Questions Of Cash: My bank charged me for its error

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Q. The balance on our December Sainsbury's Bank credit card statement was £604.90, which my husband paid in full by cheque at the beginning of January, a week before the due date. But the payment was shown as £604.

Q. The balance on our December Sainsbury's Bank credit card statement was £604.90, which my husband paid in full by cheque at the beginning of January, a week before the due date. But the payment was shown as £604.

This led to us being charged interest of £13.03 on the next account, plus the 90p balance. When we queried this, Sainsbury's told us we had made out the cheque for the wrong amount. When we disagreed, it agreed to request the cheque from our bank, Lloyds TSB. When we heard nothing more, I obtained a copy of the cheque, which proved we were right.

When I phoned Sainsbury's, its staff member ignored this and told me: "Anyone could tell us they made the cheque out correctly."
SS, Manchester

A. Sainsbury's Bank confirms that a keying error was made in processing the cheque, causing your problems. It says the error has led to recognition of the need for additional training of some of its staff. Your account has now been credited with £50, as compensation, and Sainsbury's gift vouchers will be sent as a further goodwill gesture.

Q. My husband died last December, leaving everything to me, with my son and I as executors of the will. Can I seek a variation of the will to allow my son to inherit?

My son is unmarried, but lives with his partner. Are assets accrued before marriage taken into account in a divorce settlement? I own a property with my sister and the property is let out. If I buy out her half, using my inheritance, what tax would I pay if I sell the property in the future?

My son and I have done a lot of work to sort out my husband's financial affairs. How can we be sure that a solicitor will not now charge excessively for its work? What are the risks if we do not employ a solicitor?
MH, Didcot

A. Helen Tavroges, a partner at the law firm Dickinson Dees, says: "You can vary your husband's will by a deed of variation, to give up to £263,000 (the inheritance tax nil-rate band for the 2004/5 tax year) to your son without an IHT liability, if your husband made no significant gifts in the seven years before his death.

"Assets belonging to your son upon marriage would be taken into account by the courts in any divorce, unless these are subject to a pre-nuptial agreement, which are generally accepted, although they are not binding in English law.

"If you are concerned about the effect of your son dying, divorcing or becoming bankrupt, gift the sum through a trust, taking advice from a solicitor belonging to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.

"Any profits on the future sale of the property you own with your sister will be subject to capital gains tax.

"Solicitors charge for probate work in different ways. You should speak to several solicitors' firms specialising in probate work, asking them to specify how they calculate their charges.

"If you do not use a solicitor and make errors in the administration of your husband's estate, you could find yourself in difficulty, for example, if you distribute your husband's estate incorrectly, or fail to pay creditors about which you are unaware.

"If the estate is liable to IHT you may find you have to pay tax penalties if you complete the IHT return incorrectly. You can instruct a solicitor to conduct part of the work, or to assist you. Solicitors have professional insurance to cover their liability for mistakes."

Q. In 2000, my sister and I, in our fifties, invested a legacy of £10,000 in two funds - Henderson Global Technology and Gartmore European Selected Opportunities - within an individual savings account (ISA). Now, after five years, this nest egg is valued at £4,000. What has gone wrong? What should we do?
FK, Edinburgh

A. The bursting of the internet bubble has taken a chunk out of your wealth - and that of many other readers who have written to us in similar situations.

You might re-examine the advice you were originally given to check that your attitude to risk was adequately considered. If it was not, you may have grounds for a claim for mis-selling.

Otherwise, having now taken the hit, you might be better off to stick and hope that the value of the funds goes back up. But you need to take advice from a good independent financial adviser, who can take account of your attitude to risk, your financial goals and the prospects for these funds.

Q. I am a 40 year-old German, now working and intending to stay in the UK and I have begun paying into a UK occupational pension scheme. What books and websites might someone from abroad look at to get a grip on the UK financial and investment systems and how to secure wealth?
JA, Canterbury

A. As you have already discovered, The Independent's personal finance pages are a good place to start. The problem elsewhere is finding material that is understandable and relevant. We would suggest subscribing to Which? magazine, and perhaps looking at older reports through its online database at www.which.net. This should provide useful knowledge both on the UK's investment and savings structure and on the best products in the fields.

Further information on the best financial products can be obtained from Moneyfacts - a selection of its findings are reproduced in Save & Spend in The Independent on Saturdays, but more detail can be obtained at www.moneyfacts.co.uk.

Several of the larger accountancy firms also provide very useful information for migrant workers, particularly on tax rates - the BDO Stoy Hayward website, www.bdo.co.uk, includes simply laid out information on the UK tax structure as amended by the latest Budget.

For information on the pensions system, the best source is probably the Pensions Advisory Service's website, www.opas.org.uk. Finding a simple, useful and independent source of investment advice is particularly difficult, but Investors Chronicle magazine is probably your best option.

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