Remember our old friend the Assurance Vie?
In last month’s article I maintained that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Whilst that met with general agreement, it did provoke some interesting responses; mainly exploring the ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ theme so loved by fans of The Clash. Here is an excerpt from a mail I received from a regular critic of my articles. I left the first line in, out of vanity:
Just for a change, I rather liked your piece in the A&A. Very sensible.
Although for me this is home. Eventually cremated here and ashes scattered over France. It’s in my last wishes. But here’s a thought for another piece for you, progression from your current article. Although I myself have no intention whatsoever to return to the UK – I intend to die here – I read that one of the things that can go, as you get really old, is your ability to speak a second language. If that happens, and should I finish up in a care home, it will be difficult both for me and my carers. In that case my family, most of whom do not live in the UK, might reasonably consider I would be better off in the UK………….
And so be it; let’s explore this theme a little. I’m sure Charles Green (not his real name) would never be packed off back to the UK by uncomprehending carers and uncaring children, but it is an important point. I for one would not relish spending my bath chair days in what I perceive to be the alien environment of a French care home. Coincidentally, I met a couple last week who have retired from UK care home ownership to live in France. I put it to them last week that if they were to open a home in France solely for UK elderly clients, they might be very successful. Unfortunately my idea was shot down in flames. They retired from the business due to increasing bureaucracy and paperwork in the UK, and certainly wouldn’t dream of trying to recreate the same nightmare in France. Can’t blame them I suppose, but it still sounds like a nice idea to me, from a future consumer point of view.
For obvious reasons, I need to steer this article towards financial concerns. I talk to virtually all my clients about retirement provision. It’s not uncommon to hear that actually people would quite like to spend all of their money before they ‘shuffle off’. The problem, I always point out, is timing. It’s one thing to put in place a programme of concerted spending that will exhaust your funds when you reach the age of say 85, but most inconvenient to yourself and others when you last until you are 103. Life can of course be great fun, and we should always enjoy it while we can, but let’s be under no illusion here; none of us gets out of this alive. Money comes in very useful while you are living, and my view is that if there is any left after you die, it might be put to good use elsewhere.
My average client couple; Mr. E. and Mrs. X. Pat, have worked hard during their lives and have garnered enough cash to see them through to the bitter end. I use the word ‘bitter’ deliberately, as I don’t think life has many happy endings. Some of my clients take a rare and altruistic view of their legacy. They may not have children or close relatives, or maybe they just don’t like them. They feel totally at home with the concept of their residual wealth being assimilated into the French national coffers as their contribution to society. Thankfully, to my mind anyway, this approach is rare, and could even be a sign of approaching mental frailty. The vast majority of the people I talk to would much rather that anything left be put to somewhat better use; any use in fact that doesn’t involve the word ‘tax’.
Without any tax planning at all, anything you leave to your spouse will be free of succession tax, and your children will get a moderate allowance before paying the tax, but can end up paying 45% on large sums. Pretty much everyone else need a tin hat to protect themselves from the onslaught from ‘le fisc’. Step children; your best mate; your ex-wife (?), they will all pay 60%. In anyone’s language, that’s a lot of tax.
There is a better way. Remember our old friend the Assurance Vie? He keeps your investments away from the prying eyes of the tax man, and when you eventually need to draw income, he may be able to get you a very good rate on the tax you will then pay. He also happens to come in pretty handy with succession tax. In theory even the richest of investors could manage to pass on all of the invested wealth free of succession tax; all he would need would be a lot of beneficiaries. Each one of them could take away €152,500 without paying a centime in tax. For we mere mortals, this sort of tax generosity should solve the problem quite easily. All you have to do is get your act in gear in good time. You must set up your policy before you get to 70 to get the full benefit.
A bit more thought needs to go into how you pass on property, but it can be done. For now though, I’m just going to concentrate on the ‘spare’ cash. Bank accounts; premium bonds, ISAs; PEPs; National Savings, your old Pru bond that you’ve had since Adam was a lad… They are all manna from heaven to the French succession tax system, and it will swallow them up. Only Assurance Vie has that nasty tasting Teflon coating that it doesn’t like, and spits out again.
And all you need to do to get an assurance vie is talk to your financial adviser…
In the few days since I wrote this article I have learned of the tragic death of one of my earliest clients; a good and kind man, fallen victim of the carnage so often seen on French roads. This sadness only reinforces my view that life rarely has a happy ending.