Dying without leaving a will is not a good idea.
If you haven’t made a will, then when you die, everything you own will be shared out according to the law instead of in accordance with your wishes. This could mean your estate passes to someone you hadn’t intended – or that someone you want to pass things on to ends up with nothing. For example, if you’re not married and not in a civil partnership, your partner is not legally entitled to anything when you die. If you’re married, your husband or wife might inherit most or all of your estate and your children might not get anything (except in Scotland). This is true even if you’re separated. If you have children or grandchildren, how much they are legally entitled to will depend on where you live in the UK. All of this can be avoided if you make a will, setting out your wishes.
Oh, and if you needed any more persuading, if you do die without having left a will, all your assets are likely to be frozen until the estate is sorted out, which can mean hardship for your loved ones in the meantime. And it’s much more expensive to use the courts to reconcile an estate, so there’ll be less left over for your family too. It really is a ‘no brainer.’
Make provision for if you are no longer capable
A good number of us can expect to lose our mental capacity as we get older and this can be just as difficult for the family to deal with as death, if not more so. It’s therefore prudent to not only leave a will but also Lasting Powers of Attorney for our finances and our health and welfare. These will give our family or trusted loved ones the capacity to make decisions on our behalf when we’re no longer able to, ensuring that bills get paid, and that any decisions about our health can be made by those who are closest to us.
Document your health preferences up front
You should also consider leaving a ‘living will’ which is a statement of your wishes intended to guide your family (when you are not able to make the decision yourself) about what treatment you might want in various scenarios. This will give them the confidence that they are acting in accordance with your actual wishes rather than trying to second guess you.
Don’t leave your young family in the lurch
All of this is especially important if you have dependants, but it’s not the only thing that needs to be addressed. Too many of us assume that if anything happens to us, the state will step in and look after our family. That may be the case up to a point, but it won’t be easy on those you leave behind. Much better to take out some low cost life assurance when you’re young, to pay out if anything happens to you. This will give your family a cushion to tide them over should your income be lost to them, or alternatively you have to pay for childcare if your partner is no longer around. It’s only really necessary whilst you have financial responsibilities to others, so can lapse once the mortgage is paid off and the kids have finished education. It is surprisingly inexpensive too.
Talk to each other about what you want to achieve with what you leave behind
We’ve all seen the TV dramas. where the family solicitor reads out the deceased’s will, and everyone is shocked by what it contains. Unless you’ve a vindictive streak, that is not really how it should be. It’s much better to talk to your loved ones openly and candidly about your assets, and what you’d like to do with them when you pass on. Often there are 3 generations to consider, and an open and frank discussion, perhaps aided and abetted by your financial adviser will help to make sure everyone understands what your plans are. It may be for example that you initially expect to leave your assets to your children, but they may prefer it if you left them to their children instead. Discussing such things up front helps set everyone’s expectations, and avoids any conflict and disappointment later on.
Plan early to leave more to your family and less to the taxman
Inheritance tax is a tax on the estate, and is potentially payable at a rate of 40% once the estate has a value of over £325,000. So if you are leaving behind a substantial estate, you could be leaving your loved ones with a large tax bill too. However, with some simple planning you can significantly reduce the amount of tax payable. It’s a complicated area so you should seek some specialist advice from a financial adviser, preferably one who is affiliated to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.
Make a plan for your funeral
The last thing your family will want to do in the days following your demise is argue about what they think you may have wanted for your funeral, so leave them some instructions. Things like burial or cremation, whether you want a religious service or not, what songs or music you’d like to have played, and whether or not you want it to be a celebration of your life or a more sombre affair. All these decisions can be taken up front and take away any pressure on the family at what will be a difficult time.