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What a load of shocking (and stressful) stuff from the postman!

Well, not having a good day today.

Have had two rather shocking but totally unrelated letters.

The first is that my entire GP practice (three partners) have resigned! They are going in January, with NHS England working to put “interim measures” in place, until “a more permanent solution” can be found.

The letter is from the partners themselves, and they’ve been quite reserved about the exact reasons, but the long and the short seems to be: “It’s getting too difficult to run a doctor’s surgery.”

This is absolutely scandalous! I would have been upset if only my own doctor was leaving, but would have felt relatively confident about switching to either of the others, both of whom I’ve seen from time to time. One of them I did not hit it off with at first, but since I’ve been diagnosed with something serious, she’s been much, much better - I no longer bear the “Whiny middle-aged woman” stigma. But anyway, all that’s irrelevant now, as the whole damn lot are going. Very concerned about continuity of treatment, and specifically whether all my medication will continue to be approved, as not all doctors agree about all of it. I had found one who was sympathetic, and treated me as responsible, and largely able to exercise my own judgement. Obviously, whoever I get won’t know me, so won’t have built up the picture that I’m sensible and conservative with meds. I’m worried I’ll go back to being treated like a child, and they’ll be trying to get me off stuff or to cut down.

Then, as if that wasn’t shitty enough news for one day, the next envelope had an ominous looking solicitor’s logo on it. I knew they weren’t writing to offer me a job, as it’s years since I even put out any feelers in that direction.

So: “Oh dear, who is alleging I’ve done what?”

It turns out I’m wanted as a witness in a case of a contested will.

I was a witness to the original will. An innocent favour I did for a neighbour and his mother (witness the latter’s will) has just blown up in my face, as one of the family has contested the will, and I’m now being asked a whole load of questions about it.

It’s not a court summons, but I’ve got to reply in detail, in writing, to a number of very specific questions “at my earliest possible convenience”, including how did I know the testator, how long had I known her, did I discuss the terms of the will with her, did she make any representation as to why she was doing what she was doing, did she know she was making a will, did I know of any health issues that may be affecting her, did she say anything that could be considered evidence of confusion, blah, blah, blah…

It was four bloody years ago! I can’t remember what the old lady said, although if it had seemed odd, I’m sure I’d have remembered.

I do remember that the terms of the will were quite controversial and divisive (in my opinion), so in a way, I’m not surprised a challenge has arisen. But like I need this - for doing someone a favour!

Usually, witnessing a document for a colleague or neighbour is just a formality, to confirm you were present and saw it - that there were no guns etc. You do not generally expect a detailed interrogation about everything you can recall, years later.

I thought at first it was going to be a nice letter, and that someone had left me a surprise legacy (all headed up “Last Will and Testament”, and all that). For a fleeting moment, I thought: “How kind, that somebody remembered me.” Fat chance!

Tina

x

re the will.

I think the person making the will and the witnesses have to sign the will at the same time - the whole point of being a witness is that you can verify the person making the will signed it in your presence.

2 Likes

OMG Tina, how dreadful. Both bits of post.

I was devastated when my doctor emigrated to Australia and still feel the loss 2 years later. I’m still attempting to develop a relationship with one of the other doctors and as there are about 6 or 7 of them, I end up seeing a different doctor each time. I’m now trying hard to see the same doctor each time. To lose the whole practice at once is dreadful news. I can imagine how terrible you feel. Having slightly contentious prescriptions is an especially worrying thought. I can’t see how doctors can bring themselves to do this to their patients, there will be 100s of people feeling as anxious, scared and unhappy as you do.

I also can’t believe doing a simple favour like witnessing a will brings you such a lot of difficult work. Many people would be incapable of writing such detailed information. Not to mention the time lapse from when you witnessed the will to now. What would happen if you were simply unable to do it? And what happens as a result of your recollections? Surely decisions about complex bequests can’t depend on what a witness does or does not remember?

I do feel for you.

Sue

We did sign at the same time - have I suggested otherwise?

RE: Surgery closing.

Tina, this is sure to get coverage in your local newspaper, so why don’t you contact them? Write a letter to the Editor, or give an interview. Tell them what you’ve told us; you have very real concerns and won’t be alone. You clearly feel strongly, and could compose a bloody good piece on behalf of people with MS and other long term conditions. And why not write to your MP while you’re at it, your outrage is wasted here, although I’m sure you feel better for penning it. Officialdom needs to be told when things affect people’s lives, and I think you could tell 'em.

Ben

It seems very irresponsible and uncaring of the three GPs to resign at the same time with no permanent replacements to take over. A bit of a coincidence for all three to have found themselves alternative positions at the same time or am I just suspicious by nature. Hope it doesn’t take too long to get aquanted with a suitable GP.

Jan x

I am sure it’s not coincidence at all, and I’m not even sure they have found “alternative positions”. I think they are friends, as well as business partners, and have decided collectively that it’s not the way they wish to spend the rest of their lives.

It hints that they are all totally hacked off, though the letter is as professional as you would expect, so does not put it in those exact words. Neither does it point the finger of blame at anyone in particular - there is no mention of government policies, etc, except very indirectly, as the message seems to be that it’s all getting too much, and does mention the administrative burden - but not of what, exactly.

Tina

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Thanks, Ben, I think I will start by writing to NHS England, and see if I can get more information on what their take is about what has happened.

The doctors’ letter helpfully gives a contact email for a person at NHS England. I’m sure they would not deliberately suggest patients all bombard her with emails, would they? :wink:

Tina

x

No, not deliberately, …goodness me!

Ben

Wow & wow

on the solicitors letter. Can you get them to send someone to see you so that you can dictate to them and make them do the writing and just sign to say it’s what you said.

Make them do the hard work.

sorry about the docs. Must have been in the pipeline but not good.

regards

Neil

Hi Neil,

I definitely don’t want anyone coming round, because then I’d have to clean the place up - which is worse!

Also, despite the work, I don’t really want anyone else putting words in my mouth, for me to just sign.

Obviously, they’re acting on behalf of an aggrieved party, so would have a vested interest in interpreting my answers in a way that favoured their client - they’re not neutral!

To prevent any possibility of “spin”, I do think it’s preferable if the words are my own, rather than prepared on my behalf for me to sign.

Actually, I’m open-minded as to whether there has been any injustice. I’m not a doctor, but I think the old lady was of sound mind.

However, I do wonder if one beneficiary (my neighbour!) was able to use a position of influence to steer his mother into favouring him.

He got the lion’s share of everything, despite there being nine or ten children.

BUT it’s a complex issue. I have no doubt he was absolutely devoted to his mother. He probably saw more of her, and spent more time, effort and expense on her than other members of the family, so she may simply have wanted to reflect this in her will. The one she judged to have been the “best” son to her, she wanted to reward with the most money.

Personally, I think such favouritism is bound to provoke family feuds after you’re gone, but on the other hand, why should a child you never see get the same as one who did everything for you?

Luckily, not for me to decide. I didn’t question her about her motives (which is one of the things they want to know about), and I didn’t see any evidence she was obviously out of her mind. I was a little concerned (but thought it well beyond my role as witness) that she might be rather easily dominated by her son - but the person who did most and spent most time with her was bound to be more influential than the one in Australia (for example). It doesn’t necessarily mean there were cunning motives, just because one child got a larger cut. If they played a more active role, perhaps that is fair?

Tina

who was the other witness?

Hopefully not the main beneficiary.

Was the will drawn up by a solicitor?

No, the other witness was a work colleague of the main beneficiary. I was introduced briefly - I don’t otherwise know him. I’m sure he’ll have been the recipient of a similar letter.

The will had all the hallmarks of a DIY-job to me, but that doesn’t mean it it’s not legally valid.

It’s also not automatically invalid, just because some people would not regard it as fair. For example, the testator had expressly disinherited one son. “For reasons he will know” - which seemed to me pretty spiteful, but there’s no way of knowing the background. Maybe he did some terrible crime, and she disowned him? Or maybe he borrowed money from her but never paid it back, so she considered he’d already had his share?

He is not the one contesting - it looks like one of the sisters is contesting, either on grounds of lack of mental capacity, or undue influence.

To complicate things, the old lady definitely did lose mental capacity towards the end. My neighbour told me she was becoming confused, but this was some time AFTER I’d witnessed the will, and she didn’t seem confused on the day.

But of course, the sister might well try to argue it all began much earlier, and she already wasn’t quite with it when she made the will.

I have started drafting the reply, and have stressed that the testator didn’t seem ill or confused to me, but that we did not discuss her reasons for dividing her estate as she did - it’s not technically either the duty or the business of a mere witness to query the content, or the reasons for it, but I suppose they’re just fishing, in case we might have discussed it.

It is quite unusual and certainly not mandatory for the witnesses even to know the content - they are only vouching for the signature, not the document.

But my neighbour and his mum chose to share the full content with us, even though I probably would have felt more comfortable if they hadn’t. Personally, I think cutting people out of your will is a bit of a private matter, and I wouldn’t share it with outsiders unless the law said I must - which it doesn’t.

It occurs to me that as there about ten siblings, there could be more than one challenging the will, and this might be the first letter of a succession.

Tina

Well, update to this - it’s already hit the BBC, no less (only the local section, obviously), so no need to start writing to the papers.

However, the BBC story (and a similar one on the website of the local gazette) so far don’t add much to what the official statement said. They are both treating the group resignations as “unexplained” - which I suppose they are, as the letter only hints vaguely at “challenges” and “workload”, without narrowing it down to a concrete reason.

The only new thing I’ve learnt that I didn’t know before is the practice has over 5000 patients.

I’m not sure if that’s more or less than I expected, to be honest. I’ve no idea what patient numbers are for a typical practice.

Tina

How upsetting, Tina. It is a rum business about the GPs, but there are other GPs, and I’m sure the thing will sort itself out. The contested Will business is rather unpleasant, though. I very much hope that, once you have filled in their form to confirm that, as far as you were aware, the testator was acting while of sound mind and under no duress, that will be that. As for as you are concerned, anyway. The whole squalid mess then reverts to being a purely family and legal matter. ‘Where there’s a Will, there’s a relative,’ as they say.

Alison

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It seems the signing of the will was done properly so the issues would be did the testator sign under duress and did she know what she was doing at the time.

All you can do is say what happened at the actual signing. Who benefited from the will is not your business.

Completely agree - the signing and witnessing of the will was proper.

It is not one of the duties of a witness to try to assess the testator’s mental state, or to question why they are disposing of things as they are, or to consider undue influence. You’re basically just verifying it was them - nothing more.

Still, I suppose if you’re searching for evidence either way, the logical place to start is with people who were definitely there - the witnesses.

It is possible they could have discussed the testator’s reasons - even though they’re not obliged to - and they might have observed health issues, too. They are guaranteed to have seen what she was like on the day.

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Hi Tina

OMG what a horrible surprise for you this morning. I would be gutted if I lost my GP.

The other pain is having to deal with answering questions after being neighbourly and witnessing your neighbour’s Will.

When I was a legal secretary 15 years ago I was asked by the solicitor I worked for at the time to witness the signatures of clients and I must have done this at least 50 times. I know that this is general practise for solicitors to ask their secretaries to do. Imagine if I was called to do what you are being asked to do. Ridiculous. I wouldn’t even know them well enough to answer questions.

Hope you don’t get too much hassle with this and good luck with the GP fiasco.

Shazzie xx

Hi Shazzie,

I know! I’ve witnessed a fair few in my time, too - probably not as many as 50, and this was the first will, that I can remember, but have witnessed loads of conveyances over the years, and I think one child custody arrangement, or something like that.

When I was at work (before I worked from home, I mean), one of the ladies had a sideline acquiring and doing up rental properties for - I think - the MoD, or some large client like that. So she was bringing the property deeds in in batches, and saying: “Can you witness another lot for me?”

Never thought twice about it. After all, the obligations of witnesses are not onerous - you’ve only got to be 18+ and sane - no other special qualification needed, and you’re NOT certifying that you thought the document was alright, or that you agreed with it, or anything like that.

This is the first time any of it has ever come back to haunt me.

I’m expecting a knock at the door from my neighbour any time. I might not answer, as no doubt he will want to know what I’ve written, or am going to write, and I don’t really want to get sucked into discussing it (not that it will be unfavourable to him - but it just doesn’t seem right for one of the witnesses in a contentious matter to be discussing their answers with “the other side”.) Interestingly, the solicitor’s letter doesn’t specify whether it is/is not OK to talk to the other beneficiaries, but I suppose they wouldn’t know, just from the will itself, that I am next-door neighbour to the main one.

I wonder if my neighbour even knows his sister has engaged a solicitor? Although he hasn’t heard it from me, he presumably will have from work, assuming the chap who acted as the other witness is still there. Surely, he must have said: “Oh, by the way, I had a letter from your sister’s solicitor this morning, about your mum’s will”? So if he doesn’t yet know, I can’t think it will stay that way for long.

I was thinking today of the saying: “No good deed goes unpunished”, and wondered if it would actually put me off witnessing anything again for anyone. The chances of being asked to write an essay about it years later are probably quite small, as it must be rare anybody contests these days. Even so, once bitten…

I wouldn’t like to refuse this simple thing to anyone. It’s so common, between neighbours - who is a readily available source for these things, if it’s not allowed to be family? For most people, it’s going to be a work colleague or a neighbour, isn’t it?

I did think the will had all the makings of a soap opera - especially ostentatiously disinheriting anyone. It had all the ingredients for a later dispute. In our family (not that we’ve had many wills to deal with, thankfully), we’ve always had the strict understanding that everything will be divided equally - no favourites. When Mum goes, I’m absolutely positive (I’ve seen it and am one of the executors) it will be a strict one third share each - not taking into account past deeds, OR current needs.

If Mum wished, she could award me a greater share on the basis that she knows I’m seriously ill, and likely to face needs the other two won’t have, but it’s always been equal shares, and that’s it. If you start picking and choosing why some are less deserving or more needy, it’s bound to be a recipe for family strife. Although I admired the old lady in many ways (ten children, and widowed forty years - always amazing for her age), I was surprised a mother didn’t know better than to set up her children for a family feud after she’s gone. Then again, she may have been of the school of thought that letting bygones be bygones isn’t always fair, and perhaps if some of her children disappointed her, or were estranged, she didn’t want them to get a windfall on her death.

Tina

x

Hi Tina

Awww what a horrible day you’ve had - I do feel for you on both counts. As others have said, whatever is put in place at your doctor’s surgery will apply to lots of other unhappy patients - not just you. My thinking is that hopefully new doctors will ‘go with the flow’ as it were, and not want to make major changes - surely that would mean upsetting too many people. But it is unsettling having to get used to a new doctor… hope you get someone who is understanding and helpful.

Re the solicitors letter - you could do without a second major shock on the same day huh? It may be best to keep your answers as brief as possible - “I knew the testator for approx … years”, “no, the contents of the will were not discussed with me”, “I was not aware of any health issues” etc. Don’t give them more information than you need to in answering the questions - and say that you trust this reply will be sufficient as you have been diagnosed etc etc and don’t feel well enough to enter into further correspondence with them. Maybe say that you were asked to witness the signature - and remind the solicitor that the contents of the will were not your concern! If I can be of any help with wording the letter, please feel free to PM me.

Hazel x