‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent the dog barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum. Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come’.
Who can forget those iconic words by WH Auden so eloquently read by John Hannah’s character Matthew in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. A tragic reflection on the effect of grief and how funerals are really an event for the living and not the dead.
Having attended 2 funerals last year (and 1 wedding!), these have made me reflect on the implications of death, not just emotionally but also financially and legally.
It also got me thinking about how funerals represent a real risk to advisers who are targeting more mature clients, but also a great opportunity to help the families of their clients at a difficult stage.
Death doesn’t come with an instruction manual and one of the recurring themes from having listened to the grieving families afterwards is how complicated death is from an administration point of view. All the various forms to complete, the policies to find, the insurance companies to contact, the government agencies to inform, let alone organising the actual funeral itself and all while trying to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.
The average funeral costs between £4,000 - £6,000 and without a Will, how can the family be sure how the deceased wanted to be treated; buried, cremated, donated to medical science, cryogenically frozen or organically composted - each option comes with their own set of issues.
A Will always seems like one of those things you will get around to doing later on – a perfect excuse for procrastination like defrosting the fridge or sorting out the shed. Yet it is a relatively simple thing to do either formally via a solicitor, a Will-writing service or even do it yourself – yet the majority of people I have spoken to haven’t written one (me included although it is in progress – just trying to decide who gets my 007 DVD boxset and Great Aunt Mabel’s lace doilies!).
As advisers, the very least that can be done to add real value is to outline to clients the importance of having a Will in place, particularly for those who are in relationships where there is no legal recognition of their partnership status i.e. unmarried or in a same gender relationship who are not civil partners. Unfortunately, our legal system has not caught up with the modern world and without specific instructions being left, many people who assumed that they would be taken care of upon the passing of a loved one, are being given a serious shock when either an out of date Will is proceeded with or intestacy is instigated.
This kind of advice, where there is no real cost but a huge value, should be replayed to clients to demonstrate that a relationship with you is worth so much more than just providing access to pensions and so on.
For those lucky enough to breach the inheritance tax threshold, their families will really benefit from your involvement. All those different allowances, rules around what is a gift and to whom it was given plus trying to remember what was given over the last 7 years – I know for a fact I would struggle to remember what I did last month, let alone in 2013! Plus, the question of marriage rears its ugly head again – that important piece of paper with the words ‘marriage certificate’ could save up to £180,000 in IHT – makes eloping to Gretna Green almost seem worth it!
Despite all this, death is still the only thing that can be guaranteed in life and I personally think it should be discussed more openly and prepared for from a much earlier age – save all this added hassle later in life and for those left behind.
In Spain, as soon as you purchase a property, you have to have a Will in place which I think would be good example to follow.
In addition, I think funerals should be more of a celebration of the deceased’s life rather than the mourning of their passing. At one of the funerals I went to last year – it was only discovered in the Eulogy that dear Uncle Norman had a penchant for dressing in drag every New Year’s Eve and did a rather good impression of Dolly Parton, to the extent he wanted to be buried in his red sequin dress and blonde wig! Certainly made the congregation titter!
I suppose the moral of this article is that life is for living and to make each day count – but to also prepare for the worst as you never know what is around that corner.
If you can be involved in the process, you can ensure you are able to not only help the passage of wealth, but also demonstrate your value as a trusted adviser to the remaining family members.
Helping clients prepare for the worst can provide valuable reassurance and support as well as prompting potential legacy planning with future generations. From simple gestures such as ensuring nominations are in place on pensions, to setting up life insurance and as far as organising complex trust arrangements – death can provide a plethora of options for your clients in order to reduce HMRC’s pockets with unnecessary IHT.
As Benjamin Franklin once said - In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.