We all know what a will is, don’t we? Or do we? It may seem like an obvious thing, but when Macmillan Cancer Support carried out a survey and discovered that 98 percent of people couldn’t accurately describe what a will is actually for, it may be time to think again. Although most people understand that a will is about ensuring that your beneficiaries receive what you want them to receive, there are other factors, and this is what was missing from most explanations.
Those other factors include the fact that having a will means that you won’t die ‘intestate’, which makes things very difficult for your family members, and makes probate a much longer drawn out thing than it really should be. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that a will needs to be updated after a re-marriage, or a divorce. It is a little more complicated than some people imagine, but this should not mean that you shouldn’t write a will – if anything, it means that writing a will simplifies things after you have died.
Macmillan’s survey also said that around 70 percent of people like to plan ahead, but that only 40 percent of the UK’s adult population had actually written their will. This is most likely due to the fact that people still find talking about – or even thinking about – death a taboo, or a frightening prospect, and therefore they put it off. Unfortunately, when writing a will is so important, and when there are many companies and people who are happy to help in such an endeavour, not writing a will causes far more problems than writing one would ever do. A short time of feeling uncomfortable thinking about your own mortality is far better than leaving confusion and bad feeling for your family after you pass away.
The misunderstandings that come with the idea of will writing include thinking that you have to be over a certain age (40 is the one that most cite) before you can write one. This is borne out with evidence that shows that 80 percent of 18-34 year olds don’t have a will compared to just 32 percent of those over 55. Another confusion is the cost of will writing. It is often assumed that will writing is a very expensive process, when in reality the cost of usually a lot less than people think.
But the problem comes when people think wills are solely about money. And those who have very little in savings or no assets therefore don’t think that a will is relevant to them, or their families. This is not the case, however. Wills are about more than who gets what. They can also set out what the deceased would like to have happen after their death, and this is especially important if children are involved.
Bereavement is a terrible time for everyone, but it is also a busy time, with many different things needing to come together in order for probate to be issued and for the deceased to have a funeral. It can be very easy to ignore or forget about all the legal and necessary things that need to be done at this time, but the longer they are left the harder everything will become. It will mean that probate will take longer, and that can be stressful and time consuming as well. It is particularly important to make things happen quickly if you – or someone else – was financially dependent on the deceased. You or they may be entitled to bereavement allowance, for example. At the very least, finances need to be sorted out to enable life to go on.
Probate can take many months to complete, depending on the complexity of the estate. The bereavement allowance can be up to £2,000, and is used to help those who were financially dependent on the deceased and who now will have a problem because of loss of or lack of finances.
The first thing that definitely needs to be done is to register the death. This is a relatively straightforward thing to do, and when it is completed the Grant of Probate can be issued, and the will can be executed. If the deceased died at home with no medical personnel present, then a doctor will be needed to provide a medical certificate showing cause of death. This can be taken to the register office (within five days) so that you can obtain a death certificate which is needed for everything else. If the deceased died at hospital or in a care home, the medical staff will usually be able to register the death for you.
The death certificate is required to have the body cremated or buried. You may wish to purchase additional copies of the death certificate as a variety of different organisations will need to see them, and rather than waiting for each one to send the certificate back, the executor can contact many of them at once, saving a lot of time.
Next you will want to look at funeral arrangements. The deceased may have had a pre-paid funeral plan, or perhaps they left instructions in their will or spoke about what they wanted when it came to their funeral. This will obviously make things easier for those who are arranging it, but if not there is no need to worry. Think about the person that they were, and you will be able to come up with the ideal funeral for them. Speak to the executors regarding money to pay for the funeral if there was no plan in place as they may be able to organise an advance from the estate.
Although the figures are getting better, there is still a large proportion of the adult population who do not have a will – it’s around two thirds. And this can cause major problems when they die because their estate may not be given to the person they would have wanted it to be given to.
It can be stressful for those left behind, and it can cause financial issues too.
So why is it that only one third of people in the UK have wills?
The main reason, a new study by NS&I has discovered, is that it’s because no one likes to talk about death. It’s still a big taboo. And that taboo means that people simply aren’t comfortable when it comes to discussing their own demise, or other people’s, and especially when it is linked to money or inheritance.
As well as not writing a will, these adults don’t have any plans at all for when they die. That includes not having plans for looking after the relatives they leave behind – both elderly and children. This is how scared the UK is of death; even if it going to affect others negatively, people would rather not think about it at all.
Around 46 percent of adults in the UK are not happy about discussing their death with their loved ones, and a third say that they won’t discuss it with anyone at all. They would just prefer not to think about it. Or they think they are too young to consider writing a will. The problem is, death can come at any time for anyone, and having a will in place ‘just in case’ will stop any potential arguments after death.
In UK law, you can leave whatever you want to whomever you want, assuming you own the asset in the first place. That means that if you want to leave money or property – or anything else – to your stepchildren, you are perfectly entitled to do so.
The problems start when there is no will. If there is no will then the estate will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy, and these laws are strict. There is a distinct list of people who will receive parts of the estate, and this list must be dealt with in order. The rules of intestacy do not, however, cover stepchildren, and this is important to bear in mind. Only a spouse, adopted child or blood relatives can inherit if there is no will.
And of course, even if you do have a will and you simply write that you want to leave everything to your children (or even siblings) this will not include stepchildren or stepbrothers and sisters. You will need to make a separate point for them.
Even if you have parental responsibility for a child, they still will not inherit unless they are your adopted or biological child. If they are stepchildren then the only way they will be able to inherit anything from your estate once you die is to write a will and ensure they are mentioned by name.
It is possible for a stepchild to challenge the rules of intestacy – or even a will. If they were financially dependent on the person who died, or if they had been treated like the person’s own child, they may have a claim to some of the estate. But this is a long-winded process and is expensive and distressing for everyone. It is easier by far to write a will that says what you want it to say.
At the beginning of the millennium in the year 2000, around 47 percent of elderly people had written a living will. That’s a large number by anyone’s standards (particularly when compared to the general population who have written wills), but just 10 years later, that fairly healthy (in relative terms) figure had rocketed to over 70 percent. What had caused the sudden need for the elderly to write living wills?
There are a number of different suggestions.
In a living will the testator’s wishes regarding their medical treatment can be noted and referred to in the event that they are unable to speak for themselves for any reason. It is the best way to ensure that, should the worst happen, you are taken care of as you want to be. If the will writer were to suffer an illness or accident that leaves them in a permanently unconscious or vegetative state, they can choose what happens to them, and whether any ‘heroic measures’ are used to help them.
One reason that is suggested for the sudden and large rise in living wills being made is that the majority of people would rather end their lives in a hospice or at home than in a hospital – palliative care is the preferred option to medical intervention according to recent surveys. If a life is going to end, comfort and dignity are what is required, not lots of invasive procedures and medication. Having a living will means that you are more likely to get exactly what you want rather than what the hospital thinks should happen.
An upside of this is that society is becoming more and more open to discussing death and dying with friends and family, making it less of a taboo subject. Hopefully the advantage of this happening is that younger people will begin to make their wills earlier, which will mean that probate disputes and dying intestate happen less and less.
Donatio mortis causa, literally translated from the Latin as ‘gift on the occasion of death’ is often called a deathbed gift. It may sound morbid, but these gifts made ‘in contemplation of death’ are actually very popular, and make sound sense. It is the one exception to items that should be included in the Wills Act 1837.
There are three rules that need to be adhered to if you want to arrange a donatio mortis causa. Firstly, the person giving the gift must be aware that they will die in the immediate to near future. It is not enough to say that you want to give the gift because you will die ‘one day’. There must be a life limiting illness, or an accident that will reduce the lifespan of the gifter.
Secondly, the gift can only take effect once the donor actually dies. It cannot be given before death, and it can be revoked should the donor decide that they no longer wish to give the item, property, money, or whatever it may be.
Finally, there has to be an actual, physical handover of the gift. Keys need to be physically handed over if the gift is a house or a car, for example.
Many of the disputes that occur after death are due to donation mortis causa. Some people use this method instead of preparing a will, but that is not what it should be used for. A will is still required, especially as there is usually no evidence that a donatio mortis causa has actually been arranged – there are usually just two witnesses, and one of those will necessarily be dead if the DMC is to be invoked.
We recommend speaking to an expert if you want to arrange a donation mortis causa – it could be that a different method of gifting is better for you and your beneficiary.
Superstar singer songwriter, Prince, died in April in what we now know was an accidental overdose of pain medication. The problem – amongst many – was that no will was found to deal with his $300 million estate.
Now at least five half siblings as well as his full family have laid claim to the estate, and more still have suggested that Prince told them they would be left something in his will. But since there was no will, difficulties have occurred.
The judge in Minnesota who is presiding over this case has said that he is in no hurry to have it settled. Judge Kevin Eide, Carver County district judge, wants to ensure that he has all the facts and all the information before he has to make a final decision. There is a lot of money and many claimants to sift through first. And that’s not to mention the coterie of attorneys and lawyers who are working on behalf of Prince’s estate – there are at least two dozen of them.
Judge Eide has suggested that he might have to pass the parentage question – ie, who is actually related to Prince, and who is only saying that they are – to a higher court as DNA testing will most likely be used to determine who is who. This of course will make the process take even longer.
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.
According to research by the Office of National Statistics, deaths in the UK in the last decade have risen dramatically. This is, apparently, due to a rise in dementia and Alzheimer’s related deaths, as well as flu becoming more and more virulent. This is especially true of the flu virus A(H3N2), which kills a number of older people in the UK every year. The flu vaccine is less effective every year, and with outbreaks in care homes it becomes worse all the time.
In 2015, there were 529,613 registered deaths in England and Wales, which is a 5.6% increase from 2014. Of those deaths, 86 percent occurred in people over 75.
Life expectancy is currently at 79.3 years for men and 82.9 years for women. This has fallen by 0.2 years for women and 0.3 years for men.
Most of these deaths happened in the first few months of the year, due to the weather and the fact this this is the time that the flu virus attacks most strongly. Hospital admissions are up at this time, putting a strain of the NHS’s infrastructure.
Deaths with Alzheimer’s as the underlying cause are at a 5 year high.
This is one of the reasons why it is so important to write a will, and keep it as up to date as possible. With the death rate for those over 85 rising steadily, and with Alzheimer’s cases growing in number, having a will is an essential part of anyone’s life.