1. Write a will
If you do not leave a valid will, the rules of intestacy will apply. These do not cover “common law” spouses. If you do not provide for them via a valid will, they may be obliged to make a legal claim against your estate. Talk about your will to those who will be affected by it. If the terms are likely to lead to arguments within your family, think about the impact and whether you ought to explain things. Carefully consider your choice of executors and regularly review your will.
2. Make clear your wishes regarding organ donation and the funeral
We cannot bind family or friends in this respect. However, you can leave a written note of your wishes, you can sign up to the organ donor register and carry a donor card if you want and you can talk to family about your wishes and the reasoning behind them.
3. Keep relevant papers in order and in a secure place
It is essential that wills are kept secure, whether in a professional adviser’s safe or at home. Your executors, however, are going to need access to far more. They will need to determine your assets and liabilities and, if inheritance tax is an issue, investigate any gifts in the seven preceding years. Perhaps leave them lists, together with relevant papers (life policies etc) and contact details?
4. Ensure the immediate needs of family will be met
Most assets in your name will be frozen until a grant of probate has been obtained (a process that invariably takes several months). Ensure your spouse/civil partner or any adult child dependent on your support has sufficient funds in a bank account of their own or in a joint account to meet their immediate needs.
5. Tidy up your financial affairs
The more complicated your financial affairs, the greater the headache for those you leave behind. Make things as simple and transparent as you can.
6. Tax planning
Inheritance tax is not, as some suggest, optional. Forward planning often has a significant impact on the bill, so do not just make assumptions — your estate may not automatically benefit from the maximum tax-free allowances, for example.
7. Lasting powers of attorney
You may lose capacity to deal with your affairs before your time is up. Lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) are intended to fill this gap. This is a legal document under which you appoint one or more people to deal with your financial affairs and/or your health and welfare in the event that you are no longer able to deal with things yourself.
Whatever the circumstances, your professional advisers can be there to guide you. We can advise on the content of wills and letters of wishes, act as executors and assist your tax planning. In the event of the death of a friend or family member, we can help you deal with financial institutions and apply for probate. We can advise on the tax position of the deceased and your own tax planning in respect of any inheritance. It is a difficult subject to think about but, with the right planning, an individual’s passing can be much easier to deal with, in practical terms, for those left behind.
Mark Giddens is a partner at UHY, 020 7216 4600, firstname.lastname@example.org