifetime cashflow forecast to demonstrate the long-term financial consequences of making gifts at the levels proposed.

Helping our fellow human beings is a basic human instinct and, like many STEP members, I have spent my career helping clients solve some of their problems to satisfy their aspirations for themselves and their families. It has been very gratifying to help them, often supporting them with issues not normally considered part of the financial planner’s responsibilities, and it’s a special feeling to give a safe pair of hands to a client who particularly needs help.

Watch out for abuse

Financial planners who adopt a holistic approach with clients can often spot problems because of the nature of the long-term (and often lifelong) relationship they have with clients, where they are meeting on a regular basis. He or she is well placed to pick up on any cues of possible financial abuse. I have, for instance, become aware of an adult child attempting to persuade an elderly parent to make gifts to them to the detriment of the parent; and have been able to intervene to guide and support the client in what is often an emotional situation.

Why I took the STEP Diploma

I realised I could better help others by deepening my understanding and achieving a higher level of technical competence. The STEP Diploma in Advising Vulnerable Clients offered the most comprehensive professional qualification in this area. I certainly found it a challenge finding the time over the last three years to study, but it has been hugely worthwhile. I have learned so much and it has enabled me to adapt our approach to financial planning to be more closely aligned with the needs of those who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances.

Examples of the improvements include the provision of detailed information and guidance to the parents of minors, to ensure they are clear on their fiduciary duties and obligations, and improving the way in which we refer to and collaborate with legal advisors.

Put simply, I believe that I am a better financial planner because of what I have learned through the attainment of the STEP Diploma and becoming a Full Member of STEP. The biggest beneficiaries are, of course, our clients.

Robin Melley FPFS TEP is a Chartered Financial Planner, at Matrix Capital in Shropshire.