Recently I was asked to act as a pallbearer. Being very close to the family, to me it was an honour and a privilege to have been asked. I brought forward a meeting that morning to leave plenty of time to drive to the funeral service – a journey of around 100 miles. Even on a bad day I should have arrived at least an hour before the service.
On route I hit a traffic jam where I would normally expect some congestion. No worries, I know a back route which will take me beyond the junction that causes the tail back. Many other drivers had the same idea however and as a result of some road works there were single-file traffic signals on that route. What should have knocked a few minutes off the delay added many more to the journey.
When I eventually got back to the original route, the traffic was still not moving. It later transpired there had been a serious accident further up the road. I took another diversion along congested country lanes and re-joined my route again beyond the accident. Unfortunately, the delays meant that I and several other mourners, who were travelling on the same route, arrived long after the service had started.
For several weeks after, I kept asking myself what I could have done differently so that I would have not let the family down. The response of many I spoke to was that it was fate and there was nothing I could have done.
Radio traffic bulletins give information on major traffic delays across the country. What is the cost of those delays? How many people are caught up in them? Why are they travelling? What are the consequences of not getting to their destination on time? Not only for them but for the people they are travelling to see.
A single queue of one mile is estimated to contain 250 vehicles. A three-mile queue on a three-lane motorway would delay 2,250 vehicles which could include 3,500 people. If that number of people are delayed for an hour, with an average productive rate of £50, the cost of that delay is £175k. That does not include other people not in the queue but affected by the delay to those who were. One wonders what the total cost of the many delays that occur on, for example, the M25 or M6 are every day?
Some who are affected by the delays will conclude that they could have avoided the hidden cost to them if only they had done something differently. When it comes to later life there are also several ‘if only’ hidden costs. Fortunately, their consequences can be mitigated in advance. Ensuring a will exists, or more importantly is up to date, could save much time in accessing and disposing of the estate when the person eventually dies.
Similarly, so can ensuring sufficient funds are be available to ensure the funeral the person wishes for, can be paid for, without placing close relatives in debt until the estate can be realised. If funds are not available those close relatives could face hidden costs in arranging loans and paying the interest thereon.
Before death occurs, other issues can arise as regards the capacity of the individual to act with regard to their health, care and finances. If the necessary Powers of Attorney are not in place it becomes difficult for close relatives to carry out what the individual would wish. If the Court of Protection is involved, and a partner survives as joint owner of assets, disposing of those assets can become very laborious. If this is the family home, looking after the other partner can be difficult.
Which can of course all go to creating delays. I know of a lady whose health was deteriorating and her husband was in a home as a result of dementia. She lived in a large Edwardian house that had become totally unsuitable to her condition as a result of deteriorating mobility. She wanted to sell up and move to a bungalow but was unable to do so. She could not find a buyer who was willing to accommodate the delays dealing with the Court of Protection would create. What was the hidden cost of those delays to her well-being and quality of life? It could have been avoided if a Power of Attorney had been in place for her husband.
When we advise our older clients, are we under a duty of care to ensure their wills are in place and up to date, that appropriate provision has been made to pay for funerals and that Powers of Attorney are in place? I think we probably are. Without any of this, much like my motorway journey, unwanted delays could occur and result in a hidden cost for someone. Ensuring otherwise would provide a real benefit to all.
Bob Champion is chairman of the Later Life Academy (LLA)