George Houston: Passing down the gift of clarity

George Houston talks about the loss of his dear mum and the lessons he learned from being her Executor, most-importantly the importance of clear instructions in estate planning

I hope this is easier for you to read than it was for me to write…

I have written many times about the importance of having meaningful conversations with clients to ensure we get to a place where their objectives are clear and up-to-date.

It is only when that clarity is achieved that we can get the best outcomes for them. And, sometimes, it isn’t just about the ins and outs of tax wrappers and investment portfolios.

I remember attending a meeting – not long after I joined Mattioli Woods – with a couple of elderly clients who wanted to talk about their wills and how they wanted to cascade their wealth to the next generation.

They had absolute clarity on what they wanted to happen when they died, and their wills and wider affairs were all pointed in the right direction to achieve this.

The one thing that they identified to be missing was how they wanted their children to conduct themselves when they eventually received their inheritances.

Dear kids…

This became quite emotional for all of us and, recognising that there was little control they could have over this, we decided that one of the best things they could do was to write a letter to each of their children that could be given to them at the appropriate time.

Nothing that could impact the efficacy of their wills – just a simple letter from mum and dad, reminding them of their core family values and giving them the continuing benefit of wise counsel.

My colleague once told me that he asks the same question of all his clients. “What do you want to happen when you die?” This is such a powerful question and I learned recently just how much help this can be to loved ones.

My mum passed away quite recently, and it fell to me to be her Executor. All of a sudden, I wasn’t talking to clients about this kind of thing, it was actually happening to me and my siblings.

As she did during life, my mum made it easy for me – I had clear instructions. She knew exactly what she wanted to happen when she died.

And what few areas were not detailed in her will, the emotional things that really, really mattered, had been covered, not in writing, but in conversations with either myself or one of my brothers and sisters. This allowed us to do the right thing by her, however hard that was for all of us.

Real life experience

There is nothing like real life experience to help us learn. It has allowed me to consider how I can help clients to make the best preparation for when they are gone, because we know it really matters to them, in most cases anyway, and I now know the value of it personally for a bereaved relative.

If I can help our clients leave that gift of clarity as part of our service to them and their families in our role as trusted advisers, I will happily relay my own personal experience to them in the hope that it will assist.

Thanks, mum. For everything.

George Houston is technical director at Mattioli Woods