Skip to main content

Is Succession Planning The New Hot Topic? How Modern Media Could Shape The Way We Plan For The Future

When done properly, succession planning should consider the taxation and devolution of assets, and protect the things and people that matter most. Having a robust succession plan in place allows you to ensure your final wishes are carried out, rather than leaving things to chance - this is where drama in both real life and on screen can unfold!

Is media encouraging people to get their affairs in order?

Planning for the inevitable is an on-trend topic through shows like Succession offering a glimpse into the waves of difficulty and uncertainty grief can bring with it in the context of a deceased media mogul’s vast business empire. But something as simple as not expressing what you would like to happen to your body after your death can cause issue; Maeve in Sex Education’s latest series was left to arrange her mother’s funeral without funds and with uncertainty around whether she wanted to be buried or cremated. With the increase in options regarding the treatment of a person’s body after death, including aquamation, there could be more choices in the future - so expressing your wishes is important. 

In hit Netflix show Fool Me Once, there was reference to the importance of a pre-nuptial agreement between parties, a ‘Will reading’ being called off due to a lack of death certificate, and of course with the twists and turns taken by the plot, some issues with regard to who would be beneficially entitled to the mysterious Joe Burkett’s estate. Private client solicitors will no doubt continue to baulk at the persistence of ‘the reading of the Will’ in the media, but Fool Me Once represents an accurate portrayal of the emotional turmoil that a sudden death, and the disputes that arise out of it, can have on a family.

Disputes on the rise on screen and beyond

With ‘families becoming much more complex as standard’ and over 10,000 people in England and Wales disputing Wills every year, shows like The Inheritance and Inheritance Wars: Who Gets The Money (where a family were left in a state of disarray when their father had secretly remarried) are topical as they reflect the recent rise in disputes. Disputes are arising in this area are due, in part, to the changing nature of assets and liabilities, increases in mixed families and people marrying in later life, the changing demographic and attitudes generally. Bitter family resentment, and the testamentary freedom enjoyed by individuals in England & Wales which allows testators to leave the money to whom they so wish, have always been sufficient enough catalysts for inheritance disputes: these factors only make those disputes more proportionate, more complex, and more common.

How might disputes regarding Wills and estates change in the future and what else may we see in the media?

Assets are changing, demographics are changing and mindsets are changing.

  • Crypto-assets: The FCA’s recent report showed the number of UK adults holding crypto-assets has over doubled since 2021. Specialist advice is often required in respect of passing crypto-assets on, and regarding the taxation of these assets and storage of things like digital keys/ wallets in order to help your beneficiaries and executors. There are horror stories of millions of pounds of crypto being inaccessible in estates locked out of these assets – this may see a rise in liability for executors handling these assets given.
  • Social media: 59% of all adults Worldwide have social media; the majority of these accounts are not owned by the individual but are used via a licensing agreement (such as Facebook). There are successful brands built off the back of social media influencers – PRIME springs to mind form KSI and Logan Paul’s YouTube fame, etc, so with the rise in fame/ assets in this sphere could come a rise in disputes regarding inheriting wealth from them.
  • Artificial intelligence: Wealth is changing and tech is making generations richer than ever; the increase in the use of artificial intelligence will advance this further. Liabilities are also changing as generations grow older, as it is more possible they will live in increasingly expensive assisted living facilities. While future generations await their inheritance, they are taking out more debt during the cost of living crisis than their older counterparts – per The Inheritance, debt can make people desperate.

How are modern relationships changing?

Gone are the days of families only having 2.4 children, there is now a rise in blended families and same sex families, and divorce rates continue to upsurge.

There are likely to be more 1975 Act claims in intestacy situations. This is because the immovable laws of intestacy, which are set by the government, do not take into account the realities of modern relationships: cohabiting, but unmarried, partners; those being financially maintained by richer, older generations; or children raised as their own by those who are not necessarily their biological parent.

The rules of intestacy are starting to keep up a little; for deaths after 26 July 2023 for those who are married or in a civil partnership, the first £322,000 of assets and the deceased’s personal possessions pass to a surviving spouse (increased from £270,000), the remaining assets are split between the spouse/ civil partner and any children. ‘Common law spouses’ (there is no legal definition of these) still remain unaccounted for under the rules of intestacy which is likely to give rise to more claims given the upsurge in cohabiting, unmarried couples over recent years.

Inheritance Tax (IHT) allowances still favour those who are married or are in a civil partnership and those with lineal descendants. Unless any other reliefs or exemptions apply for IHT purposes, married couples/ civil partners with children can leave up to £1million free of IHT after the second death, for those who are not married or in a civil partnership/ without children, this is capped at £325,000. As future generations forge their own important connections, succession planning is becoming ever more vital (although legal definition of child has extended to include illegitimate and adopted children) in the face of the law often lagging behind.

Popular media is helping people understand succession planning better. Thanks to the likes of Mitch the Tax Man on Tik Tok and Martin Lewis’ regular updates on ‘money saving expert’, people are understanding and discussing these potential tax savings, the reliefs and allowances an estate has for IHT purposes more.

Are We Getting Our Affairs In Order Because of Media?

TV shows, movies, celebrities dying in the media are all helping private client lawyers get the message out there that estate and succession planning is important. However, it is both a blessing and a curse- proper legal advice should be taken and getting a robust succession plan in place and keeping it under review is key. This extends to taking pre-emptive advice on potential disputes at the time of making the Will – so that safeguards can be put in place, and beneficiaries warned, so as to mitigate the likelihood (as well as the impact) of a dispute dividing another family.

Fundamentally, however, in a country where half the population do not have a Will in place, and where the assets of the older generation are more valuable than ever before, not enough people are getting their affairs in order. Private client lawyers, and their contentious counterparts, can expect to be busy for the years to come.