03 September 2018

At the end of August, the funeral service was held in Washington of the veteran US Senator John McCain. He certainly excited strong passions on both sides of Congress. He should, however, give us all pause. For reasons which are in no way party-political he should make us ask two important questions about our lives.

The first relates to John McCain himself. As everybody knows, he had been shot down during the Vietnam War, was injured in the process and tortured during his 5 ½ years of capture. He was very lucky to survive at all, and was left with long term disabilities.

Despite that, he was still working in as a Senator when he died, at the age of 81, of unrelated causes. Many people plan to work until they are in their 50s and then to begin to wind down before retiring in their 60s. The first question is this: if you could realistically work until you were in your 80s - bearing in mind that John McCain was cut down by illness and would otherwise have kept going for several more years - should you be planning to do that?

The second major question is thrown up by the mourners at his funeral service. Those attending included his fellow Republican George Bush Jr and the immediate past President Barack Obama. But also there was John McCain's mother. The second question is therefore this: if as part of your life plan you think you may well die in your 70s or 80s and give your estate to your children, will that play out well if, like the Senator’s mother, you live well beyond 100? By that time, your children may be in their 80s or 90s, and when they receive your estate, they may not have any need for it. Indeed, it may then pass straight to your grandchildren (perhaps then in their 50s or 60s) or your great grandchildren (who might be in their 30s or 40s).

This sort of potential longevity means that the old certainties of sensible estate planning can no longer be relied upon.

John McCain came from quite a wealthy family. His mother was married to an admiral and her father-in-law was also an admiral. She has lived a comfortable existence. There are no signs, however, that she is superhuman. Living as long as she has will become increasingly commonplace.

We have seen the passing of someone who has been regarded as a national hero in some quarters. We should, however, let his funeral teach us an important lesson and should examine the timescale on which we think our lives will play out.

For advice about planning your estate please contact Naomi Dyer on 01935 811307 or email Visit our Wills and Trusts page here or our Probate and Estate Administration page here.