Monday, June 4, 2012

Media Statement

MEDIA STATEMENT - 2012

Universal Asset Protection (UAP) is totally committed to providing excellent customer care and prides itself on a high level of client satisfaction. UAP endeavours to act in the best interests of its clients at all times.

We constantly monitor our client feedback to ensure that we are meeting customer's needs and expectations. During 2011, 98.5% of our customers have been happy with our service. We aim to achieve 100% customer satisfaction and respond to client feedback by improving our systems and processes accordingly.

We request feedback from clients on a number of areas and scores to date are:

First impression 93%
Literature 92.5%
Knowledge of Staff 91.25%
Friendliness of Staff 96.25%
Explanation of Documents 90%
Presentation of Documents 90%
Administration Process 84%
Likelihood of recommendation 87.5%

These figures allow us to see where improvements can be made. In July last year we embarked on a major overhaul of our systems and processes to further improve our service to our clients. This has involved the revision of our client literature, terms of business, cancellation policy and complaint handling. Our staffs were trained during September and the new systems and processes came into force from 1st October 2011.

A new bespoke computer software programme has been commissioned to improve our administration process.

As with any owner managed firm, there is a fine balance between personal involvement in every aspect of the business and delegation to other competent staff to improve efficiency. The qualifications of the Universal team members within the group include Solicitor, Registered Trust and Estate Practitioner, Accountant, Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives. This team has decades of combined experience in delivering excellent customer service and competent professional advice.

All of our staff undergo continuing training and professional development and the majority are working towards full STEP membership and the STEP diploma.

UAP operates on a national basis and runs weekly seminars free of charge throughout the UK. These weekly seminars are attended by approximately 1000 people a month and are presented by Steve Long, a Registered Trust and Estate Practitioner and a full member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). He has 20 years of experience in guiding thousands of satisfied clients through the complex and often emotional maze of estate planning.

Having already qualified in the areas of law and accountancy required for the STEP Diploma, Steve Long is one of only thirty eight people worldwide to have been accepted by the University of Manchester to undertake the new STEP BSc in Management of Trusts and Estates. The STEP diploma he already holds is regarded as the Gold Standard' in the field of trust and estate planning.

Each seminar lasts approximately 90 minutes and is extremely well received by attendees. Our records show that 96% of those attending say that they found the seminar very good' or excellent', with a further 3% rating it as good'. 91% of attendees say that they are very likely' or would definitely' recommend the seminar to a friend. A further 7% say that they are likely' to recommend the seminar.

The vast majority of clients are completely happy with the service provided by Steve Long. For example feedback received from his clients includes:

Better service could not be found anywhere Mrs C, Oct 2011.

Great Service, Great Advice, Great Peace of Mind Mrs H, June 2011

In November 2011 I attended a seminar organised by Universal Asset Protection, where I first met Jaci. Her professional attitude and sound knowledge of the organisation was impressive. This seminar was followed by a home visit at my request from Jaci at which time she outlined all the advantages and possible disadvantages of setting up a trust with Universal Asset Protection. There was no pressure to sign anything immediately and I was given as much thinking time as I needed. When I decided to set up the Trust, it was Jaci who visited again in order to witness signatures. It was very reassuring at every stage to know that I could see and speak to one person that I knew and trusted for honest advice. I would have no reservations in recommending Jaci to anybody who needed professional, honest and friendly advice Mrs N. Whitstable, Kent 23-02 -2012

I found your explanations very clear and specific and appreciated your patience and understanding when I asked questions both during your visit and later by telephone. Mrs H, June 2011

Overall the service was very good and although we were not clear on a few legal points we felt very comfortable in asking questions Mr S, April 2011

Firstly we wish to thank Steve for visiting us at our home and for his help, guidance and for not putting us under any pressure in this matter. Thanks also to those who prepared all the documentation required in this processWe would like to thank Vicky for her help and guidance by email and the telephone Mr and Mrs B, 2011

We make it clear that the content of a seminar is general in nature and that any attendee requiring further information should request a face to face consultation and receive specific bespoke advice. With often more than one hundred people in attendance at any session and a pressure to cover all of the material within a given timeframe there is limited opportunity to go into detail on any specific point. The seminar is designed as a general overview. This is also the case when we invite questions afterwards and specific questions often require detailed explanations that are not possible in an open forum and are best answered in private.

We are grateful for the media interest in this area of estate planning as this brings attention to a wider audience the need for advance planning to help families preserve their assets for their next generation. We have worked hard to ensure there is no possibility of any misunderstanding and also ensure that clarity is provided in all seminar presentations.

We obtain our advice from leading barristers, solicitors and other respected professionals. This involves advice in person, at seminars, conferences and workshops, and in published works. In some instances this is via third parties. We rely upon this advice and our own experience when advising clients.

We are currently in discussions with barristers who have approached us, requesting that we allow them to undertake the drafting of our Trusts and who are able to provide a specifically tailored insurance policy to cover client's costs in the event of a Local Authority challenge clearly insurance would not be available if it was highly likely that those trusts could be defeated.

We do not offer a 100% guarantee of protection from care fees. However the trust does have a 100% track record where it is set up at the right time and in the right circumstances'.

Our brochures and seminars do not guarantee 100% protection from care fees. Every client requires specific personalised advice.

We do offer a 100% money back guarantee if our client's estate does not benefit from the planning we recommend. The trust has many useful features and we emphasise the benefit of bypassing probate that the trust offers.

Many law firms with a competent private client department are able to offer similar kinds of trusts we offer. We specialise in advising and marketing of trusts like the Universal Asset Protection Trust'. This does not mean that any competent trust draftsman could not prepare an identical trust if requested.

We would not want any seminar attendee to misunderstand this point. We ensure clarity in all presentations.

It is important to differentiate between a high street solicitor who has little experience in this area and those with expertise who work in this field on a daily basis. Many seminar attendees state that they have come to us after being disenchanted by the advice given by a local firm of solicitors. Often the experience of our clients is that they have found that the level of advice given by many solicitors is very low when it comes to comprehensive estate planning and in many cases the advice given is completely incorrect for asset protection.

Over the years Steve Long has been instructed by numerous Barristers, Solicitors, Accountants and IFAs to protect their own personal estates. These clients include a knighted QC and a Cambridge Law Professor.

We conduct a detailed fact find to ascertain the client's current position and their objectives. Clients' appetite for a detailed and technical explanation varies considerably. Many solicitors, accountants and IFAs that we meet during the course of our work openly admit that they do not understand the technical nature of wills and trusts. This is true of many aspects of life. We endeavour to provide explanation at the level the client requests rather than bombard them with technicalities while ensuring that the solution is fit for purpose. Where a client requests detailed technical explanations we go through all documentation on a clause by clause basis to ensure that they have a thorough understanding. Many clients state that they do not want this level of explanation. We are working on an estate planning bible' that will provide all clients with this comprehensive explanation that they can refer to as the need arises.

We have many prospective clients that request a first meeting, at which we provide advice free of charge, that subsequently do not proceed to instruct us. There are others who discuss the proposed planning with beneficiaries, family and friends and later decide that they do wish to proceed.

Clients have to determine whether the benefits outweigh the initial cost and will in many cases depend upon their personal perception of such a structure and whether or not they think they will need to rely on such planning. To a certain extent it is very similar to an insurance policy. You can put the planning in place but you may not necessarily need to rely on it: - Lasting Power of Attorney is a prime example. It is therefore the client's ultimate judgement which leads them to buying the product.

Planning the protection of an estate is by its very nature best done before it is needed. A Will cannot be prepared after death, and a Lasting Power of Attorney cannot be drafted after loss of mental incapacity. These documents are prepared in advance in case of need. This is also the case with lifetime trusts.

Undue pressure is not applied to clients who decide to withdraw from our products. Where clients do decide to cancel their instruction to us, each case is considered individually. A significant number of clients receive a full fee reduction or a substantial fee reduction depending on the level of work undertaken at the time of termination. This principle is the same in many solicitors' firms and our procedures do not differ from those. Full or partial fee refunds are made to clients upon request depending on the level of work carried out as the company recognises that people do change their minds and so we act reasonably and accordingly.

Where a contract is substantially performed to a degree where all documentation is provided, reflecting significant work undertaken, we will respond to the client stating the level of refund they are likely to receive. However in most cases, even where the contract is substantially performed and where we are not obliged to do so, a reduced fee is nevertheless agreed as a gesture of goodwill.

In light of the recent introduction of Alternative Business Structures as part of the Legal Services Act 2007, we have undertaken a fundamental review of all our practises and procedures, both internally and externally and where we have recognised a weakness this has been dealt with accordingly. A clear and transparent cancellation procedure was introduced with effect from 1 October 2011 and is designed to provide clients with greater clarity of our costs upon termination. These reviews were undertaken as a corporate measure in anticipation of our application to become an authorised body.

Universal Trustees
The partners of Universal Trustees are appointed to act as trustees in the majority of cases acting with the client family members as trustees. We do this as a sign of our commitment to assist the client throughout their lifetime and are not interested just in upfront planning fees. We want to be actively involved and supportive when the planning is most needed. Many clients have appreciated this support during illness and bereavement. There are a number of safeguards that ensure clients are protected.

Firstly:-
The Duty of Care imposed on Trustees is laid out in statute: - Section 1(1) of the Trustee Act 2000. This states among others, that a trustee must act with such care and skill as is reasonable; trustees must not benefit one beneficiary at the expense of another; they must not breach any duty he has towards the trust; and a trustee is personally responsible for the decisions that are made regarding the administration of the trust and its property.

Secondly:-
All Trustees are subject to a duty of care and the standard by which this is judged would depend on whether you are holding yourself out as a professional. Therefore the standard of care expected by professional trustees is far greater than that expected of a reasonable man or the ordinary citizen. This is evidenced by case law.

Thirdly:-
The Asset Protection Trust appoints what is called a protector who is given powers in connection with the trust by requiring their consent to different acts of the trustees or the settlor. The consent of a protector is commonly required for the exercise of trustees' powers, for instance, to add beneficiaries of a discretionary trust, or their powers of appointment etc.

Fourthly:-
Universal Trustees holds professional indemnity insurance cover for up to 5m for any act or omission by the Trustees in error, fraud or negligence. The minimum imposed by the SRA on law firms is 2m.

This level of indemnity insurance provides clients with complete assurance that they are protected against any error of the Trustees. To date we have never had a claim made against us.

No client is bound to have the partners of Universal Trustees to act for them. This is offered purely as a service to clients because we do not expect them to understand the complexities of running a trust or to have to give this responsibility totally to inexperienced relatives.

The trust deed makes specific provision for the trustees to be removed by the settlor at any time. This can be done without reference to the existing trustees and does not require their permission or agreement. Where clients have asked for the partners of Universal Trustees to retire in favour of replacements not only is this respected but invariably the required paperwork is drafted free of charge.

We do not consider the fees charged for our trust package to be excessive. We offer a comprehensive package to seminar attendees for 2495 plus VAT for single clients and 2995 plus VAT for couples. It is our experience that clients prefer to work on a fixed fee basis where possible.

This package includes trusts, LPAs, Wills incorporating Will trusts, severance of tenancy, and transfer of assets into trust. It also includes the initial advice (provided free of charge) and a further meeting or meetings to explain the documentation and to supervise the signing and witnessing of it.

We are aware both from our own research and anecdotally that many firms charge significantly higher fees than UAP. A recent newspaper article highlighted that we charge two thirds of a well-known competitor's fee.

In any case, we offer a price match policy, to ensure that we are always competitive with any local firm that may offer a similar package at a reduced rate. To date we have only received three requests for a price match and on close inspection none of these have offered the same documentation for a lower rate.

It is not our experience that trusts promoted to avoid care fees are more likely to be challenged. Our trust deed does not mention care fees though our marketing literature does discuss this as one of the benefits.

The leading body of work on care fee legislation and mitigation maintains that intention is irrelevant' and that foreseeability is the primary concern. It is our experience and that of our advisers that trusts set up at the right time and in the right circumstances are effective and to date have a 100% track record.

We hope that this comprehensive response will demonstrate that we endeavour to act in the best interests of our clients at all times. Where we make mistakes we rectify them as soon as possible. We openly encourage feedback from clients to assist us in improving our service to our clients and act on this feedback wherever possible.

We would always be keen to talk with any client that does not feel that we have dealt fairly with them.

We welcome constructive criticism and take on board comments made by clients or indeed the media and always look to make changes accordingly.

ENDS

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