We all know that funerals can be expensive, with the cost of the ‘average’ UK funeral coming in at around £4,000. But are they becoming too expensive altogether? The huge rise in bills to local councils for so-called ‘paupers’ funerals’ would seem to suggest so.
Over the past four years, the cost of pauper’s funerals has risen by almost 30%, coming in at a staggering £1.7 million. That cost takes into account a rise of 11% in these funerals altogether. So not only are there more paupers’ funerals happening, they are costing more too.
The council calls these types of funerals ‘public health funerals’ (possibly a misleading name…) but whatever they are called they are meant for those who either die alone with no next of kin, or those whose relatives can prove they are unable to pay for the cost of a funeral. In some cases, the local council will pay a percentage of the funeral costs and ask the family – assuming there is one – to pay the rest.
Research suggests that it could be that people are living for longer that has given rise to these paid for funerals – the longer someone lives, the more money they will need to spend from their savings, money that would once have paid for a funeral but instead needs to be used for living expenses.
Polls show that it is in the north west of England where most public health funerals take place, and London comes a close second. However, the biggest increase of late was in the south east, which saw a rise of 24%. For the biggest rise in cost, it is the south west; in this area public health funerals cost around 39% more than they did just four years ago. It’s a massive increase and when it is combined with the rising cost of living and lack of jobs, perhaps it is no wonder that more and more paupers’ funerals are taking place.
Each public health funeral costs around £1,000.
Although the cost of a funeral is high, it can be reduced by paying into a monthly funeral service, which will mean everything is paid for ahead of time. You can even plan your own service yourself.
Whether or not a home is insured isn’t often a question that is asked during probate – certainly not by those who are dealing with the deceased’s estate. However, ensuring that the property is actually insured is a rather important thing to do. The home insurance that should have been taken out and paid for by the deceased will no longer be valid – their bank accounts will be wound down, for a start, and so those who are responsible for the estate will need to make sure that it is organised.
Property is potentially an awkward issue after a death, and it is usually in the family’s best interest to sell it as quickly as possible to recover money. But until it is sold, the upkeep should be remembered – and that is the job of the beneficiary.
There is a product, however, that should help, at least in regards to insurance. It is called unoccupied property insurance. In order to do this, it is often required to have the approximate property value.
Reasons behind keeping an unoccupied house insured include damage caused by thieves or those trying to break in in order to stay in the house because they know it is empty. And what about burst pipes or general wear and tear? The heating will, in an empty house, be turned off. This will save money. But it can also lead to pipes freezing and bursting and therefore insurance with additional emergency works cover is often useful. It will be better to have the insurance dealing with these problems rather than the beneficiary who may not be able to afford large repairs and will have to sell the house at less than it is worth.
A vacant house should be inspected regularly to ensure that everything is as it should be.
A lot of people are very interested in their family trees, and many of them try to discover more about it. Although there are professional genealogists who are able to do this work, for some the amateur thrill of doing it themselves is tempting. But often mistakes are made which make the process harder than it needs to be.
Firstly, it is important to talk to your family about what you are doing. They may come up with ideas that you hadn’t thought of, or remind you of family members you had neglected to include. No one has a better inside into the ins and outs, the comings and goings, of your family than your family. They can help you get started, and answer questions if and when you get stuck.
Another mistake that people make is to think that they will find all the answers online. Although there is much more information online than ever before, the majority of genealogy information is actually found offline. And bear in mind that some of the ones found online might not be accurate, or even true at all. It could just be a story that someone has written down and that people are taking as fact.
Although it is a nice idea that you might be related to someone famous, or to royalty, it’s unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely. So don’t get too caught up in trying to work out which royal lineage is yours. Just follow the facts and don’t try to make them bend to what you want them to say.
There will come a point when you will have to stop. When you have gone as far as you can. That point will probably be – if you are very lucky, that is – around the beginning of the 1300s. This is when surnames were first introduced. Before that time it will just be first names, and this makes tracing family members all but impossible. But if you’ve made it back to 1300 or so then congratulations – that’s quite a feat!
It is also extremely important to check all of your facts. It would waste an enormous amount of time if you found that you had been tracing the wrong family line for months because of a spelling mistake three hundred years in the other direction. Check everything and that should keep you on the right path.
Facebook can be a fantastic thing. It’s a way to connect with long-lost friends and relatives. It’s a way to keep abreast of the world’s news. It’s a way to get in touch with business associates or useful contacts. It’s also a way to be remembered after, even if that was never the intention.
Facebook delights in showing people their memories from the previous years. With the click of a mouse, it is possible to find out what you were doing (on Facebook) up to eight years ago – and sometimes that’s a fun thing to do. But some Facebook users are complaining that it is also dredging up some pretty upsetting memories too, showing them deceased relatives or pets, or showing them when they were in an unhappy place in their lives. And it’s not making them happy now.
The thing is, this kind of memory reminder – if there is such a thing – is not the only problem associated with Facebook. People with Facebook accounts will die. Of course they will. But there is no ‘magic button’, no algorithm that alerts Facebook of this and shuts down the account. It just remains there, empty of life. Although some accounts of the deceased do actually become a tribute and memorial to them. Their friends and family continue to post to it, sharing things they think their loved ones would enjoy, and writing messages. It is a kind of grieving process, and for many it really does work. The page can even be memorialised (although it is important for users to ensure their passwords are written in their wills if they want this to happen), meaning that the deceased person won’t appear in anyone’s feed suggesting that they become friends and so on.
But with around 8,000 Facebook users dying each day, what is really going to become of all of those accounts and memories? Is a Facebook account going to become the futuristic equivalent of photographs and candles?
Digital identities that continue to exist after we ourselves have passed away are troubling to some people. And for those who are searching for someone specific on Facebook only to find them, attempt to engage them in conversation, and then discover they have passed away – or never discover it and think that they are being ignored – it can be disheartening indeed. At least when a page has been memorialised it is immediately obvious. When it hasn’t, there can be some upsetting confusion.
Although it isn’t perhaps the first thing that will cross the mind of friends and relatives once they hear of someone’s death, it is something that will need to be thought of eventually – arranging the funeral. But it’s more than simply arranging it; it’s paying for it too. How much does a funeral actually cost?
The question is a difficult one to answer since there are so many variations on exactly what kind of funeral you can have, but there are some aspects that don’t change, and we can give you a rough estimate on funeral costs at least.
The cost of an ‘average’ (whatever that is) funeral is now over £4,000, and for many this is simply unaffordable. This is why it can be an excellent idea to pay into a pre-paid funeral account, so that when the time comes your loved ones can give you the send off that you want and that they are happy with.
This can be paid either in a lump sum, or on a weekly or monthly basis. Your family won’t have to worry about anything other than the arrangements themselves knowing that you organised everything else. You can specify how you want to be buried (or cremated), the tone the funeral will take, which songs you want played as well as anything else you specifically require. This will take the burden of ‘getting it right’ off your loved ones who will already be feeling incredibly emotional and probably finding the entire situation difficult.
If you would rather not pay into a pre-paid funeral fund then it is wise to ensure that there is enough money in the estate to pay for the funeral. But what exactly is it that needs to be paid for?
The first thing is the doctor’s fee. This is the fee that needs to be paid in order for two doctors to certify the death. After this, you will need to pay for copies of the death registration into the register. The registration of death itself is absolutely free, but if you need copies then these cost money. You cannot simply photocopy the document yourself (for banks, building societies, landlords etc) and must have a certified copy to give to each of the institutions that requires it.
Cremation fees are another cost to take into account. Each crematorium has a different fee depending on which authority they fall under, but it is possible to find this out beforehand.
Another cost is the medical reference fee. When a cremation takes place, a medical professional must check the paperwork before it can actually be carried out – and there is a fee for this.
A burial has its own costs. The first, of course, being the coffin. Depending on the budget, coffins can range from something very plain to something rather impressive – and they can cost many thousands of pounds at the very top end of things. A headstone is even more expensive (or can be), but is perhaps more important in the long run.
Just as the cost of cremation changes from area to area, so too does the cost of burial. If the church that has been specified is not local to where the deceased lived, there can be an additional charge on top of the standard burial fee. Also on top of the internment fee (which may or may not include grave digging fees) there is a cost for grave deeds. This is not usually possible to obtain in a churchyard, but in a cemetery or perhaps a woodland burial you may wish to consider this option; grave deeds mean that your body has the exclusive right to the grave for a specified amount of time.
And then the funeral service itself must be paid for. These differ from place to place just as the burial and cremation fees do, but you can find this out before anything happens and make sure your funeral fund will cover it all.
Extras include having the organ played and the bells rung, as well as various other options (again, depending on where your funeral is taking place).
There are so many variables, so many options, that is it always worth checking everything out before it becomes a surprise to those who are organising your funeral.
The term ‘power of attorney’ is a well-known one. It trips easily off the tongue and is used in all sorts of media, from television to novels and more. That’s the most likely way that most people have come into contact with it. But when a power of attorney is needed ‘in real life’, who really understand what it is and what it does?
A power of attorney is not, as many people believe, a person. It is actually a document which allows you to appoint someone to deal with all of your affairs if you should ever be unable to do so. The person is known as an ‘attorney in fact’. You can appoint a general power of attorney which means the attorney in fact can act on your behalf in all situations, or you can appoint a special power of attorney, which relates to specific situations only.
As well as these two main power of attorney types, you can also use a health care power of attorney which means that your attorney in fact can deal with health decisions on your behalf.
The general power of attorney allows your attorney in fact to handle your bank account, to open any safe deposit boxes, to buy and sell property on your behalf, to deal with life insurance, to settle and claims that arise, to enter into contracts, to buy or sell shares and stocks, to file tax returns, and to deal with any matters relating to benefits.
The health care power of attorney is perhaps the most responsible of all the power of attorney positions, and not everyone will want that kind of responsibility. It will relate to ‘life sustaining measures’ such as life support or medications. It might even relate to consent for operations to be carried out. Someone will need to make these decisions if you are unable to – if, for example, you are in a coma, are badly injured, or have limited mental capacity. It is best to discuss your wishes with your attorney in fact so that, in the event that something should happen, they can follow what you wanted.
You may have heard the term ‘heir hunter’ before, but not been entirely sure what one was or what they did. You may not have been aware that they could be extremely useful for you.
An heir hunter, simply put, is someone who looks for missing beneficiaries who are named in a will buy whose whereabouts is not known. Or for those people who will benefit from someone’s estate due to the rules of intestacy.
It used to be that such a profession was not required, since families used to stay in one area and remain together. Today, however, families are much more spread out – and due to emigration, multiple marriages and step-families there are more relatives than there would have been before. This means that the services of heir hunters are used much more frequently. It also means that the job of an heir hunter is a hard one – they need to be experts in their field and understand exactly how to look for people to speed up the process.
And sometimes people simply cannot be found.
Because of the expertise and the time that is often needed to trace people, heir hunters charge commissions (anything from 10 to 30%, on average, depending on the job at hand).
Despite the prevalence of heir hunters today, most people are suspicious at first when they are contacted by one. After all, who hasn’t dreamt of receiving a windfall from an unknown relative? And when it actually happens, many people simply can’t believe it. If this were to happen to you, it is important to research the heir hunting company thoroughly. This profession is not currently regulated, and it is important to understand the pros and cons before signing with a particular company. It is likely that more than one company will be searching for you – so although time is a factor, there is a little leeway to ensure that you are signing with the best company for you.
It seems as though there has always been such a thing as a ‘last will and testament’ but that isn’t actually the case. It had to come from somewhere, and someone had to have created it – and written the first one. Wills have history.
It was Solon who actually invented what we know as a will, although his intention for it was initially to be used only by men who died without an heir (that is, any man who had no son). Any man with an heir would automatically pass his estate on to his son when he died. But of course, some men died without having a son to pass their estate onto, so the will was created in order for them to legally ‘dispose’ of their estate, and pass it on to another man instead.
Women were not permitted to write wills and since they did not legally own anything, it did not matter – there was nothing to pass onto anyone when they died.
Solon lived from around 638 to about 558BC, and he was a lawmaker and poet from Athens. Solon worked tirelessly to halt the lawlessness that was taking over Athens at the time, and he is remembered for creating many rules and laws. Although he failed to tame Athens’ wild temperament, he is not thought to have begun the process that finally led to democracy. Wills were a part of that as it meant that people (men at the time, although this was extended eventually to women as well) had a say about where and to whom their estates and belongings would end up after they had died.
The term ‘last will and testament’ rolls easily off the tongue, but it is actually a strange idea when one thinks about it. A ‘last will’ is the same as a ‘testament’, so half of the phrase is actually redundant. But this is known as a legal doublet, and stems from a time when both Old English and French were used together in one phrase to ensure that everyone understood what it meant. Breaking and entering and peace and quiet are other such legal doublets.
Intestacy problems on the rise
The BBC reported yesterday that according to Citizens Advice, the number of enquiries it receives about intestacy problems has more than doubled over the last five years.
Despite attempting to drive home the message that dying without a will can cause immense stress and financial pressure on those left behind, Citizens Advice still received 3,747 intestacy enquiries last year, compared to 1,522 in 2011.
These figures appear to contradict the findings of a survey carried out by YouGov last year, which indicated that 38 percent of people in England and Wales had made out a will – a rise of three percent from the previous year.
Failing to make out a will does not only mean that the funds from an estate may not be distributed in the way that the deceased would wish. It also means that any charities could potentially miss out on vital income. Also, effective estate planning will not have taken place and so the next of kin could lose thousands of pounds unnecessarily, by way of inheritance tax.
The BBC report for example, cites the case of a man who left around £700,000 but no will. His cousin administered the estate but this process took around two years and £240,000 was given to the tax man. The rest was split among 17 people, a number of whom had never even met the deceased.
Interestingly, the number of enquiries received from executors of a will also rose last year to 11,137 from 8,160 in 2011. This shows how estates are becoming increasingly more complex, making the role of executor more difficult, particularly for those who attempt to distribute an estate without taking specialist advice from a probate expert.
There will come a time – we hope – when you understand just how important it is to make a will. And when that time comes, we are here to help you write your will exactly as you want it. There are some important questions that you can answer which will make the process a lot smoother when you feel ready to write your will. And don’t worry – a will can be amended at any time if you think of something you want to add, or need to remove something.
Why Am I Writing A Will?
Asking this question of yourself will put your will and your wishes into perspective. Reasons for writing a will can include wanting to state exactly how you want your estate to be divided after your death; lowering the inheritance tax bill that your family would otherwise have to pay; making sure that the people you love and are responsible for are well provided for after your death; ensuring that a charity you enjoy supporting can benefit from your estate.
Who Needs To Be Included In The Will?
This next question is obviously one of the most important of all. Who should benefit from your will? You need to ensure that everyone you want to include is there, and you also need to specify what it is you want them to have. You can leave individual gifts, or you can set up a trust. This is the time when you can even make provision for a family pet to be cared for if there would be no one else to do it.
Whilst thinking of whom to include, you will also need to decide on your executor. This should be someone you trust and who is calm and organised. And it is always wise to have alternatives in mind in case the person you initially wanted cannot or will not take the task on.
Will My Will Be Valid?
This question will lead you to check that your will is going to be legally valid after you die. Sometimes people make wills and think everything is fine, only for their families to discover that there is a problem during probate, which slows down the process and can cost a lot of money. In order to have a valid will it must explain how you want your estate shared when you die, it must be signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses, who must then also sign and date the will (although bear in mind the witnesses cannot be in line to inherit anything from the will, as this will also make it invalid). The will must also not have been made under duress. Ideally, you should have your will drawn up or at least checked by a qualified solicitor.
How Do I Begin?
Once you have decided on exactly who should have what, and ensured that your executors and witnesses are happy to help, the next question is what to do next. After all, most people will only ever write one will, and it is not something that the general public enjoy talking about very much – so it is a bit of a mystery. Firstly, have your plan to hand. Then write the will (this can be done by a solicitor, a specialist will writing service, or by using a DIY will kit).