Betrayal, backstabbing and bitter sibling rivalry in HBO’s Succession made for gripping TV. But in real life most people would prefer their estate planning to be a little less complicated. Here’s how to get it right – without all the drama.
“I love you. But you are not serious people.”
So says the fearsome Logan Roy to his children in the final season of Succession.
In a series that’s chock-full of quotable dialogue, it’s a typically cutting putdown from Brian Cox’s media baron. Not for the first time, he lets his offspring know how he really feels about their ability to carry on his legacy.
Succession had everything. A cutthroat patriarch unwilling to let go of his hard-earned empire; entitled (and incredibly rich) siblings – each believing they are most deserving; and an entourage of hangers-on hustling for a slice of the action. The winners take everything, the losers go home with their tail between their legs.
Few families are as dysfunctional as the Roys. But it’s true that everything can get more complicated once money is involved.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. Here are some of the things to think about when taking care of your own legacy.
But first… what is estate planning?
Estate planning is a lot more than just dividing up your wealth (or indeed, nominating a ‘successor’).
Deciding who benefits from your estate and sharing out your assets is a vital component, but there are other equally important issues to address. For example, naming guardians for your children or giving a trusted person Power of Attorney should you not be able to make decisions for yourself later in life.
There’s likely to be a multitude of motivations – providing for loved ones, securing the future of a business, and avoiding putting undue burden on other family members after you’ve gone.
Where should you start? Have a conversation with those who matter
As reported in the Financial Times, the number of wills being contested in court is on the rise. Recent high-profile cases have included Priscilla Presley (Elvis’s widow) who challenged an amendment to her daughter Lisa Marie’s will, removing her as one of the estate’s co-trustees. Meanwhile, a US court will hear a challenge from three of Aretha Franklin’s four children challenging the validity of two hand-written wills.
In Succession, Logan Roy is constantly keeping his children guessing on who he wants to take over – often playing off one against the other. But having open conversations with family and loved ones – letting them know your wishes and talking them through any changes – is of course a much more positive approach. It also makes the possibility of bitter contests less likely in the future.
What next? Taking care of the essentials
Here are some of the essentials to consider when estate planning:
- Make a list of your assets – shares, properties, or other items of value.
- Prepare a will – Not having one means leaving a court to decide who inherits your assets and possessions.
- Assign an executor for your estate – someone who’ll manage your will when you’re gone.
- Nominate a guardian for your children and dependents.
- Make arrangements for Power of Attorney.
- Make sure your will is securely stored and your executors know where it is.
- Make sure your will is up to date – and let people know if you have made changes.
Managing inheritance tax through gifting
One area of estate planning that needs careful attention is limiting your inheritance tax (IHT) liabilities. Estate planning isn’t about dodging tax or finding loopholes, it’s ensuring you optimise your estate in line with the rules – and don’t lose out unnecessarily. You’ll need a full list of assets and liabilities to assess your inheritance tax position.
A common way to reduce IHT is through gifting. Giving away cash or assets (such as property, stocks and shares, or other personal goods) will limit how much you go over the all-important £325,000 IHT threshold.
You’re entitled to give a total of £3,000 in IHT-exempt gifts each year. You can also make larger one-off gifts, depending on your relation to the recipient – for example wedding gifts to children or grandchildren.
Should you gift now or gift later?
There are advantages to both. Gifting earlier on means you’re less likely to fall foul of the ‘seven-year rule’. No IHT is due on gifts (no matter the amount) if you live for seven years afterwards. If you die within that time, there’s a sliding scale of how much will be due. Another advantage could be that you get to see the fruits of your donation, especially if you’re giving money to charitable causes.
However, gifting later also has advantages. Money wisely invested might result in a larger final amount. And, if you’re gifting the money to a charity or cause, holding off on that gift gives you more time to gather research and make sure your intervention is the right one.
When it’s time, take professional advice
It’s important that we’re all thinking about these issues (and talking about them with families) as early as possible. We already find that, in most cases, our clients are comfortable discussing their affairs with their children and others in the estate planning process.
However, estate and tax planning are complex areas, so there does come a point when professionals need to be involved. We can help advise the best course of action on inheritance tax and advising on how best to use your money efficiently. We’ll also help you through issues such as the technicalities of appointing executors or advising on issues such as ‘probate’ (in Scotland this is officially known as a ‘grant of confirmation’) which provides the authority to deal with someone’s estate after they die.
It can be a natural question at this point from children or other family members to ask why a third party is getting involved. So we encourage them to get to know us too. After all they have a right to know who’s dealing with their future inheritance.
If you or your family have any questions about estate planning, please get in touch for a consultation.