This week's blog is written by Family Business Practice member, Nicholas Lee
From the moment we wake up to the fact that our death is inevitable, everything changes. There is an African proverb: “As soon as you are born, you are old enough to die.” We work hard to avoid this fact and it does us no good. It’s easier to resist death than to accept it. There are so many ways to rationalize it:
· People are living longer, most of us will live into our eighties, I don’t need to think about this now.
· I’ve got life assurance, the family will be okay.
· I’m too busy living to be worried about this… it’s depressing.
· I won’t be here to worry about it
I like what Kathryn Mannix wrote in her excellent book With the End in Mind:
“Living is precious, and is perhaps best appreciated when we live with the end in mind.”
On a scale of 1 to 10 how important is it to make life as simple as possible for my family when I die?
If you come out with less than 9, stop reading. What follows involves thinking and doing and you’re not ready for either.
When I started to think about my own death I realized that what mattered to me most was the effect on the people I love. I made a list of the people who will be affected by my death starting with my loved ones. I asked myself two questions:
1. What do I want to say to this person?
2. What can I do to make life easier for them when I’m not here?
For some I wrote a letter, for others I asked that they be informed of my death personally. I have minimized the effect on clients by making arrangements with another practice. Then I chose my proxy, my confidante, the person with whom I am going to share this information and who is willing to act on my behalf when I am gone. We will review the list together every couple of years.
This is your wealth: your home, investments, pensions, property, anything of value.
1. Who do I want to benefit from these assets?
2. How do I ensure that happens as effectively as possible?
These questions will be answered by the provisions of your will and could include setting up a trust to mitigate tax, specifying the disposition of the family home, making gifts to family members other than a spouse. For this you will need a specialist will writer or solicitor. As well as appointing executors of your will, you need to appoint an attorney. This is someone who can act on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself through illness or incapacity. This person is appointed with a ‘Lasting Power of Attorney’ which must be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.
This is your stuff. It is often forgotten in the planning process. Remember your purpose is to make life as easy as possible for those you leave behind. Having to work out what to do with your old cricket bat or your collection of cigarette cards / stamps / watches / notebooks is a near impossible task for a heir. Anyone who has had to clear out a house after a relative has died will know exactly what I mean. You can either leave clear instructions for each item or get rid of it. This section also includes ‘digital assets’ – email addresses, social media accounts, any online subscriptions online bank accounts.
There are two huge benefits to doing this well:
1. It makes us feel better. Think of it as a supercharged ‘spring clean’. By clearing away the dross we leave room for new life.
2. It prevents daft arguments amongst your loved ones when you’re gone. You’d be shocked by how a spat about who gets the china tea service can erupt between siblings when a parent dies. Emotions are raw, people are in shock, they say things they don’t mean.
You need a box, a file, a drawer, something to keep all the paperwork together. It’s up to you how you design your portfolio. Here are some thoughts:
· The first section could detail the steps required to register your death, inform the undertaker and begin the funeral preparations.
· Next a copy of the will with details of where the original is located.
· A statement of your funeral wishes, the undertaker you have chosen and, ideally, a prepaid ‘funeral plan’. It’s helpful to include details of where you want to be buried, all of which will have been discussed with your confidant, so they will know what to do. You also need to make a decision about organ donation and communicate it clearly.
· Documents need to be kept together in a separate section and can include life policies and trust deeds, pension plans, a schedule of investments including depositand current accounts. And details of how to access an investment platform if you have one.
· A list of your advisers including financial planner, accountant, solicitor and any other professional advisers.
· You might want a pocket at the back for the letters you have written to your loved ones.
This is a difficult subject and you may need help in understanding what you need to do to create a plan. I am available to help. firstname.lastname@example.org or 07725 784348.
I have found these books and organizations helpful in formulating my own thinking.
· With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Kathryn Mannix · Talking about Dying – www.dyingmatters.org. This site has various booklets on Talking about Dying and Making Plans. · The Digital Legacy Association: https://digitallegacyassocation.org · Death Café: https://deathcafe.com People get together to discuss aspects of dying to help promote awareness. · Organ Donation: www.organdonation.nhs.uk You can record decision
· Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande