Alex Truesdale examines the implications for Wills and estate planning as we emerge from lockdown
OUT is this season’s buzzword. After fifteen months of lockdown we are all craving broader horizons, new experiences and renewed working and personal relationships. But “out” is not just a goal but a process of change and development. We have had to adapt and reprioritise, and this change will have led to growth – probably in ways we have yet to appreciate. So now is the time to reflect upon and provide for those changes, including in our Wills and estate planning.
How do go about sorting out?
OUT OF CONTROL
Lockdown removed vast swathes of our agency. With limited choices over how to live, work, travel and socialise it has been natural to want to preserve control over other aspects of our lives. But what if an accident, a stroke or dementia robbed you of all agency, leaving you lacking the “mental capacity” to make or communicate decisions over your health, wellbeing, assets and finances?
This is where Lasting Powers of Attorney – legally binding documents appointing trusted relatives or friends to take decisions for you if you cannot – can restore that control and peace of mind, empowering you to protect your family as well as yourself against the (often devastating) consequences of a loss of capacity. LPAs can cover decisions over health and welfare as well as business, property and financial affairs, allowing those you trust the most to ensure that your life and finances continue to run as you would intend.
Children are our greatest assets and their protection and safeguarding, our most important role. Many of us will reflect wryly that taking an active role in our children’s homeschooling will be the aspect of lockdown that we will miss the least!
But living 24/7, and negotiating Zoom bandwidth and workspaces, with our children (and their lessons) has gifted parents a far deeper understanding of their children’s psychological makeup, interests, and lifestyle choices.
All this data can enable an informed choice of guardians should both parents die before their children all reach 18. If a child under 18 is bereft of an adult with parental responsibility for their welfare, the court will decide to whom a care or supervision order should be granted – which could include the local authority if family members are deemed unsuitable candidates.
Making Wills represents an opportunity for parents to select their own choice of guardian allowing the “least worst” outcome for their children’s upbringing.
OUT OF THE BLUE
Nobody could have anticipated the impact the pandemic has had upon us; but there are myriad unexpected events such as ill health, the breakdown of a relationship, business difficulties, and a remarriage that can throw our end-of-life planning out of alignment.
For those of us looking to cope with whatever the future may hold, Will trusts provide a flexible and future-proofed solution, including allocating assets between multiple potential beneficiaries, balancing competing interests within blended families, mitigating inheritance tax, and erecting a “firewall” between beneficiaries and the estate in troubled times.
Letters of Wishes (non-binding but morally powerful pointers as to how your executors and trustees should make decisions) inform your trustees and executors as to how to operate the trust and are both flexible and easily updated.
OUT OF MY LIFE
Sadly, it seems that everyone knows of a relationship which has not survived the test of lockdown: divorce lawyers are reporting an unprecedented rise in client consultations.
An oft-overlooked early move in any divorce is to review your current Will to decide whether you should be making changes to ensure your (soon to be) ex-spouse would not inherit all your assets should you die before the divorce has completed.
However, simply writing your ex out of your Will could have unforeseen and counterproductive consequences and so careful co-ordination between your Will writer and your divorce solicitor is essential to ensure that your position is protected at all stages throughout the process.
Pressures of lockdown, worries over the care of elder family members and the emotional fallout of the past year may also have taken a real toll on other relationships with family and friends. In these circumstances, your Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney may have to undergo change, whether by nominating new executors or attorneys or even redistributing your estate.
At Alex Truesdale Wills, whilst the pandemic accelerated demand for its services, clients did not come to us because of fears for their own mortality, but more out of a desire to put this enforced “time out” to productive use by making and reviewing their Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney and estate planning – something many had just not found the time to do pre-Covid.
In this respect at least, lockdown has enabled clients to reclaim some agency and control over this aspect of their lives, giving them the confidence to face a post-pandemic future knowing that their personal affairs are in good order.
Is it time for you to sort your life out?