10 May 2016
Author: Stephen Breen
2016 has seen a string of deaths amongst well-loved celebrities including Terry Wogan, David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Paul Daniels, Ronnie Corbett and Prince.
Some of these deaths seem untimely – Prince was just 57 for example, while Victoria Wood just 62 and David Bowie just 69. When people we know and love die before their time, it can serve as a reminder that death is inevitable and none of us know when or how we will go. Speaking to your partner and family about your death can seem like a rather depressing exercise but making adequate plans will ensure that they do not suffer additional pain or worry at a very difficult time.
According to stats released by Royal London, approximately 190,600 people lost their spouse during 2014. Of those, only 3 in 10 (31%) were prepared for the event – and more than half of those that died (59%) did not have a will. So what can you do to ensure your partner and family are not left with a huge struggle when you die?
Death is a difficult subject but it’s essential you discuss what should happen when you and your partner die – including who would care for any children you have, what you would like to happen at your funeral and who should inherit your property. Having an open and honest conversation about these issues is a good first step to take.
Ensure your wishes are clear
Your death may come suddenly, or it may be the result of ill health – and where the latter applies, it may be that you reach the stage where you are unable to communicate your preferences. If you’d like to make choices about your care in advance, there are two possibilities.
Your first option is to make an Advance Statement recording your wishes and setting out how you would like to be cared for. This might include, for example, that you’d prefer to be cared for in your own home rather than in a nursing home.
Unfortunately an advance statement of wishes is not legally binding.
Your second option is to make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). There are two types of LPA and the relevant one in this case is a Health and Welfare LPA. This allows you to set out your preferences as to your care in the same way as an advance statement of wishes – but unlike the statement, a Health and Welfare LPA is legally binding once (a) it has been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian and (b) you have lost the mental capacity to make the relevant choices yourself.
Have a will prepared for you
Having a will drawn up for you is essential so that your family has clear direction on how your money and possessions should be dealt with on your death. Should you die without a will, it can be more difficult and stressful to deal with your estate – and you may find the people that inherit your money are not the people you would have wanted to.
If you have children, it’s also important to record who you would like to have custody in the event of your death. You should nominate more than one possible guardian as your partner may die with you (for example, if you both die in an accident together).
If you already have a will, now is a good time to review its contents and ensure you are still happy that it reflects your wishes.
In both cases, using a solicitor is recommended – especially as more wills than ever before are being challenged in the courts.
Make a LPA
Health and Welfare LPAs were mentioned above, but another essential type of LPA that everyone should have is a Property and Financial Affairs LPA. This gives someone of your choosing the power to make decisions on your behalf, once you lose the capacity to do so.
These decisions might cover managing your money and bank accounts, paying your bills, collection benefits or your pension, and selling your home.
You can make an LPA provided that you have the mental capacity to do so. If you don’t make an LPA, you may find that the person making decisions for you in the future is not the one you would have chosen.
Make advance decisions on treatment
Some people feel quite strongly about certain medical treatments – for example, whether or not they’d like to be resuscitated in the event that they are deemed to be in a permanent vegetative state (PVS). If you have strong wishes on matters like these you can formalise them in an ‘Advance Decision’ document. This document is legally binding provided that you are unable to communicate your preferences directly – for example, because you are unconscious or have advanced dementia.
Make plans for your funeral
Many of us have ideas about what we’d like to happen when we die – for example, whether we’d like to be buried or cremated and whether we’d like a secular or religious service. Some people have given it even more thought – perhaps selecting certain songs they’d like to be played, or the readings they’d like to be made. It’s a good idea to record these wishes for your relatives so that there is no debate as to what you would have wanted. The website yourfuneralchoice.com can help you find a funeral director and find out about pricing.
Put your paperwork in order
If your filing system consists of a gigantic cardboard box stuffed with papers, consider how much stress and difficulty this might create for your executors. Put your important documents such as your passport, bank details, pension information, insurance policies and will together in one safe place and make sure your chosen executors know where these are stored.
If you use the internet for email or social media, you may wish to set out what you would like to happen to these accounts on your death, and make sure your executors know where to find a copy of the login information.
Plan for pet care
If you have pets, you’ll need to decide what will happen to them when you die. If you don’t make plans for them, they could end up in a shelter.
If you are already struggling to look after your pets, you may wish to get in touch with the Cinnamon Trust. Volunteers at the trust will help you look after your pet, allowing you to keep it at home even when caring for it becomes problematic.
Reduce your inheritance tax liability
Inheritance tax is payable at 40% on any part of your estate that is worth more than £325,000. You can give all of your property to your husband, wife or civil partner free from inheritance tax and they will also inherit any part of your £325,000 allowance that was not already used.
One way to avoid paying inheritance tax is to gift your property before your death. You can give away as much as you like, provided that you survive for seven years after making the gift. If you plan on gifting part of your estate to reduce inheritance tax liability, it is a good idea to speak to an expert first.
Consider donating your organs
By adding your name to the NHS Organ Donor Register, you can help save lives. Registering in advance is a better idea than including this information in your will, which may not be read until it is too late.
If you don’t want to donate your organs, you should make sure your partner and family know your wishes. The NHS may ask your spouse or partner, parent or child, brother or sister, other relatives or even a close friend to make a decision as to whether your organs may be used on your death.