Nobody likes to think about getting old, ill or dying, but it is important to plan for these eventualities to ensure your wishes are carried out. Dan Parton reports.

In this article:

  1. Make a will
  2. What to include in a will
  3. Sort out your finances
  4. Choose your executor(s)
  5. Keep the will updated
  6. Consider making a living will
  7. State whether you wish to be an organ donor
  8. Create a lasting power of attorney
  9. Plan for paying for care fees
  10. Make plans for your funeral

Make a will

Making a will can ensure that your estate – property and money – goes to the people you want it to go to.

It is advisable to instruct a solicitor to help to write one to ensure it is legally valid. If you are over 70 years old, or disabled, you may be able to claim free legal assistance with writing a will.

If you do not make a will, then your possessions may not go to the people you want them to. Without a will, if you have a spouse, the first £125,000 of your estate and any possessions go to them, anything above that can be claimed by children or grandchildren. If you do not have a spouse, your estate goes to your other relatives in a certain order. If you do not have any surviving relatives your whole estate goes to the Crown.

What to include in a will

Before starting to write your will, you should have a good idea of what your estate entails, including the value of any property and other assets you have, as well as savings, stocks and shares.

A will should make it clear how your estate is to be divided. Married people commonly declare that all assets should be left to the surviving spouse, but for those without a spouse, it is more complicated. If you want to divide your estate up between several people, such as children and grandchildren, you should state your intentions and who gets what proportion. You should also state what you want to happen if one of the beneficiaries dies before you do.

If you want to leave any money to charity or donate to other causes, you should declare this.

Sort out your finances

It is advisable to sort out your finances because this will save your surviving relatives additional distress when you die and make sure that your money, property and possessions are shared out as you want. You can also think about giving away some of your assets before you die as gifts to avoid inheritance tax. Gifts given more than 7 years before death are exempt from inheritance tax, and within those final 7 years you can give away up to £3,000 annually tax-free.

Choose your executor(s)

This is the person(s) who deals with distributing your estate after your death, so it needs to be someone you trust.

In simple wills, such as when most or all possessions pass to the spouse, it is often the spouse who acts as executor.

However, where wills are more complex, it can be advisable to bring in a professional executor, who is likely to be better qualified than a spouse or relative. However, they do charge a fee, which is deducted from your estate.

Keep the will updated

It is important that a will is kept up to date to ensure that any changes in circumstances are covered. For example, significant events, such as the death of a spouse – or indeed marrying – can require the rewriting of a will.

If you want to rewrite a will, the previous one should be destroyed and the new will should state that it revokes all previous wills.

Consider making a living will

If you have strong opinions on what treatment you want if you become seriously ill and cannot communicate your wishes, then a living will can set out your plans.

For example, a living will can request that doctors do not give certain medical treatments or specify that treatment must continue until death, regardless of pain or suffering.

But living wills are controversial; some have argued that it is difficult for a healthy person adequately to imagine what they would really want if they became seriously ill.

State whether you wish to be an organ donor

If you want to donate organs after death, you should make your intentions clear. This can be as simple as telling a relative or friend, or you can formalise your wishes by joining the NHS Organ Donor Register, a confidential, computerised database that holds the wishes of people that want to donate organs after death.

Create a lasting power of attorney

A lasting power of attorney (LPA) gives a person appointed by you – usually a relative or friend – the power to make decisions about your property, money or personal welfare when you are no longer capable of doing so.

An LPA is a legal document, but it has no standing until it is registered with the Office of the Public Guardian. An LPA can also be revoked at any time if you have the mental capacity to do so.

It may be a good idea to appoint more than one attorney in order to prevent the chance of an abuse of power.

Plan for paying care fees

If you become seriously ill and need to move into a care or nursing home, you will have to pay for your care, unless your assets, including property, total less than £22,250.
On average, a place in a care home costs £23,000 per year, while it is £32,000 for a room in a nursing home. This can quickly drain any savings and can lead to having to sell property to pay for care.

But making plans, including taking professional advice and investigating financial products like immediate care plans and impaired life annuities, before the situation arises, can help reduce the burden. See Care costs: planning ahead for care for more details.

Make plans for your funeral

It can be useful, especially for next of kin, if you express your wishes clearly before death, such as whether you want to be buried or cremated.
You can leave a letter with a will specifying the arrangements for next of kin to follow. You can also discuss plans with your chosen funeral directors, which can be useful if you have no immediate relatives who will be available to make arrangements.