As anyone who’s been through it knows, the grief of losing a parent can be very hard to cope with. Remember that your own children, if you have them, and assuming they outlive you, will go through exactly the same thing when you die. The good news is that there are things you can do now to help relieve the burden, and one of the most important is to get your affairs in order.
For the latest episode of The Investing Show, I’ve been talking to Matthew Hutton, author of Your Last Gift: Getting Your Affairs in Order. Matthew is a former tax consultant and now a minister in the Church of England. Here he gives some simple, practical advice on how to go about it.
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Robin Powell: Hi Abraham. Now, I thought it was time we looked at something completely different in this episode: a subject that’s related to investing only very indirectly.
Abraham Okusanya: OK, Robin. What is it?
Robin Powell: It’s death! It comes to all of us, sooner or later. And yet, most people just don’t prepare for it properly. Losing a loved one, of course, can be devastating; and it can greatly relieve the burden on those you leave behind if you get your affairs in order.
Abraham Okusanya: That’s right. Getting our affairs in order – it’s something we all need to do. So, who have you been speaking to?
Robin Powell: Well, I’ve been interviewing Matthew Hutton. He’s a former tax consultant and a minister in the Church of England; and he’s written a book called ‘Your Last Gift’. The idea is that sorting things out before you die is, in a very real sense, a gift to your loved ones.
Matthew Hutton: I just find it totally odd that we think about who to marry or not to marry, who to live with, when and whether to have children, where to go on holiday, jobs, where to live, pastimes, and so on. That we invest time thinking about these things, but somehow we don’t invest time naturally about what arguably is the most important thing, but that equally, has a relevance – as we were saying before – to how we spend our lives as well.
Robin Powell: There are two things Matthew Hutton says you must do to prepare for the end of your life. The first is to make a will.
Matthew Hutton: Anybody who’s over 18 should have a will. And it’s not really a case of how much you own or how little you own. But simply that, if the dread event occurs rather sooner than you might have been hoping, then those you leave behind know – first of all – who you want, that’s the executors, to look after things. And secondly, where you want property to go. And you can put into a will things like wishes for your funeral, which again we might come on to. If you’ve got minor children, you can appoint testamentary guardians to look after them. You can make a whole variety of gifts to different people. And it’s something that you should keep under review. I always used to say, when I was in practice as a solicitor: review it at least every five years, or if sooner than that, any change in family circumstances – the birth of a child, for example – or a change in the legislation. And the other thing that people should be aware of is that marriage revokes a will. So, if you get married or remarried, any previous will will be rendered null and void.
Robin Powell: The second priority is to arrange lasting powers of attorney, in case you become incapable of making decisions about your money, property, or medical care.
Matthew Hutton: None of us knows, first of all, when the end will come, how the end will come. And if mental capacity goes – then, if you haven’t got lasting powers of attorney in place, then you’re at the mercy of what’s called the Court of Protection, which is such an arcane and difficult procedure that I’m not going to go there. You can appoint one individual – they could be different. You can appoint a number of people. You could appoint them to act jointly or to act severally – that means any one of them could act. But, rather like executors of a will, they’re people that you trust. Who know you, and you know them; and when you’re no longer in a position to make those decisions for yourself, they can take them in the best way for you.
Robin Powell: With both lasting powers of attorney and making a will, who you choose to act on your behalf is crucially important. Don’t choose a bank or a law firm, Matthew says. Choose a friend instead. And, if you have children, perhaps choose someone closer to their age than to yours. Something else you should do is to create spreadsheets on your computer with details of your possessions, investments, insurance policies, maintenance contracts and so on. And don’t forget your digital assets.
Matthew Hutton: You may be talking about a computer, desktop, laptop, tablet, iPad, mobile phone, social media, Dropbox, and other facilities, plus a whole range of other things. And, of course, you might have a range of passwords. You might have a default password, but then you might have various combinations of that password that you use for particular facilities. And so the vital thing is to leave a list so that your executors know where that list is.
Robin Powell: This might seem an obvious thing to say, but think about the most important people in your life. List their contact details so they can be told that you’ve died without reading about it in the press or on social media. More importantly, make contact with those people and try to spend time with them while you can.
Matthew Hutton: Focusing the mind on the people who matter to you means that those are the ones that you want to spend time with. And of course, the great thing about old friendships is that – no matter the passing of time – the fact is: you get back to where you were. Whether it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. But they’re the people you want to spend time with. So you need to be quite intentional about that. I hit 70 three or four weeks ago – and 70 is middle age, as we know – but as the years pass, it does focus the mind on places you want to go to, holidays you want to go on, but also people you want to spend time with. And one thing that you could do is write letters to them. You could write letters to them now. I did one just last week to a 98-year-old to tell him how much he mattered to me, having just spoken to him on the phone. Or you could write letters to be left with your will to be given out after your death. You could think about things that you might like to give them, perhaps a photograph of you and them together, or a book, or a picture.
Robin Powell: Finally, think about your funeral. The immediate aftermath of losing a loved one can be very traumatic. It makes things so much easier when the funeral has already been planned.
Matthew Hutton: If the family know what the one who’s just died wanted; it takes a huge burden off them, and the whole point of the book, as a whole, is that bereavement is completely devastating, and you know, there are not many people who haven’t had to go through it at some stage in their lives more than once – maybe quite a few times. And whether it’s a religious funeral or a non religious funeral, if the person who’s died has said, “well, these are the undertakers I’d like you to go to, the funeral directors, this is what I’d like to happen.” Whether it’s a small family cremation first and then a larger funeral or memorial service or gathering afterwards. “And this is what I’d like it to contain,” then not only does it take the pressure off the family – but it also means they’re doing what he or she would have wanted. And that’s really important.
Robin Powell: So, Abraham – what do you make of the advice Matthew Hutton gives?
Abraham Okusanya: It’s such a morbid subject, Robin, isn’t it? And I thought that Matthew approached this in a way that only an ex-lawyer turned clergyman can. His advice is so clear and, dare I say, delicate. And I have to admit, you know, even for those of us in financial services – for me personally – it is a subject that I haven’t given as much attention to as I should. I remember a few years ago, trying to set up a will with the missus – and, by the time you get to the point of having the will witnessed and getting it back to the lawyers, life takes over. So I have to admit, it’s an area where I haven’t done the work that is needed on this subject; and Matthew’s book actually made me start to think about putting a will in place, having a lasting power of attorney in place. Because you just never know what’s around the corner and financial planning is about preparing for these things.
Robin Powell: As we’ve already heard, there’s a natural tendency to keep putting off getting things in order like this. My view is that a good antidote to that is having a financial planner who will chivvy you along. Would you agree with that?
Abraham Okusanya: Absolutely. Good financial planners will help clients think through the important decisions that they have to make around this, and they’ll help you confront the inevitable. Now, we have to acknowledge only about 7% of the population currently works with a financial planner. And, you know, this is a subject that affects 100% of the population! Certainly the adult population. So the reality is that there are people who don’t have access to a financial adviser. So, if you have an adviser, chances are they’re probably helping you with this already. If not, by all means, pick it up as a, as a subject of conversation with them. But for the rest of the population who don’t have access to a financial adviser, there are organisations out there, who will help think through – or at least put a will in place. Which?, for instance, the consumer association, has a will-writing service and guidance to people who may not have a financial adviser to work with.
Robin Powell: Thanks, Abraham. And just a reminder that the book we’ve been talking about is Your Last Gift: Getting Your Affairs in Order by Matthew Hutton. We can highly recommend it.
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