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The Diary of a Young Widow

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CTT Professional Services

So, you know when you’re going to die?

We’ve all heard the (often misquoted) line: “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” However, how many people put off establishing their will? Will writers and estate planners will undoubtedly be familiar with sentiments such as:

“We’ve always meant to do a will… We’ll get round to it later!”
“Why do I need a will; it’ll all pass to my wife/husband and kids anyway!”
“I’m young! I don’t need a will yet – I have no plans to die!”

Will Chiles, a Senior Technical Adviser at CTT Group, offers a first-person perspective on why we shouldn’t delay planning our estates. Below, Will has shared his poignant story, which we’re sure will have a profound impact on fellow advisers and clients alike.

The Diary of a Young Widow

Let’s start by saying it’s a good job I work in estate planning! Although I never imagined I’d become a case study so soon…

Flashback to 2014. My wife, my stepsons, the cat and I are all getting on with life.

We didn’t have an enormous estate value (Inheritance Tax certainly wasn’t an issue!). We had my own mortgaged property as our main residence, rented out my wife’s mortgaged property and had a couple of quid in the bank – not much savings, that’s for sure.

Around Christmastime that year, my wife started losing her appetite and having severe back pain – so much so that she made a doctor’s appointment on the first week of the new year. Nothing was imminently diagnosed. They prescribed painkillers, but the pain continued. We went back and forth to the doctors until they eventually suggested it could be gallstones. Her pain got worse until it was constant. By March, we visited a private doctor, and she finally had an MRI scan. The operation was booked for early April to remove the gallstones – at last! A solution!

However, when the surgeon reviewed the scan on the day of the operation, we discovered that it was not gallstones. Instead, there was a shadow that needed further investigation.

Eight weeks later, at the end of May 2015, my wife died of pancreatic cancer, aged 50.
I was widowed at 43. This was definitely not the plan!

The world is now a completely different place – not only for me, but also our friends, her work colleagues, my parents, and my previously widowed mother-in-law.

And, of course, my stepsons. They were two young adults living the dream overseas. The day following her death, I drove with my mother-in-law to Heathrow Airport to pick them up, and in Terminal 2 Arrivals, I had to tell them that the mum they adored had died. Devastation doesn’t even cover it.
Then what?
How about telling people your wife has died? Going through your phone to check who you need to inform, including people who didn’t even know she was ill! Multiple heart-breaking conversations with tears on all sides.

Then there was the funeral to arrange. I’d never dealt with Funeral Directors before – what did that involve? Lots! Booking a date at the Crematorium like you would book a table for dinner; choosing the type of coffin and its handles; picking the music; sorting flowers; choosing the clothes she would be cremated in; writing the eulogy for your wife… The whole process is bizarre and devastating in equal measures.

And what about her estate?

This is where I’m glad I work in estate planning. Before we married in 2010, I sorted our wills and discretionary trusts, which considered our subsequent marriage. We took out individual life insurance policies to cover our mortgages, and I assigned trusts to receive any lump sum pension death benefits.

I didn’t have to worry about probate. It’s the last thing I would have wanted to deal with, and I work in the industry! Professional Executors were appointed alongside me for support. Why would I want to do it, really? Would I have wanted to deal with forms for HMRC, liaise with lenders, financial institutions and pension providers whilst trying to comprehend the sudden death of my wife? No chance. I just let the professionals take the burden so I could try to deal with the grief and aftermath of it all.

Technically, I inherited nothing, but I have no problem with that. My wife’s assets are legally owned by the trustees of her trusts, not me personally. In the eyes of the law, those assets are not mine and therefore not vulnerable to attack from any potential creditor issues, future care fees or even a new relationship.

However, I am still in control of her estate as I’m a trustee. She appointed me to be, along with a professional trustee to help manage her trusts efficiently. Down the line, my stepsons can become more involved.

Of course, the lads and I are beneficiaries. The Memorandum of Wishes from my late wife states I’m to be the priority, followed by my stepsons. So, I’m in control and can benefit when I need to. As trustee, I can help the lads out too, of course.

In time, I decided to sell our previous properties and buy a new main residence. I only pay the professional trustees when I need their help. For example, they had a Conveyance Team that dealt with the property sales and new purchase. The trustees now own a significant proportion of the new property, too, not only me! Again, that suits me fine, as it’s protected.

I had some cash left over from the house sales, so the professional trustees sought financial advice services, and invested it for when my stepsons and I need it in the future. I also had some money ‘loaned’ to me to go on a holiday, so I’ll repay that when I’m dead!

Life goes on – it doesn’t stop however much you want it to at the time.

The Moral of the Story

None of us will get out of this thing called life alive!

I’m not alone in dealing with such a devastating event. Everyone has a story like mine or has at least heard of one.

Unfortunately, tomorrow is not promised. So no matter how old you are, don’t delay writing your will. Be sure to update it regularly as well; there’s no excuse not to.

Navigating grief can be a tough journey, but having that extra helping hand can save a lot of heartache in an already difficult time. Life is full of uncertainties, and there’s no telling what the future holds, or what financial difficulties lay lurking around the corner. Sorting your will today means an easier, less stressful future for your family when you’re gone.

I can rest easy with the knowledge that whatever happens in the future, my late wife’s estate, and mine in due course, is protected for me and my stepsons. That’s what estate planning is all about. Without a doubt it is the “best advice”.

CTT Group hopes that you will join us in making a donation to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund if you are able. They are the only charity dedicated to funding pancreatic cancer research across the UK and solely rely on public donations.

You can donate here.