* Also posted at posteriblog.com, the firm's blog about inheritance law news and history.
The Guardian has a long, fascinating feature out today detailing what happens when the Queen dies. The code words for her death are, apparently, "London Bridge is down," which has a pleasantly sing-songy feel for something so serious. (One might guess that the code words will change after the publication of this article.)
Queen Elizabeth II has sat on the throne since 1952, which makes her the longest-serving monarch in British history. Most Britons don't remember having another monarch and therefore haven't lived through the transition between monarchs.
I was studying in London when the Queen Mother died in 2002, and was able to go down to see the funeral procession as it wound its way from Clarence House around Green Park to Westminster. The regalia was out- I swear I was nearly blinded by the sun shining off the jewels in the crown on the casket- and the pomp was dialed to 11. It was made still more interesting to watch by the knowledge that they relevant parties had been practicing the Q.M.'s funeral for years as she slept. (Imagine having the guards practicing your funeral procession literally outside your bedroom window as you sleep! Not very restful, I'd think.)
True to form, the palace has a plan for the Queen's death, and it is significantly more complicated than what the average person might need to plan. But there's a purpose to the planning: when someone dies (particularly when that someone has such national political importance) it's nice to know what you've got to do. Who's in charge? What are the services? Who gets what?
In the Queen's case, much of this is regulated by law (Charles will be king the moment she dies, no matter what the supermarket gossip mags speculate) or by tradition. For the average estate planning client, it's not this complicated. But there's still a need for ceremony, however small. For the wake, the funeral, the mercy meal. The notification of friends and family, the placement of the obituary. Big or small, death brings with it a multitude of details that must be dealt with, and knowing what you have to do in advance is a tremendous help in a time of shocked grieving. I hope many take the Queen's example and plan ahead.