How To Have A Tidy Death

Dying without a will is a recipe for a family disaster.
Here are some tips on organising your affairs

Kate Hilpern
The Guardian, Saturday 5 September 2009

How to have a tidy death

Dying tidily may not be a priority for most parents, whatever their age. But even in families with children who are far into adulthood, losing a parent can be made dramatically worse if they are left guessing what their late father or mother wanted, and struggling to clear cluttered family homes. Finances can get even messier. So here are some tips on how to make life as straightforward as possible for those you leave behind.

Make a will

Nearly two-thirds of people haven't made a will, according to the National Consumer Council. Making a will is the only way to ensure that your wishes are granted speedily and without unnecessary financial burden or fuss. "You could write one yourself," says Nicola Plant, of the law firm Thomas Eggar, "but homemade wills are one of the things that keep my litigation colleagues most busy."

Choose a solicitor with "TEP" after their name - it stands for trust and estate practitioner. Decide who you want to deal with your estate when you die (executors) and who you want to look after your children if they are under 18 (guardians), preferably not the same person. Remember that wills can include mention of items such as jewellery or antiques and review yours every three to five years.

Keep it where your family/executors can find it - two-thirds of adults don't know where a parent's will is kept or which law firm wrote it, according to Certainty, the national will register. And remember, wills can be contested. "Prepare a memorandum of wishes - a document accompanying a will outlining your reasons behind it," suggests Victoria Jones, partner for the law firm Lester Aldridge.

Create an 'In the event of my death' folder

You might know your life insurance policy details are in the kitchen drawer, but your kids probably won't. Create a box or a computer file labelled "In the event of my death ... " with information about where you keep such documents. It should also include contact details of friends and family, and financial details.

"Keep a personal balance sheet," advises Leonie Kerswill, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Nothing fancy, just a list of all the assets - bank and building society accounts, stocks, shares, national savings etc."
Age Concern produces a "LifeBook" in booklet or online format that you can use to note down this kind of information ( or call 0845 685 1061).

Put your house in order

Stop hoarding and start clearing your home. "It's taken me ages because I'd kept everything from the kids' baby clothes to furniture I haven't needed in years," says Daisy Smith, 76. "I've done it for my children. They'll have enough on their plate when I go."
Also consider labelling anything not mentioned in your will that you think your family might fight over with the name of the person you want it to go to - but don't forget to leave separate written instructions.

Plan your funeral

logo for golden charter funeral plans"A generation ago, people knew what kind of funeral their parents would want, but today they are less likely to have the same religious beliefs and there are so many funeral options now," says Jim McDermott of Golden Charter, a not-for-profit funeral planning company.

For those left guessing, it can be harrowing, with 18% of respondents to a recent Post Office survey reporting that not knowing what a loved one wanted caused concern. A further 20% say planning a funeral has caused family feuds.

Some funeral plans include everything from songs to Bible readings. "Others focus on the basics. But for everyone, the critical bit is knowing it's paid for," says Jim. "The cost of funerals has risen sharply, up from less than £2,000 five years ago to over £2,549."

He adds that the financial return on a funeral plan is preferable to a savings account. "A basic plan purchased in 1999 would have paid £1,300 - that would cover them for a funeral today costing £2,549."

Prepare for dying

A living will can help you to influence your medical treatment at the end of your life and save loved ones making those difficult decisions for you. Also important is a wish list to guide your family and doctors on things such as where you want to be looked after if you are dying and whether you want to be told (and would want others to be told) if you are close to death.

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