Pets win prizes…and inheritances

If Danny Boyle needs any inspiration for his animal-centric Olympic extravaganza (featuring 70 sheep, 12 horses, nine geese and a partridge in a pear tree), he need look no further than the British reverence for their pets. This is a nation that sees innate talent in Pudsey the dog, wisdom in Fred Basset, sleuthing skills in Gromit, and collectively plans to leave £26 billion to their pets in their Wills, according to MORE TH>N.

But is this adoration of our furry friends a sign of superior emotional intelligence or downright lunacy? Gentle eccentricity is a well-established national trait (as anyone who watched a parade of unlikely vessels float past an inebriated, bemused crowd can attest to), yet so is good old common sense. Pets of a certain stature are of course afforded a certain degree of respect, from Her Majesty’s corgis to Bo the First Dog, but should us mere mortals really view pets as suitable beneficiaries?

Of course, there is a distinction between leaving vast sums of money to an oblivious animal and making decent provisions for them. Snubbing grandchildren so you can bequeath $12 million to your terrier probably falls into the category of cruel and unusual punishment – or, depending on what the grandchildren did, perhaps some form of poetic justice – but you can easily ensure a happy, treat-filled life for your faithful companion.

  • Appoint a successor: Select a worthy heir to your pet ownership and confirm their willingness to perform the task. Make a claws – sorry, clause – in your Will confirming that said heir will take care of your beloved.
  • Show me the money: To ensure your pet lives at the standard to which they’ve become accustomed, leave an appropriate financial settlement to their new owner to cover the costs of food, medical bills and comedy holiday outfits.
  • Not just for Christmas: If you can’t find someone to take on your pet, the RSPCA has a Home for Life , matching animals with suitable new owners.
  • Make a wish: Your pet may have particular preferences – a dislike of own-brand snacks, a favoured napping spot or a preference for The Sunday Times culture section – that you need to convey to its new owner, or indeed certain quirks to watch out for (‘Fenton!’). You can lay these out in your ‘Letter of wishes’.

If in doubt, simply ask yourself ‘What would Lassie do?’

Cohabitation agreements are for pragmatists and romantics

If I’ve learned one thing from Caitlin Moran, it’s that you should always be on your guard against The Patriarchy. Turn your back for a moment and they’ll be off with your laptop under one arm and your glass ceiling hammer under the other. Where it gets more complicated is when The Man is in fact one man and the laptop is your financial assets, earnings and property – harder to fit under one arm, but still, it turns out, in need of protection.

The challenge is how to broach this tricksy subject area – declare your love to someone, then draw up a document protecting everything you own from them. Surely romance already has enough impediments in this modern e-Valentine and Twitter break-up age without the added burden of cold hard legal contracts?

However, setting up a cohabitation agreement doesn’t have to signal deep mistrust or suggest you’ve bet money on a break-up by the end of the Olympics. Instead, it can be a stealthy way of having The Talk and strengthening a long-term relationship. This document can show commitment to facing possible issues, such as a gulf between your earnings and assets and theirs, and allow you to discuss contributions to your life together (for example, one partner’s time spent looking after the home).

And, if the worst happens and you do break up, your agreement will make some elements of that grim scenario less painful – you won’t have to argue over who gets the Bose speakers or the nesting bowls if those decisions are already set in stone.

Who should make a cohabitation agreement?
You’re not married or in a civil partnership, but you’re sharing (or planning to share) a home with your partner that one/both of you own or rent.

What decisions can you make?
A cohabitation agreement lets you assess what you’re both bringing to the table and commit to certain decisions for the duration of your relationship and if you break up. This can cover a variety of areas, such as:

  • Property: You can decide to become ‘tenants in common’, meaning you each own a percentage of the home (different percentages can reflect e.g. what each of you contributed to buying it); you can own it as a ‘joint tenancy’, meaning when one of you dies, the other automatically inherits it; you can remain the owner, but give your partner a share; or you can be the sole owner, meaning if you break up, your partner has to leave if you ask them to. You can also establish whether your partner contributing to the property affects their ownership or falls under general living expenses.
  • Assets: Normally, anything you owned before you lived together, buy with your own money or inherit is yours alone, and anything you buy together is owned jointly, but you can decide otherwise in the agreement – for example, whether an asset you buy together is split depending on how much you each contributed (e.g. 60/40), whether certain assets are yours individually or whether everything you own is yours jointly, regardless of who paid for it.
  • Debts: You’ll only be liable for your partner’s debts if you agree to be, e.g. by borrowing money in both your names, so it’s worth considering that commitment. However, utility companies and the council can pursue both of you if you’re living in a home with unpaid utility and council tax bills.
  • Provisions: You can decide what happens in case of serious illness or death, such as making financial provision for your partner or naming them next of kin. For some decisions, such as allowing your partner to make decisions for you when you’re unable to, you should also draw up a ‘Power of attorney’ or ‘Living Will’ expressing your preferences. If you want your partner to be entitled to your pension or share your health insurance, you’ll need to check with your pension scheme trustees or employer’s HR department to see if that’s allowed before committing to it in your agreement.

What doesn’t it cover?
The cohabitation agreement isn’t a way of regulating behaviour – you can establish rules for how you spend money and share assets, not how often your partner has to do the washing up and put the toilet seat down.

You can also agree to certain childcare arrangements, but the cohabitation agreement won’t cover all rights and responsibilities. The natural (biological) mother has automatic parental responsibility (meaning you can decide where they live, how they’re brought up and whether you want to do a Gwyneth and name them Apple) and the natural father has parental rights under certain circumstances (e.g. if they’re registered on the child’s birth certificate). If your partner isn’t a natural parent, they can apply for a ‘Residence order’ or you can appoint them guardian – decisions you can mention in your agreement, but you need those extra legal provisions as well.

Is this the same as common law marriage?
In a word: no. A common law spouse doesn’t have any legal rights in England, so if you break up, your partner can’t make a claim for maintenance or share of your assets just because you lived together for a certain period of time.

However, a cohabitation agreement helps you navigate potentially dangerous areas, from making big purchases together to joint savings and managing debts, and, in the event of a break-up, gives you a much better shot at an amicable parting.

Council worker’s termination date mistake makes appeal ‘too late’

Courtside: the latest legal news from MyLawyer

Fired Lincolnshire County Council worker Mrs Horwood’s claims were brought too late, ruled an Employment Tribunal, after she failed to agree an effective date of termination (EDT) with her employer.

Mrs Horwood believed she had lodged her claims for unfair dismissal and unlawful deduction of wages within the Tribunal’s three-month claims period, calculating it from the date her manager responded to her resignation letter. However, the council argued her EDT was actually four days earlier, on the date she filed a letter resigning ‘with immediate effect’.

The Tribunal considered three possible EDTs: the date Mrs Horwood’s letter was received by the council (January 29 – a Friday), the date her manager read it (February 1) and the date her manager responded to it (February 2).

Mrs Horwood argued the council had named February 2 her EDT in her manager’s response letter, but the Tribunal noted she hadn’t confirmed that EDT with them at the time. Because there was no official agreement between her and the council, the Tribunal ruled her EDT was the date her resignation letter was received and thus her claims were lodged after the three-month period – too late to be considered.

There have been a number of recent cases hinging on when notice takes effect. It’s important to understand that an employee’s final day may not be the EDT for the purposes of a Tribunal deadline, and, as this case shows, an EDT can only be varied if both parties specifically accept it. Correct EDT allows employers to calculate length of service in order to establish whether the employee has:

•    Statutory rights for e.g. redundancy pay or unfair dismissal
•    Brought a claim to a Tribunal in time
•    Contractual entitlement to a payment (e.g. a bonus or commission) that depends on them being in employment on the date of payment

How MyLaywer can help you
We have a range of letters to assist you when pursuing disciplinary action against an employee, including letters advising of suspension pending an investigation, inviting an employee to a disciplinary hearing, advising of the outcome and notifying dismissal for gross misconduct.

You’re fired: Facebook sexual harasser’s appeal rejected

Courtside: the latest legal news from MyLawyer

A Belfast call centre worker fired for posting obscene comments about a female colleague’s sexual activities on Facebook has had his dismissal appeal rejected by an Industrial Tribunal.

Customer service representative Mr Teggart was dismissed by TeleTech for gross misconduct in breaching their policies on harassment and dignity at work and bringing the company into serious disrepute after referencing TeleTech while posting inappropriate comments on his Facebook page about a female colleague’s alleged promiscuity.

The female co-worker admitted to her manager that she was distressed by Mr Teggart’s comments, but when his employer asked him to remove them, he instead posted another obscene remark, leading to a full investigation and disciplinary hearing and resulting in his dismissal.

Mr Teggart appealed the charge, claiming the comments were meant as a joke, not deliberate harassment, and that the decision violated his human rights. However, TeleTech dismissed his appeal.

Mr Teggart then issued a claim for unfair dismissal and breach of his human rights at the Industrial Tribunal, which also dismissed his claims on the grounds that:

•    His comments satisfied the definition of harassment in its dignity at work policy – they were unwanted, violated the victim’s dignity and created a degrading and humiliating environment for her
•    Harassment could occur where comments were made to others and not to the victim of harassment
•    Mr Teggart abandoned his rights to privacy under Article 8 when he posted the comments on his publicly accessible Facebook page

Although there was little or no evidence to support the claim that he’d brought TeleTech into serious disrepute, the Tribunal ruled that it was reasonable to dismiss him solely on the grounds of harassment.

This is the latest in a recent spate of unfair dismissal cases involving the misuse of social networking sites in the workplace. Although the decision was made by a Northern Irish Tribunal, it can serve as a useful lesson for businesses inEngland, Wales and Scotland.

How MyLawyer can help you
Use our ‘Employee Handbook’ in order to obtain up-to-date procedures and policies for your business, including harassment and bullying and disciplinary and grievance procedures.

British businesses waste £30m a year on unnecessary safety tests

Courtside: the latest legal news from MyLawyer

At MyLawyer, we pride ourselves on staying up to date with the latest legal developments in all areas, from family law, finance and property to probate and the fast-changing technology sector. Our legal team feed this knowledge into our documents and take it into account when offering you advice. We’ll also give you the latest news from the courts and Government rulings and explain how it applies to you.

British businesses waste £30 million a year on unnecessary safety tests
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has urged companies to put a stop to unnecessary electrical safety tests after revealing low-risk businesses are wasting an estimated £30 million a year.

The HSE blames companies that test electrical appliances for their misleading advice and advertising, which claims every item has to be tested and persuades businesses to carry out checks far more often than the law requires.

In response to a Government-commissioned report on health and safety legislation, the HSE has launched a revised guide and FAQs, clarifying that businesses need to maintain electrical equipment purely to prevent danger. In many cases, especially low-risk businesses like hotels, offices and shops, all that’s required is a regular check of appliances for obvious signs of damage, such as frayed or exposed wires.

HSE chair Judith Hackitt commented: ‘Businesses are responsible for protecting their employees, but they shouldn’t be wasting their money on unnecessary checks that have no real benefit.’

How MyLawyer can help you
Save money by using our ‘Health and safety compliance review and policy creator’ to identify and eliminate possible health and safety risks in your business.

Tomorrow’s update: You’re fired: Facebook sexual harasser’s appeal rejected.

What is a ‘power of attorney’?

As a lifelong control freak, the idea of giving up any kind of power to someone else has never appealed to me, particularly when it’s associated with dark, dark thoughts of debilitating illness, life-sustaining treatment and institutional food likely to score extremely low on the NeverSeconds Food-o-meter.

On the upside, relinquishing control means not having to pay bills or fill out a complex tax return – a task that’s taken some of the fun out of my new happy-go-lucky freelancer role.

So, what is a power of attorney? No, not a hot-shot American lawyer’s thousand-dollar suit, but a legal document allowing you to give someone authority when you can’t manage your financial and personal affairs anymore. This designated person – usually a family member or friend – becomes your ‘attorney’, while you’re referred to as the ‘donor’ (because you’re giving them control – not, as I initially thought, a vital organ).

There are two types of power of attorney: general (or ordinary), which gives authority for a limited period of time, and lasting, which – you guessed it – allows someone to manage your affairs permanently. Obviously, picking the right one for your circumstances is vital – you don’t want to come back from a brief sojourn abroad to find your cousin Beth has turned your house into a viewing gallery for the Olympic handball arena.

General (or ordinary) power of attorney

Who is it for? You need someone to mind the shop for a limited period of time while you’re away or incapacitated – e.g. working abroad or dealing with a physical illness that requires a long stay in hospital.

What do you need to do? As long as you’re over 18, of sound mind and not bankrupt, all you have to do is fill in and sign a general power in front of a witness. You can appoint one attorney or several – and if several, you can decide whether they or not they have to make joint decisions.

What does it mean? Your attorney has the authority to carry out tasks on your behalf, such as sign documents and handle your financial affairs. They don’t have any control over your personal welfare (e.g. whether or not you can eat jelly in hospital).

How can I end it? When you’re ready to resume your duties, you can strip your attorney of their power by completing a document called ‘Revocation of a general power of attorney’.

Start your ‘General power of attorney’ now.

Lasting power of attorney

Who is it for? You need someone to take over your affairs permanently – you’re concerned about your ability to manage as you get older or you have the onset of a serious illness like dementia.

What do you need to do? As above, if you’re over 18, of sound mind and not bankrupt, you need to fill in and sign a lasting power in front of a witness. You also need to register the document with the Office of the Public Guardian,  which costs £130 and means a delay of up to nine weeks while they carry out checks.

What does it mean? As with the general power, your attorney has the authority to handle matters for you. There are two types of lasting power, which give your attorney authority over different areas:

•    Property & financial affairs – things like operating your bank accounts, claiming pensions or benefits, filling out tax returns, paying household bills, selling property and paying medical bills
•    Health & welfare – decisions relating to you, such as where you live, what health care you receive, what happens in your social life, what food you eat and whether or not you receive life-sustaining treatment

Start your ‘Lasting power of attorney – property & financial affairs’ or ‘Lasting power of attorney – health & welfare’ now.

With any of these documents, you need to think carefully about who you appoint as attorney. (I jest about cousin Beth, but powers of attorney mean big transfers of control to someone else.)

If you have any doubts, discuss it with MyLawyer before making a final decision – call us on 0800 612 3556.