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A cautionary tale

My colleague Georgina went to review a long standing client’s portfolio recently and I thought you might like to hear her story.

She had not seen this couple for a few years; they live in a village a bit of a distance away from Billericay and in the past have been very happy with telephone reviews with the occasional visit. Georgina had always enjoyed going to see them; they were a fun couple thoroughly enjoying life.

The husband answered the door in his pyjamas and dressing gown. “Hello” said Georgina taking a step back from the door. “Who are you?” came the answer. “It’s Georgina, from the Advice Centre” she replied a bit puzzled he did not recognise her.

“Where”? “The Independent Financial Advice Centre in Billericay,” “never heard of it” was the response.

At that moment the wife came to the door “come in” she said and telling her husband to go and get dressed she ushered George into the lounge. “He’s getting forgetful” she said, “now who are you”?

Having known this couple for many years Georgina was worried neither of them could remember who she was and why she was there. “I’m Georgina” she said “I’m here to review your portfolio”.

“Oh there’s no need said the wife, we already have someone looking after our money”

It was clear that there was some memory issues so Georgina asked if they had granted powers of attorney (POA) to either or both of their daughters. “We have nothing like that” the wife stated “and how did you know I had two daughters?”

Unable to perform a review, and with the client’s memory clearly in trouble George was on the verge of panic. The law quite rightly prevents us from disclosing anything about any client’s financial affairs to anybody without their express permission. Without a POA she could not even speak to the daughters.

Fortunately the elder daughter arrived just at that moment. “Sorry I’m late” she said “I knew you were coming and thought Mum and Dad would need some help, how’s the Portfolio doing?”

“I can’t tell you” said George “you need to get a POA.” “I have,” she said “years ago when you told them to do it; here it is.” You could hear Georgina’s sigh of relief back here in Billericay!

POA’s are essential and we always advise clients to arrange both types, Health and Financial. Thank goodness this couple did even though they could not remember doing it.

Happy Christmas everybody from the Independent Financial Advice Centre

Crushed by a steamroller!

The late fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, died in 2015 following a battle with Alzheimer's, leaving a letter of wishes alongside his will.  He asked for any unfinished work (thought to be in the region of ten unpublished novels) to be destroyed by a steamroller.  His wish was finally granted in August 2017 when a vintage steamroller crushed his work at the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Your will ensures that your assets, such as your house and money, are divided up as you wish.  But for some – such as Terry Pratchett – the will itself is not sufficient to explain their thinking or the details of what they would like to happen.  Few request steamroller destruction of course, but for many, a letter of wishes can serve a very useful purpose.

Letters of wishes, whilst non-binding, sit alongside your will to help clarify to executors, beneficiaries and loved ones any particular wishes you have upon your death, which cannot necessarily be defined in your will.  For example, they might deal with your funeral arrangements, explain to guardians of your children how you would like them to be raised, or provide information on how you would like trusts to be run.

Letters of wishes can be invaluable in rationalising the division of your estate.  For example, you may wish to explain that you have provided for one of your children to receive a larger share of your estate than the others as they are less financially secure.  As well as helping to prevent misunderstanding or animosity, such explanation could avoid potential challenges to your will.

Terry Pratchett's particular wish has been made public but ordinarily (unlike a will that, upon application for probate, becomes a publically registered document) a letter of wishes is a private document that is generally only seen by those to whom you have given permission.

As solicitors, we hear many excuses why people delay writing their will, but the appropriate use of a letter of wishes is one way of alleviating some people’s concerns that a strict legal document, such as a will, is going to cause upset amongst your family or fail to explain fully any non-standard requests you might have.  After all, we want to make sure that it is your wishes that count.

Jane Orchard is a solicitor at Birkett Long LLP.  For a free 15-minute chat call 01268 824924 or email