3 succession planning lessons to learn from the legendary Horatio Nelson


Nelson’s Column

When you reflect on some of the greatest military strategists in British history, there’s a good chance that Horatio Nelson, the legendary admiral who held back the French fleets during the Napoleonic wars, comes to mind.

Even though Nelson’s most notable achievement unfolded on 21 October 1805, when he employed innovative tactics to secure a decisive victory at Trafalgar, it was also the day the heroic admiral met his tragic end.

So, to commemorate the anniversary of his passing, now may be an opportune time to examine some succession lessons from the life of Horatio Nelson. Continue reading to discover three things that you can learn. 

1. Create a watertight will and update it regularly

At the time of his unfortunate passing, the married Nelson was entangled in an affair with Lady Emma Hamilton with who he shared his only living child, Horatia. 

Fearing the repercussions of fuelling the fires of speculation and gossip, Nelson and Lady Hamilton chose to keep the truth about Horatia’s true parentage a secret. 

Then, when Nelson fell to a sniper’s bullet from the French ship, Redoubtable, his crew discovered a letter on his desk aboard HMS Victory. He addressed the letter to his lover and daughter, and signed it off with the words: “Receive, my dearest Horatia, the affectionate parental blessing of your father”.

It appeared that, as Nelson stared death in the face, he wished for his sole surviving daughter to inherit his personal effects. Despite his wishes, his brother, William, ultimately inherited all of Nelson’s lands, titles, and awards, while his navy pension went to his wife, Frances. 

This touching yet tragic tale highlights the importance of regularly reviewing and updating your will. 

When you pass away, this will be an emotional time for your loved ones. However, if you keep your will up to date, you can ensure that your assets are distributed smoothly and efficiently after you pass.

Moreover, it could give them some comfort at a time of difficulty knowing that your estate is one less thing they need to worry about. 

Much like Nelson should have updated his will before his death to include his daughter Horatia, it may be wise to view yours as a “live” document. This is especially the case after any significant life events, such as the birth of a child, marriage, or divorce.

Regularly updating your will could even reduce the chance of any family conflicts. Setting out your wishes clearly could help avoid any disputes that can happen in certain circumstances, such as if you’ve previously divorced or have both children and stepchildren.

It’s also worth stating whether you’re cohabiting with a partner, as if you’re not married or in a civil partnership, they won’t have the automatic rights to inherit your assets. 

2. Don’t underestimate the significance of a Lasting Power of Attorney

Admiral Nelson was more than aware of the perils of his profession. He understood that he could have died at any point and that working on a ship in that day and age involved gambling with your life. 

Understanding the necessity of planning for unforeseen circumstances, Nelson designated a close friend, Alexander Davidson, as his power of attorney.

Davidson’s unwavering loyalty to Nelson was abundantly clear. After the heroic admiral’s tragic demise at Trafalgar, he broke his white stave of office and placed it on Nelson’s coffin as it descended into the vaults of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where it remains to this day.

Much like Admiral Nelson didn’t underestimate the significance of a power of attorney, you shouldn’t either.

A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a document that allows you to nominate someone to look after your affairs if you become mentally or physically incapacitated. While it’s not easy to dwell on the prospect of an accident or illness, you could lose capacity at any time.

This is why nominating an attorney as early as possible is essential. Without one, the courts may nominate someone to oversee your assets, and it may be someone you wouldn’t necessarily choose. 

Two common types of LPA are available, and you can choose either one or both. These are: 

  • Health and welfare – here, your attorney(s) can make decisions concerning your daily routine, medical care, and other aspects of your wellbeing, such as moving into a care home
  • Property and financial affairs – here, your attorney(s) are empowered to manage your finances, pay any bills, and collect benefits on your behalf. 

By nominating an attorney (or attorneys), you can put yourself back in control of your affairs since you know someone you trust will make important decisions on your behalf. Moreover, this can give you the peace of mind that, should the worst happen, you’ll be well looked after. 

3. Consider leaving a legacy to be remembered by

Undoubtedly, Admiral Nelson forged a long-lasting legacy that continues to be celebrated to this day. Without his military genius and decisive victory at Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte and La Grande Armée may have succeeded in their invasion of mainland Britain. 

The memory of Nelson’s heroic deeds still endures through monuments scattered across the UK, most notably Nelson’s Column in London, and the annual commemoration of Trafalgar Day on 21 October. The Royal Navy celebrates this occasion with a toast to honour the “immortal memory” of the great admiral. 

You, too, have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy that will do some good to the world after you pass away by gifting to charity. 

Not only is this a benevolent act that supports a cause close to your heart, but it could also help you mitigate an Inheritance Tax (IHT) bill on your estate. 

If you reduce the overall size of your estate through charitable donations, you could help your family reduce the tax burden they may face. 

Furthermore, gifting to a charity could even help you benefit from a reduced rate of IHT on any part of your estate above the nil-rate band. Indeed, if you leave at least 10% of your estate to charity in your will, the IHT rate reduces from 40% to 36%.

Much like we still remember Admiral Nelson to this day, your charitable donation could help leave a beneficial mark on the world after you’re gone, and you could even reduce your IHT liability in the process. 

Get in touch

If you’d like some support when it comes to updating your will and mitigating the potential Inheritance Tax payable on your estate, then we can help.

Please email us at info@investmentsense.co.uk or call 0115 933 8433 to find out more.

Please note

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate Lasting Power of Attorneys, estate planning, tax planning or will writing.