BY ALEX BAIRD
I have to admit that I was rather surprised … the lady had glanced at my business card and then with a visible shudder, insisted that I take it back. She wouldn’t even touch it.
“I’m very superstitious,” she explained.
It was not a reaction that I had come across before. Of course, Wills and estate planning were not ideal topics for a chance meeting, but to be fair, she had asked me what I did for a living. It was a salutary lesson for me. While some people find the subject of death easy to talk about and deal with, there are many who do not.
We tend to think of ourselves as being indestructible. Bad things happen to other people. There is a degree of truth in this because the chances are that many of us will go on to live for a long time. But the thing is, we cannot be certain and some of us are going to be among those other people.
Then there is mañana. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow? I’ll tidy up my affairs soon … well one day, maybe.
Just in case we’re not indestructible
We convince ourselves with reasons why we shouldn’t draw up a Will, but what of the reasons why we should?
The first thing to appreciate is that estate planning is about much more than where your property and money goes. It is often overlooked that putting your affairs in order makes it easier for your family to deal with the aftermath of your death and provides much needed re-assurance that they will be doing what you would have wanted. From important details such as what hymns or songs you would like at your funeral; or who will look after your pets – to the very serious matter of appointing guardians for your children and protecting their inheritance from subsequent Will changes.
Without making your wishes known in a Will, the Rules of Intestacy – not your partner – determine how your estate is divided up. Your next of kin will have to apply to Probate for authorisation to administer your estate and to the Court of Protection if your children are left parentless and without guardians. Be warned – these rules do not include your partner if you are co-habiting. He or she would have to apply to the court for financial provision.
And the court should be a last resort. The process can take a long time, cost hundreds or even thousands and the outcomes are uncertain.
Estate planning also presents an ideal opportunity to take control of what happens were you to lose mental capacity. The assumption is that your husband or wife would automatically be able to decide on your behalf – and this is quite wrong. You need to set up Lasting Powers of Attorney, otherwise your doctors will legally have the last word in how you are treated and your banks may well freeze all your accounts.
Take control and plan ahead
In my next blog, I will look in more detail at the positive outcomes that facing up to reality and planning ahead brings. It is an opportunity for you to help your family in a tangible and meaningful way, and lighten the burden that your death places on them. Whoever takes your instructions needs to understand all your concerns and give you as much time as you need to address them.
And what of the lady and her superstitions? One day, I hope that she will find that drawing up her Will is, as my clients have found, actually a positive and empowering experience.
4 Dec 2017
Alex Baird works with an accredited family lawyer taking instructions for
Wills, Trusts and Lasting Powers of Attorney.