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Preparing for the inevitable

By Richard McCreery
This article is published on: 4th September 2023

A few tips on how planning ahead, as well as looking back, can make a difficult time much easier on our loved ones. It comes to us all, but we devote relatively little time to thinking about it: death.

Unsurprisingly, most people prefer to avoid thinking about their own mortality, but they are keen to ease the pain for loved ones who are left behind. In this short article I’ll take a look at some tips to make this time a little less hard on your family and I’ll even give you an idea of how you can leave behind a moment of happiness for your closest relatives.

Make ‘The Folder’

My colleague Gareth Horsfall has written about the importance of ensuring your paperwork is in order and stored where your relatives can find everything they’ll need to get through the formalities that inevitably ensue from your passing. The Folder is a central location (digital, physical or both) where you keep a record of all your assets, your bank accounts, your pensions and investments, as well as a copy of all your important documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, your social security number etc. And, finally, a list of all your internet and device passwords, of which there could be a lot!

Modern life can be extremely complicated whilst we are still alive and it becomes even more so when you have to deal with someone else’s affairs that may not be entirely familiar to you. By collecting all the important paperwork and information in one place, you can ease the inevitable administrative burden and show your loved ones that you were thinking about them. And don’t forget to tell them where they can find The Folder.

the folder

Close old overseas accounts and companies

I was once asked to help the wife of a client to deal with some of the inheritance formalities that were required for the settlement of his estate after he died. Wealthy people often have assets in various countries and this can lead to significant extra time and expense when attempting to transfer everything from the deceased’s estate to the beneficiaries.

For example, the ownership of a British Virgin Islands company can’t be transferred to someone else before probate is granted in that jurisdiction, which entails securing the services of a local qualified lawyer. If that company is no longer needed once the deceased is gone then further fees will be incurred in BVI for closing that company. Multiply this scenario across various foreign jurisdictions and it can become quite costly and time consuming in order to settle the full estate.

Conclusion: if you can simplify your affairs by closing underutilized overseas companies or dormant bank accounts, it can save your family a lot of hassle and money later.

Avoid paying more tax than is necessary

Ironically, inheritance tax is a fact of life. It is often only considered when it has to be paid and it can be surprisingly substantial – in France a house can swallow up any allowances you may benefit from, leaving the remainder to be taxed at up to 45% for children and up to 60% for non-family beneficiaries. By using an assurance vie policy as a vehicle for managing some of your wealth you can substantially increase the tax-free sums your loved ones inherit, they may pay a lower tax rate on the amount that is taxed, you can use the beneficiary clause to choose who gets what and the money can grow free of tax during your lifetime if not withdrawn.

Everyone hates paying inheritance tax, so when you know that your children can inherit an extra 152,500€ each tax-free if the money is coming from an assurance vie policy, it quickly becomes apparent how much you can save them (don’t forget: in order to get the maximum benefit, you should start your policy before you turn 70). They say there are only two things that are certain in life: death and taxes. Whilst you can’t avoid the first, your family might avoid the second with a bit of foresight and planning.

Finally, leave them something really personal

You’ve finished tidying up the loose ends of your life, you’ve done all you can to minimize the tax your family will pay and your affairs have been put ‘in order’. You have made every effort to ensure your passing will be as little of a burden on your beneficiaries as is possible, you have made a difficult time less difficult by thinking ahead. There is also a way to use this moment to bring some joy into the lives of those who love you: by thinking back on your life.

A memory journal is a little treasure that helps you to record some of the most precious moments of your life, to be passed on to your children or grandchildren. It is a guided book that contains prompts and questions such as ‘How did you meet my mother?’, ‘What was your favourite subject at school?’, ‘Tell me about the happiest or greatest memories of your life’ or ‘What did you feel when you first saw me after I was born?’ It gives you the opportunity to leave your family the story of your life, your most intimate thoughts and feelings, perhaps alongside a few photos.

Money and paperwork are important, they have to be dealt with. Put everything in order, in advance, and you will be doing your family a big favour. Leave them as much money as you can tax-free and you’ll ensure they will be better off. And finally, a few of your own words left alongside the admin makes this difficult time more bearable. These things are easily put off, you may not even want to think about them, but if you take action sooner rather than later, I promise you will never regret it.

If you would like to speak me about planning ahead and putting your family affairs in order, please get in touch. I’m here to help and happy to answer any questions with no obligation.

Article by Richard McCreery

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