26 June 2018

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”

By Miranda Marshall, Director, Hayes + Storr

I have long used ‘King Lear’ as a metaphor for caution when carrying out succession planning. Richard Eyre’s powerful and unsettling production for the BBC reminded me of its timelessness. As it is the journalistic ‘silly season’, I hope you will allow me some licence.

Quick plot reminder: The 80-year-old King Lear decides to retire and divides his kingdom of ancient Britain among his daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, according to their affection for him. Lear’s older daughters give their father flattering answers and so inherit; but Cordelia, Lear’s youngest and favourite daughter, remains silent, saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear quickly learns that this was a bad decision. Goneril and Regan lose no time in undermining the little authority that Lear still holds. Unable to believe that his beloved daughters are betraying him, Lear slowly goes insane.

Lear is a powerful exploration of greed, love, power and mortality: all themes in the working life of the private client lawyer. Less romantic (and, thankfully, less gory) modern equivalent cases scatter the Law Reports over the centuries.

The diminished power and respect for the older person who has enjoyed ‘giving with warm hands’ on the ‘there are no pockets in shrouds’ principle is a problem.

Making a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) appointing good and independent attorneys, perhaps professionals, to look after your finances, in the event of incapacity and frailty, is vital.

Using the originally-medieval device of a Trust to retain control, but not ownership, could perhaps have saved Lear. Discretionary Trusts are wonderfully flexible and allow for changing family circumstances after the giving of assets.

We should all have a well-drafted and up-to-date Will.

Conversely, what about families where the elderly relative is clearly in decline? What to do? In Eyre’s production Anthony Hopkins as Lear swigged away from a hipflask. Perhaps this would explain much of Lear’s behaviour and even that decision to divide his kingdom in a spectacularly misguided bid to prevent ‘future strife’. Had he taken good legal advice, Lear would never have done it!

This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek our specific advice.

If you would like further advice on this matter please contact Miranda on 01328 710210. If you require advice on any other legal matter call 01328 710210 or email law@hayes-storr.com.

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