Archives for August 2014

Wells Moat Boat Race Halted by Too Much Water

Although this year’s Wells Moat Boat Race (on bank holiday Monday, 25th August) had to be brought to a slightly premature end due to persistent rain, we are pleased to report that the Harris & Harris team won both races in which they took part at this year’s event and that they also won second place in the Fancy Dress competition, for their Crocodile Dundee themed raft and costumes.

The charity event takes place each year on the August bank holiday Monday on the Bishop’s Palace Moat. Entrants must build their own raft and paddles. The funds raised are split equally between the Wells Lions Club good causes, and participant’s chosen charities. Harris & Harris’ chosen charity is St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice.

Our team this year: Solicitors Joshua Eva and Andy Hambleton, trainee solicitor Chris Mullett, legal secretary Emma Wiltshire, office clerk Tom Hampson, and local farmer Joe Stradling.

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Below is a video of one of the races:-

 

Is a verbal contract worth the paper on which it is written?

We regularly see clients who say “I haven’t got a contract”. What they mean is “I haven’t got a bit of paper”. Under English law almost any contract (except for buying land or a guarantee) can be made by word of mouth (or email). The main difference is that there is much more room for disputing the terms of a contract if it isn’t recorded – that’s more business for lawyers. Even for those areas where writing and signature are required the courts may find those in an exchange of emails.

A contract comes into existence once the parties have agreed the terms. It isn’t necessary for them to have agreed all the terms. The test is objective – the court looks at what the parties have said and whether the essential terms have been agreed. That is now commonly working through a set of emails.

Even for substantial commercial contracts there no requirement for greater formality. It is possible to create a legally binding contract before a document is drawn up and signed by the parties, even where they both expect to move on to that. As one judge put it – “Even if certain terms of economic or other significance have not been finalised, an objective appraisal of their words and conduct may lead to the conclusion that they did not intend agreement of such terms to be a precondition to a concluded and legally binding agreement.”

Even where there is an agreed intention for further condition to be fulfilled or terms to be agreed that may not prevent the contract coming into existence, if a reasonable person experienced in the business sector would think it had. A statement that a ‘formal contract will then follow in due course’ did not necessarily indicate that acceptance of a signed quotation was not legally binding.

If the parties can’t agree such further terms the existing contract is not invalid. If the parties can’t agree the court will, if necessary, enforce terms that are standard in the sector or give business efficacy to the terms agreed. What the court is very unlikely to do is to write in for you the terms that are often the most important, such as limitations on liability or practical protections for your assets and intellectual property.

The lesson is that when negotiating contracts all written communications relating to negotiations and contractual terms should be marked “Subject to Contract” unless and until you are to enter into a binding agreement on the basis of the terms agreed. As you approach that point be ready to instruct a solicitor to prepare a formal contract. Help us do that for you by letting us have clear “Heads of Agreement” setting out the essential commercial terms, and marked “Subject to Contract”. Help us save you money and protect your business.

 

Wills Litigation on the Increase

 

An article published in the Law Society Gazette this week has highlighted a substantial increase in the number of claims lodged at Court involving alleged breach of duties by Executors. The article suggests that this could be attributed to “the increased use of acquaintances or family members as DIY executors and trustees, rather than instructing solicitors”.

At Harris & Harris we have many years of experience in acting for and advising Executors. We are able to ensure that the administration of a deceased person’s estate is conducted properly and in accordance with the law. In appropriate cases we offer our clients the option of appointing the partners in the firm as professional Executors. Appointing an independent professional to act as Executor can lift the burden of estate administration from family and provide peace of mind that your estate will be in safe hands.

As Solicitors, we are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and legally obliged to maintain a high level of Professional Indemnity Insurance. This means that, should anything go wrong in a case where we have acted as Executors, the beneficiaries of the estate are protected. However in cases where a non-solicitor Executor has failed to deal with things properly, or perhaps even stolen from the estate, the beneficiaries may have no such protection and could lose their inheritance.

We were also one of the first 100 firms in the country to join the Law Society’s new voluntary Wills & Inheritance Quality Scheme (WIQS). In achieving accreditation, the firm underwent a rigorous application and assessment process to demonstrate our adoption of best practice procedures in delivering wills and probate advice.

Should any of our clients have concerns over the way in which an Executor is dealing with an estate where they are a beneficiary, or perhaps where they feel they ought to be, we also have specialist solicitors in our Litigation team who can advise upon the rights of such individuals, and upon the role and duties of the Executor. When things have gone wrong, we can advise you on the available options and help you to achieve a fair result.

The full Law Gazette article can be accessed via the following link:-

Law Gazette Article

If you would like to speak to one of our specialist lawyers, please click to visit:-

Wills, Probate and Trusts

Dispute Resolution / Litigation