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Archive for November, 2011

Unless you are incredibly tidy and organised most households have a place, which nine times out of 10 is a drawer in the kitchen, that accommodates all the ‘stuff’ that no one’s quite sure what to do with. An old mobile, used birthday cake candles and some odd cake decorations, a variety of sticking tapes, a few pens, emery boards, stamp books, takeaway menus, pieces of wrapping paper and gift wrap ribbon that have been saved to be re-used, a couple of small note pads, a few random batteries, old phone chargers, a broken watch, an ancient lipstick and a pair of old sunglasses, to be used in the case of emergencies, are just some of the items that one might find in this black hole.

It’s usually the last resort when you find yourself holding something that you have no idea what to do with, or when your child asks ‘What shall I do with this?’ and you haven’t got time to think – you just stick it in the drawer and then forget about it. When you go into the drawer looking for something, then you might see an item and think ‘I really must deal with that’, such as arranging to send your old mobiles and chargers off to a recycling scheme, but then the drawer gets closed and it’s forgotten about until the next time.

Over time, the contents in the drawer build up until it reaches a point where you don’t want to open it in case you can’t close it again. That’s the time when you have to deal with all the stuff and have a grand clear out and afterwards, you feel so much better even though you know that all you’ve really done is pave the way for the whole cycle to start again!

We tend to treat certain life decisions in the same way as this eclectic collection of items. We don’t know what to do about them, or don’t want to face them, so we stash them in our mind’s equivalent of the kitchen drawer.  For  most people, death and dying fall into this category which is why 70% of the UK’s adult population fail to make a will. It’s something people are always going to think about later.

However, as we all know, in reality death happens to us all and can happen at any time and at any age. Every day we carelessly wave off our nearest and dearest, confidently assuming that we will see them later but every single day, for a few people, that’s the last time they ever see their loved one alive.

Occasionally you get people who, rather than just not wanting to think about it, believe that by making arrangements for their deaths they will somehow attract a disaster down on themselves. But does the fact that you take out buildings’ insurance mean your house is going to burn down? No; of course not. People take out insurance policies all the time for all sorts of things that hardly ever happen. Sorting out the relevant paperwork for death and dying is exactly the same. The chances are that it’s not likely to be needed for a long time, some of it maybe never, but it takes a weight off the mind knowing that the relevant documents are in place.

So what documents should you get in place in order to achieve peace of mind for yourself and save your family a great deal of hassle should the unthinkable happen?

A will – if you thought you were in the minority then, as was mentioned earlier, think again. You are just one of 70% of UK adults who don’t make a will. Some people, for whatever reason, just won’t face up to their own mortality; others think that they don’t need to make one in what often proves to be the mistaken belief that what they want to happen will happen, even if they die intestate. For most people though, it’s just something they never get round to. But writing a will is an absolute necessity once you have something to leave if you want to be sure that your assets go to who you want them to go to. Time and again, people make incorrect assumptions about what will happen if they die intestate, especially in relation to their wishes and what becomes of their estate as it applies to their children and their partner, particularly if they are not married to their partner or their legal spouse is not the biological or legal parent of their children. What’s the saying? To ASSUME is to make an ASS of U and ME. So just don’t take the chance. Get proper advice on making your will, which can be done so inexpensively these days that not doing so really is a false economy.

Powers of Attorney – A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document that allows you to appoint someone that you trust to make decisions on your behalf when you no longer wish to or when you lack the mental capacity to do so. There are two types of LPA – one that relates to health and welfare matters and the other which relates to financial matters. Sometimes people worry about taking out an LPA because they see it as giving away control over their lives and are worried about the fact that the power it invests in the person they appoint as an attorney may be too wide ranging and open to abuse. In reality, there are lots of safeguards that are built-in to the process of drafting an LPA and that also exist within the LPA itself which make it extremely difficult for an LPA to be misused. If you’re in business as a sole-trader you should make an LPA that appoints someone you trust to run your business in your absence or, if you own a business with others, you would be well advised to appoint at least one of your business partners as one of your attorneys so that they can continue to run the business effectively without you if you become incapacitated.

It’s also worth remembering that LPAs can’t be used until they are registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), a process that takes around three months during which time no one will be able to do anything with your assets. People worry about registering an LPA thinking that, once they’ve done so, their attorneys can start making decisions for them. This is not the case because, as mentioned earlier, there are safeguards built-in to the process of drafting an LPA that make it virtually impossible for your attorneys to take control of your affairs before you are deemed to have lost capacity. In order to avoid any problems that may be caused by a time lag between loss of capacity and the LPA becoming valid, it makes sense to register them right away so that they are there, ready and waiting to be activated at short notice should the need arise.

Advance Directive/Decision or Living Will – sometimes people are rendered incapable of making and/or communicating their own decisions (known as a ‘lack of capacity’) usually as a result of a serious brain or physical injury or at the tail end of a degenerative disease. To plan for this eventuality, people have the option to draft an Advance Directive/Decision giving their instructions on their general care and specifying the kind of medical interventions and treatments they don’t want if they should ever be in this position. But remember, within the scope of an Advance Decision you can’t authorize someone else to make decisions for you. For that you must have a Health and Welfare LPA in place.

End of Life plans – unlike the other documents mentioned, End of Life plans are not legally binding. However, what they offer is an opportunity for people to set out detailed instructions with regard to their end of life and the finalization of their estate that are not catered for in a will or other legal document. They can prove immensely useful if you are the last man standing, so to speak, and are worried about what will happen to you. They can also help to eliminate the potential for disputes between bereaved family members if you have said in advance what you want to happen leaving no one in any doubt as to your wishes. End of Life plans vary in their scope but cover such elements as general care (as opposed to medical care) in the later stages of your life, all the instructions regarding any funeral service and wake and then go on to provide information pertinent to your estate and life that will make the process of probate much simpler and, as a result, quicker and less costly.

Funeral plans – more and more people are opting to protect their loved ones from the burden of rising funeral costs, which in recent years have been going up ahead of the rate of inflation as a result of increased disbursement costs such as burial and cremation fees, by purchasing pre-paid funeral plans. There are a wide variety of these plans on the market catering for a range of needs and budgets. You decide what type of funeral you want and pay for it now, either in a lump sum or by instalments over a period of months or years. This money is then invested so that your initial capital outlay grows to provide enough funds to cover the cost of your funeral in the future.

The thought of death is an uncomfortable one for most people but it’s one that needs to be faced and sooner rather than later. And, like clearing out that kitchen drawer, once you’ve got all the paperwork sorted it really does take a weight off the mind.

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