WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT DEATH…
When it comes to dying, the Boy Scouts motto Be Prepared would be a good one to adopt. Many people are reluctant to contemplate their own mortality, which is why organisations and individuals from the NHS, health and care sectors, housing groups, community organisations, educational establishments, faith groups, the legal sector and funeral directors have set up the coalition Dying Matters.
The organisation, established by the Government and funded by the NHS, aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement and to make plans for the end of life. Talking about such matters gives makes it easier for loved ones if they know the deceased was able to have a “good death”.
It is also a good idea to get your house in order before you die, which is why many solicitors are involved in Dying Matters.
“It’s really important to prepare a will to set out clearly what you want to happen, including your wishes for a funeral. Where people have made no provision, families often don’t even known if the deceased wanted to be buried or cremated, or where they might want their ashes scattered,” says Wills and Probate expert Lucy Atwill of Plymouth-based solicitors Curtis Whiteford Crocker.
“A will is a private document and remains confidential. We can’t release it to anyone unless they have Power of Attorney. I always suggest that people discuss their wills with their families. One child might be getting more than another one – that’s something that happens a lot in farming families where one child might be running the family farm.
“I suggest they hold a family meeting so that everything is upfront and clear. Sometimes fairness doesn’t come into it and if a will is going to be contentious I always ask clients if they want to discuss it with their family. It is always more difficult for people to have to deal with this kind of thing if they’re grieving,” says Lucy.
“In the will there might be reference to specific items and you need to make it clear who will benefit from what. It’s no good someone saying ‘mum and dad said I could have this’ if there’s nothing in the will. Being clear about what you want in a will means there are fewer arguments.
“When a solicitor draws up a will, they make notes and really look at why you’re doing things. We can also explain how claims might be made against the will and ensure everything is well documented. Notes are really important if there’s a claim and there might not be any if you do a homemade will, or do it with a friend down the road.
“I also suggest clients prepare a little list of which companies they deal with which makes it easier to know who to contact. It’s so important to talk about these things. I had a lady who was a client who didn’t have close family. We found a black bin bag full of share certificates which looked like they were worth nothing. We passed it on to an expert to look through and discovered they were all still valid and worth around £600,000. A lay person might not even bother to found out if they’re worth anything.”
Discussing death and dying when you’re healthy and alive is something Dying Matters Week in May is designed to do. If someone has a terminal diagnosis, there might not be time to hand over legal and financial matters. The leading cause of death in the UK, according to the latest Government statistics, is Alzheimer’s and other dementias. That’s followed by heart disease and then different cancers, which account for nearly 30% of all deaths. This means that most people will know that they are closer to dying.
“That’s why it’s really important to have a Lasting Power of Attorney in place,” says Lucy Atwill. “It can take up to 12 weeks to process the paperwork and register a Lasting Power of Attorney, so the benefit of doing it early means that it’s already in place when you need it. If you’ve already got it, you can use it straight away and just take it to the bank.
“One thing I would also recommend is to have a funeral plan in place. There are lots of independent funeral directors who offer funeral plans you can pay in instalments so that the funeral is all paid for. That means your family don’t have to instantly find the cash for the funeral.
“All of this is part and parcel of being prepared. It’s so important to talk about it before it’s too late.”