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Escape plan

Elaine Milne, Dip PFS

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A new client's plea for help, a pandemic and a last-minute flight out.

Last November, I received a contact through my website from a prospect named Mike asking me to help him with his forthcoming retirement situation in March 2020. My firm had been recommended by his bank.

At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to assist him, simply because Mike and his wife Sue were living in Africa and I was in the U.K. However, on the basis that I never make a judgment call until I find out the bigger picture, I learned that they were both U.K. nationals and, although they had been born in Africa and had worked there for the entirety of their working lives, they had roots in the U.K. and wanted to move here after Mike retired in March.

Their financial situation was complex to say the least. It was something I hadn’t dealt with before, and so I set about calling the MDRT friends I knew who could put me on the path to the knowledge I would need to support Mike and Sue in the right way.

The weeks and months progressed, and we discovered that Mike’s wealth had to be transitioned into the U.K. in a certain way and within very particular time windows. If we failed to meet the criteria, Mike would suffer tax on the wealth he had built up through the whole of his working career, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. He and Sue would be solely reliant on these funds for the rest of their lives once they moved to the U.K. I was starting to feel the weight of this responsibility to make sure I got this right.

I worked tirelessly with our technical experts and Mike’s tax advisers, often acting as a bridge between them and Mike. It was my job to put the technical jargon into layman’s terms so Mike could understand what he had to do. Although he was an incredibly successful man in his field, he was the first one to admit that finances were my area and he was reliant upon my knowledge and expertise.

In the weeks leading up to his retirement date, I had Zoom meetings with Mike and Sue sometimes twice per week, often receiving requests for meetings from them at the last minute.

While all of this was happening, the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming ever more serious and making its way around the world. Countries were going into lockdown on what seemed like a daily basis. We went into lockdown in the U.K. in mid-March, just two weeks before Mike’s retirement date. During our calls, Mike and Sue would keep me up to date with how the pandemic was spreading in Africa. Soon we realized we had an additional situation to consider as well as the tax position on Mike’s wealth.

Mike and Sue wanted to fly to the U.K. within days of Mike’s retirement date. We knew we had a very small time frame during which we could initiate the transfer of Mike’s wealth to the U.K. and we had to make the decision to delay their trip a little. The funds had to arrive in the U.K. before Mike and Sue did for the tax advice to be effective.

COVID-19 was taking hold in Africa, and Mike was concerned that, if the state went into lockdown, they wouldn’t be able to leave. In addition, lockdown could cause riots and civil unrest, making it dangerous for them to be there. All of a sudden, we not only had a potentially crippling tax issue to deal with, we had a life or death situation on our hands too.

Could we get Mike’s money to the U.K. before him? We triggered the process and were told it could take up to 10 days for the funds to settle in the U.K. In the meantime, Mike had news of a U.S. government evacuation flight out of Africa and was offered two places on it. He called me and asked, “Elaine, can we get on that flight? We have to leave as soon as we can, but will the funds settle in time?” He only had until the next day to book the places on the flight.

That was the most difficult question a client has ever asked me. He was looking to me for the answer. He didn’t want to suffer the tax situation, but he and Sue could be in grave danger should they choose to stay in Africa any longer.

I told him I’d call him the next morning once I’d made some inquiries. I didn’t sleep much that night! By a fantastic stroke of luck — or was it just great financial planning? — we received notification the next day that the funds had settled! I told Mike that he and Sue could get on the plane. The look of relief and gratitude on their faces on the Zoom call nearly brought me to tears.

They packed what they could, limited to two suitcases each, and they came home.

A few days later, we had another Zoom call. Of course, as the U.K. was still in lockdown, we weren’t able to meet face to face. We continued with the investment advice and structured Mike’s wealth in such a way that he and Sue would receive the income they wanted for the rest of their lives. Our guidance and the advice of the technical experts, the tax advisers and myself, had worked!

On one of our calls, Sue said, “Elaine, from the bottom of our hearts, we cannot thank you enough. You have been there for us through thick and thin, whenever we needed you, and it’s all worked out the way we planned. Not only that, we are now in the U.K., and our daughters have their parents home safe. Thank you.” That meant the world to me.

I should also say that, although this was probably the most precariously balanced client situation in the whole of my 22-year career, it resulted in the biggest case I have ever done. In lockdown, using Zoom, across continents. Anything is possible; we just have to believe it and never give up!

Elaine Milne is a 12-year MDRT member from Cardiff, Wales. Contact her at


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