Questions of Cash: I can't get any response from Scottish Widows

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The Independent Online

Q. After my father died last year I chose to deal with the estate myself rather than employ a solicitor, believing that matters should be easily resolved.

Q. After my father died last year I chose to deal with the estate myself rather than employ a solicitor, believing that matters should be easily resolved. But I have haddifficulties with Scottish Widows, which misinformed me of the procedures for dealing with a dead person's accounts. One letter from Scottish Widows was addressed to me but answered another person's correspondence, and the company has lost my father's will. Six weeks ago I asked for the will to be returned, but I have had no answer.
AB, Solihull.

A. Scottish Widows accepts that it has not "handled this affair with the level of care expected". According to its records, it returned your father's will on 29 January by normal surface mail. The company says that where customers send documents by recorded delivery it will return them in the same manner, but that in this case you used surface mail. We suggest that in future you send important documents by recorded delivery to reduce the risk of them being lost. Scottish Widows is sending you £50 as compensation for its poor handling of the matter.

Q. All my credit cards charge 2.75 per cent commission on foreign currency transactions, in addition to the buy/sell spread. Is there a card which charges a lower commission?
DF, Henley-on-Thames.

A. Moneyfacts, which compares financial products, confirms that 2.75 per cent is the average "foreign usage loading" charge. Not all cards make this charge. Nationwide Building Society's Classic card comes out top on the Moneyfacts comparison, making no charge for foreign use and only 1 per cent for cash machine withdrawals, compared with the 2 per cent levied by most rivals.

The next best option is the Liverpool Victoria Visa card, which has no foreign use loading inside the EU, but charges 1 per cent in the rest of the world. Neither card charges the lowest APRs available - 13.9 per cent APR on purchases with Nationwide and 16.7 per cent with Liverpool Victoria - but if you fully pay off your account each month and travel a lot you could make significant savings by switching to Nationwide's card.

Q. I am 70 and live in a property worth £700,000. I have been advised to sell my home to my two children and buy it back on a 30-year lease. Will this really take my home out of my estate for inheritance tax (IHT)?
BS, London.

A. You should be careful, as this could fall foul of the Chancellor's drive to eliminate artificial transactions entered into to avoid IHT. Nick Hilton, of accountants Moore Stephens, explains: "An arm's length transaction should be enough to take the asset out of the reader's estate for IHT purposes. However, the proposal will fall within the Government's proposed extension to the "gift with reservation" rules and the tax treatment of pre-owned assets where a person continues to enjoy a benefit from land. The legislation is going through Parliament and almost daily amendments are being tabled at committee stage."

The "strong advice" from Moore Stephens is to do nothing before the end of July, when there should be clarity on what is permitted.

Q. Can you confirm for me the rules on Capital Gains Tax on my house? I have moved abroad and want to gift my home, which was my main residence at all times up to three years ago. Am I right in thinking that the last three years can count as occupation, even if not in residence, and so the property will be CGT-exempt as eligible for private residence relief?
PB, Bristol.

A. Stephen Pallister, tax and trusts partner at solicitors Charles Russell, says: "The reader is right about the last three years' ownership qualifying for CGT private residence relief, even if not in residence. If the reader established he was not 'ordinarily resident' for tax purposes there would be no CGT whenever he gifted or sold the property. But if he had not established he was not ordinarily resident within the three years, this 'period of grace' would mean he could still avoid CGT."

Q. I read the letter from "PC, Newcastle" (Questions of Cash, 29 May) and I am in a similar position, waiting for the free digital camera offered by American Express for applying for its blue card. I have complained repeatedly without success.
KE, Chelmsford.

A. American Express has promised to resolve your problem. It has also asked us to clarify its position as it accepts that "a number" of digital cameras were despatched to the wrong addresses. Readers still waiting for the promised free cameras can phone AmEx on a special hotline it has established to deal with the problem, 0800 597 4466, or contact us and we will forward the complaints to AmEx.

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