Death can be an uncomfortable subject, and many people prefer to avoid it while they’re in good health. However, there’s never a better time to discuss it.
We recently had a death in the family, and the affected couple were the type who never talked about it. That has made things a lot harder for the spouse left behind. There are some very simple things you can do to make sure that if anything happens to you, you won’t be leaving a mess for other people to sort out.
All the information below applies to the UK, specifically England.
- Make a will. This is incredibly simple and probably cheaper than you think. A quick Google will reveal stacks of online websites which can help with this. My husband and I have prepared ours now, using Ten Minute Will. You can do a mirror will, leaving everything to each other, and nominating someone else, should you both die at the same time. We own our house jointly and don’t have much money, so our inheritance wouldn’t be too complicated even without a will, but we have one now anyway for peace of mind. You should definitely have one if:
- You live with someone but are not legally married / in a civil partnership
- You live in a house with someone else and don’t own it jointly (in which case, why not? It will be much simpler and cheaper if one of you dies)
- You have children
- You want to make any specific bequests
- Get your will signed. It’s not enough to just write one, you need to sign it in front of two people who are not beneficiaries. A bit of a faff, but it’s not legal without that.
- Pick an executor. Just thinking about this and asking someone if they’re willing to do it will make things simpler if you die unexpectedly. There’ll be someone who knows that a will exists, and hopefully where it is (make sure you tell them where you keep it). With our online will, we received a summary to send to our executors, along with some instructions about what an executor has to do. If only one of us dies, the other will be the executor. If we both die at the same time, we’ve each nominated a family member so they can work together.
- Leave details of your final wishes. We talk about this in my family, but I’m one of four siblings and my parents always forget who wants what, which is why written wishes kept with your will are important. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want your remains to go somewhere in particular? Do you want the ceremony conducted through a particular religion or a non-religious ceremony? Do you want any specific hymns, songs, readings or anything else? Do you care about an expensive coffin? Or having an environmentally-friendly one?
One of the first things your executor (or your administrator if you didn’t leave a will) has to do, is complete an inheritance tax form. In order to do that, they have to work out the value of your estate. If you don’t have a will, your next of kin can’t even apply to become your administrator until they’ve done all this. It is going to be a massive pain for them at a time when they’re already grieving. You are the person best equipped to provide all this information, so why not do it on an ongoing basis?
- Bank accounts. A list of where you have current and savings accounts, either single or joint (both have to be included in your estate), along with the account numbers.
- ISAs. Account number and company where you have any cash or stocks-and-shares ISAs.
- Premium bonds. If you have premium bonds, leave a list of the numbers.
- Stocks and Shares. Your executor or administrator will have to price these up, so a list of the names and amounts held will make their life a lot easier.
- Peer-to-peer lending. Easy to forget as they’re relatively new, but form part of your estate.
- Pensions. Provider and reference number for any private or company pensions.
- Other. If you’ve got a car, that’s probably easy to find, but items like expensive jewellery should also be included in your estate.
It’s useful for you to know how much you have in your estate anyway, as you’ll have an idea of whether inheritance tax will be owing. You can give a certain amount of cash as a gift each year, so maybe it’s worth doing that if you’re getting older and are close to the tax limit (£325,000 at the time of writing).
If you’re on a roll once you get all that done, you can sort out a Legal Power of Attorney, both for finance and health. You could also leave a list of addresses so that people can get notified in the event of your death. For example, I have a number of penpals living overseas, and my husband wouldn’t know how to contact them if I passed away.