Sarah Murphy reflects on recent news, and how this demonstrates the ever-changing landscape of private client law

Sarah Murphy

The issues that we deal with as private client solicitors are wide and varied, but they affect everyone in some way. Just today while writing this piece, on the news I am faced with the auction of personal treasures left by Freddie Mercury to his friend Mary Austin, including a portrait by Tissot, Freddie’s handwritten working lyrics to “We Are The Champions”, a portrait by Picasso and prints by Matisse and Chagall. These items are obviously very close to Mary’s heart, as they were bequeathed to her by Freddie, and it has clearly been a very difficult decision for her to sell them. However, like a lot of our clients, she is putting her affairs in order. Dealing with the sale of these items alleviates Mary’s executors from dealing with the high-profile sale after her death. There is also the possibility that, depending on her circumstances, such a sale will also enable her to maintain her lifestyle.

While most of our clients, probably, will not have the same issues in terms of the sale of the Picasso hanging in their lounge, or indeed the replica of St Edward’s Crown, worn by King Charles at the coronation that Freddie had, there are many items of sentimental and/or financial value, which our clients choose to deal with by way of their will or letter of wishes, or which their executors or beneficiaries need to deal with. 

Also in the news this week, we have an example of the empowerment of the more mature client. By this I am, of course, referring to Joe Biden, who is planning, aged 80, to run for a second term as US president. While many of our octogenarian clients will not be putting themselves forward for such high-powered roles, it does highlight to us as private client lawyers that our clients are living longer and are more active for a larger proportion of their life and this is, in my view, to be commended. So on one hand we see our clients living longer, staying healthier (thanks to medical advances) and accumulating wealth, while on the other hand we are seeing an increase in stealth taxes by virtue of the static nil rate and residence nil rate bands. This makes the role of private client solicitors more important that arguably it has ever been.  

Our clients require us to help them navigate this ever-changing landscape. The Law Society and the Private Client Solicitors Section committee, which I am proud to chair, always seeks to arm the membership with the skills, education and integration with other practitioners, so that we are at the forefront of this ongoing battle.