The importance of later life planning

The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves. I wish I could believe that.” 

Who spoke these words? It was John Connor in one of the Terminator movies. I say one of them, as there have been so many episodes, reboots and timelines, I am no longer sure which of the many Arnold Schwarzenegger franchise outings it was.

But the words are true. I have been a lawyer for 40 + years, and my clients and client families have aged at exactly the same rate as me and mine. I am now a (proud) grandfather, and anyone looking at me afresh would see a man in his later middle-age. That said, I am, as a very elderly colleague who was at the time the oldest qualified solicitor in Scotland (Bob Turpie in the 1980’s and in his 80’s) said “ I’m a boy at heart”. I can’t claim that, but a few arthritic joints aside, I still compete at sport and do all the same physical stuff as ever.

So much for eternal youth. Let’s throw in some unavoidables. A percentage of adults will die of sickness, accident, old age, and of course Covid, before their allocated or preferred time. We cannot plan our later years with certainty, because there are risks and unforeseen events and conditions awaiting many of us. Who has not heard recently of a friend, colleague or family member that has unexpectedly died, taken ill or just got into a bad situation?

These days, risk management is a buzz phrase. It covers all sorts of things, from ensuring a safe workplace, to insuring our car, to building up a pension to help pay for our old age – if we are allowed one. In order to protect ourselves against bad health, bad finances or even bad luck, we are wise to think and act.

I said earlier that we cannot plan ahead with certainty. That universal set has a few subsets that are more nuanced. We can mitigate against the worst outcomes, and the law is a tool for doing so.

In my fifth decade as a solicitor, I spend more and more of my working days advising and acting for people of my generation – I guess logically always did, but instead of getting into scrapes in their cars, buying their first house or becoming young family breakup statistics, they are all now retiring, or looking to that, or making provision for their own old age and the inheritance to their hard-earned assets.

There are a few important things to consider when approaching this age and stage of your life. 

  • You MUST have a will. Failure to have a valid testamentary provision is sheer negligence, as you force your family to go through additional legal hoops and costs to wind up your estate, and you play Russian Roulette that the intestacy provisions in our law match what your nearest and dearest want (and you will fail).
  • Power of attorney. I have lost count of clients and others who have suffered a stroke and no longer can look after their own affairs. It is a high percentage of older citizens that either suffer dementia or just get old and tuckered out, so need a younger more able person to manage their finances and health.
  • Tax – mainly Inheritance Tax for the moment. We are all worth more dead than alive, but even still breathing we should get the calculator out and check how much we actually have. A decent home, some insurance, savings, investment portfolios - we might be walking about with a potential IHT liability waiting to cut down our estate and deprive our loved ones after we die.
  • Property holding/putting into trust - one reliable way to dodge out of HMRC’s line of sight might be to put property into a family trust or other vehicle. And do so early enough that the 7 years can pass by after transfer, thus keeping the whole value of assets put in trust out of the tax person’s reach. This is not a straightforward decision as trusts have their own peculiarities, but worth at least taking advice on.
  • Care costs – none of us, I can say with certainty, wants to end up in a care home, but equally none of us can say we won’t. All the bravado of promising we will go on the world cruise, drink champagne until we fall over the side and drown is just that, unreal and impractical. More certain is that for those who have to go into these establishments - and I say as someone experienced in the ways of nursing homes and the like, that there are lots of lovely and comfortable homes with great professionalism and care shown to residents – they will eat into our savings very rapidly, as a proportion of the costs and benefits associate with homes are means-tested and our capital is at risk. Again, putting assets into a trust is a possible way out, but not as clear cut as the IHT timescales.
  • Funeral arrangements. These may be well known in the family, but for single or older people who have outlived relatives or just don’t have anyone, it may be essential to give instructions for a suitable ceremony. I have over the years managed – and on three occasions even officiated at – funerals for clients who depended on my practicality, and occasionally resolved, to get what they wanted. One told me she wanted no taint of religion in her service, another wanted a humanist event but including two Christian hymns. Scattering ashes in Skye can feature, or everyone wearing green. It is a deeply personal thing, but needs to be planned and set up in advance.

These are the main categories of work and worry, but there are more. My point though is this: our lives are like fingerprints, each one different, and there is no online Yes button to fix everything. Planning for later life and beyond are as important as they are unique to each client. My job and that of my colleagues is to listen, advise, create, draw up, and execute (that word doesn’t mean what you think, even though we are in that territory). The conversations can be very heavy. I am entrusted with secrets, health information, family fights, dislikes, worries and fears. 

So don’t hold back, don’t hide away from the realities that we have to talk over – it can be painful or embarrassing, or just difficult to fit into a still-busy life. Take a moment, contact us to start the process, you will find it to be user-friendly - actually very reassuring, once begun. And after that first tentative call, video call or meeting in person, you will almost certainly be ready to appreciate and follow the full suite of advice and potential actions needed. Indeed, as you leave the office or the video call, you may very well say to me “…. I’ll be back.”

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