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You may have noticed how, over the past couple of years, a number of television companies and documentary film makers have looked at the subject of will writing and probate practices and what they’ve found has been far from pretty. This is because there are certain unscrupulous people out there that have seen an opportunity for making money and who have absolutely no conscience about taking advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.

When someone dies, there is usually a lot to be sorted out to wrap up their affairs. Probate, or Letters of Administration if someone dies without a Will, is the term used to describe the process of applying for the right to deal with a deceased person’s affairs, and can appear to be an impenetrable process, complicated and involved and hugely time consuming.

Because of this, individuals contemplating their own deaths may, in order to spare their families stress and time, make arrangements that relieve the family of the responsibility of probate, usually by specifying something in their Will. For the same reason, families who have lost a loved one may hand over the whole process to a third party. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with these decisions as long as you know what you are signing up for. A hasty decision can cost you dear so make sure you do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured into signing anything until you’ve had time to completely understand the implications of what you are putting in place and the terms of any agreement.

So what are your choices?

Do-It-Yourself probate

Many will baulk at the idea of handling the administration of an estate personally but it may not be, in simple circumstances, a bad idea. The person applying for probate, known as ‘the applicant’, completes a probate application form (PA1) together with the appropriate inheritance tax form and sends those with the appropriate fee to their local probate office. The probate office will then contact them in writing offering them an appointment to swear an affidavit confirming that the figures in the forms are correct. Once that interview is concluded the probate office will then send the applicant the actual probate and however many ‘office copies’ the applicant has requested within two weeks. These office copies are the ones that should be sent to the deceased’s banks, building societies, insurance companies etc., who will then release the funds to the applicant who should then distribute the estate in accordance with the deceased’s Will or under the Rules of Intestacy if there was no Will.

If all that still sounds like too much for you to cope with Lovingly Managed can help. We don’t take over as executor on probate matters, we just help the executor through the process so that you actually do it yourself but we just “hand hold” you through the process. We can fill out the tax and probate forms for you to sign and, if you want us to, we will accompany you to the probate office for you to swear the necessary affidavit to get probate provided to you personally. If you then want us to help further then of course we can help you write the appropriate letters to life offices, banks, building societies, provide Stock Transfer forms to transfer share entitlements etc. (One of our directors is a retired Wills and Probate solicitor with more than 20 years’ experience dealing with exactly this type of work.) We are happy to do as much, or as little, as you require, our service is totally transparent and is charged on an hourly basis.

Solicitors

Many people use a specialist wills and probate solicitor. Solicitors are governed by the Law Society, have completed a lengthy period of education and have to undertake continuous professional development to keep their knowledge current in order to retain their practising certificates. In addition, if they make mistakes they are liable. What they can charge is also governed by the rules of the Law Society and is usually around 1.5% of the gross value of the estate.

Banks

Then there are the banks, a popular choice for many people and, on the face of it, one would assume a sensible choice. Banks can be appointed either by the deceased prior to their deaths in their Wills or by the family following a death. In the first instance the client will usually have been loyal to a particular bank for many years and so trust them and, perhaps having received marketing information about the bank’s probate service, decides to appoint the bank to the role of executor in their Will in the belief that the bank will administer probate on their deaths. Alternatively, in the case of the family appointing the bank, this usually happens when the family contacts the bank to report a death and finds themselves being ‘sold’ the bank’s services. Again, trust is usually a key reason for using a bank’s service in this scenario. If you go down this road, expect to pay the bank between 4-5% of the gross value of the estate for their services, a lot more than solicitors charge. However, a word of warning for anyone who has been asleep for the past few years and is still labouring under the illusion that the banks have your best interests at heart and are there to help you; please, wake up now. The minute you sign on the dotted line the person who has sold you the bank’s probate service is punching the air in delight because they are one step closer to achieving their sales target that month. That is what you mean to them; don’t kid yourself that you are anything more than that, regardless of how long you or your relative have been that bank’s client.

Problems with a number of the major banks’ probate services have been highlighted recently on a number of internet forums. The issue is that, in some cases, while your bank may appear to provide probate services, in these straightened times even the banks have had to reduce their overheads and in many instances these services are now outsourced to independent “trust” companies. And just because these companies come recommended by your bank this is no guarantee of good service which many people have found out to their cost.

Trust companies

What happens is, when you report the death of a family member to the bank, you may be referred to a trust company who will send someone to visit you in your home and will then sell you on the idea of signing over the role of executor/administrator to them so that they can deal with everything on your behalf.

This is normally done by the next of kin or executor signing a General Power of Attorney which grants the trust company power to stand in the shoes of the actual executor/administrator to “run” the estate. The family or executor is asked to provide the original Will, if there is one, copy death certificates and then the trust company takes over. Charges will vary so check but will invariably be significantly higher than those of a solicitor, especially as the bank will in most cases receive a referral fee for introducing you to the trust company, on top of the trust company’s charges, so these have to be factored in. There are lots of horror stories concerning some companies who carry out this type of business and here are some examples of what people say about just one of them (name excluded):

“After my son’s mother died nearly two years ago this month, we were approached by XX bank about ***. My mother had died a year previously to the sad loss of my dear ex-wife. I had done that probate with a solicitor but because of the massive emotional implications of this sad loss we were sold this company’s idea of taking every worry possible away, and as there was so much other emotional baggage to deal with this seemed a good plan at the time; how wrong I was.

“After signing the “contract” in a meeting with some guy, whom we’ve never seen or heard of since, nothing happened. All relevant info was passed over, a couple of months passed and we started receiving red bills at the house! NO COMPANIES HAD BEEN INFORMED! We wrote to each individually, explaining the situation and also sending (YES US) copies to ***. Then I was asked for the marriage certificates, divorce certificates etc, which had also already been sent by registered post. This appalling service via my “case manager” would be a continuing theme throughout (bar one of them) and they changed every few months!!

“The journey with this company at probably the worst time of my life has sickened me to the core and I have told them to reflect their poor service in the final accounts – they ignored that and once again I was left phoning this dreadful company – they eventually removed the set-up fee (£400) which is a total disgrace!

“Many other issues also happened but I become tired and sad and despair that, in our well legislated country,such a company can exist with the backing of major companies. If I can stop one family from using this terrible company then that’s a start. Thank you so much for setting this page up and for all the work in highlighting these cowboys!”

“Our grandfather passed away in October last year and we travelled home from New Zealand to help mum. XX bank referred us to *** when we went into the branch to advise them of grandad’s death. As my partner had worked for XX bank for years we trusted them and a guy came to house the next day. He was an ex-police officer so the trust thing was there. Twelve months on the house has been sold for 6 months and STILL they say things are in progress. They wont give any specifics on where they are up to and they keep asking for documents we sent last year. We haven’t had any indication of how much they have collected from grandad’s policies or when the money is going to be paid. Mum is getting really stressed with this. She has lost her father and husband in the past year and dealing with this dodgy company is the last thing she needs. Has anyone had any success contacting the CEO?”

“*** are an UNREGULATED company. Their employees do not have legal qualifications or law-based backgrounds. They regularly overcharge by nearly 50% by adding excessive “disbursements” to bills.”

It’s worth noting that should the executor become unhappy at any time with the service he or she is receiving from a company that has been granted a General Power of Attorney, the person who granted the power can revoke it but will be liable for costs up to the date of revocation and of course all this will significantly delay things.

Probate practitioners and will writing companies

Then there are a number of probate practitioners and will writing companies who gain control of probate by signing up people prior to death, usually by using a Will as a loss leader i.e. they charge a minimal fee for the Will, which appears to be a very good offer, but then persuade the client to sign over the probate process by appointing the individual agent or an umbrella company as the actual executor of the Will. Sometimes they will offer you a Will storage service which can cost anything up to £40.00 per year or perhaps more. Don’t waste your money. If you have a safety deposit box with a bank you could use that but usually there is an annual charge for this service. The best place to store an original Will is with the Court Office in London where the lodgement fee is a one-off £20.00. There is no fee to withdraw a Will and if you change it then you will only have to withdraw the original and replace it with the new one or lodge a Codicil.

When the person dies the company steps in to take up the role of executor. However, what is even more worrying about these companies is that, as it was the deceased who granted them executorship, it is virtually impossible, without court action, to have them removed as executors regardless of how bad their service. Some families have seen huge sums of money disappear in spurious charges and have been powerless to do anything about it.

These are industries that are currently unregulated so beware. There are quite a few of these businesses trading and if you look at the plethora of advertisements for companies dealing in this sort of work you will see that they have a very slick procedure so it is unsurprising that people are persuaded into signing up only to regret their decision when it’s far too late.

While all this may sound frightening and depressing, we’re not saying that all organisations providing probate services are delivering a poor service. There are many that are providing an excellent service and have many happy clients. The moral of the story here is to check who you are giving away power to and then check, check and check again! Carry out a thorough investigation into any company as it may be too late afterwards. Are they a member of a professional body, such as the Society of Will Writers, whose members are bound by a code of ethics? Read the small print and if anything is unclear get clarification. Don’t sign anything until you are absolutely sure what it is you are signing. If you are not happy with the answers, or they seem a bit vague, go elsewhere. Ask for testimonials and make sure they are authentic. Check out all the possible forums on the internet which might hold information about the company concerned and search for reviews of their service from previous clients. You may be glad that you did! If you are not sure how to do this then ask someone who can help you.

We know that people tend to want things sorted as soon as possible but there is no specific time limit wherein probate has to be applied for unless inheritance tax is payable, in which case that needs to be paid within six months of the date of death otherwise financial penalties accrue. Most people “in the trade” refer to “an executor’s year” as it’s quite normal for it to take this long to finalise an estate. So, although you might want things to move quicker, it’s just not worth putting extra pressure on yourself and rushing into a decision that you may live to bitterly regret.

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This article, albeit taken from an American publication so some of the detail will be slightly different in the UK, illustrates what we at Lovingly Managed passionately believe in and why. If reading this strikes a chord with you then please contact us – info@lovinglymanaged.com or call 01446 774855 – to discuss any documents you might be thinking of putting in place and we will be happy to advise and/or help you.

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Recently, I came across this letter written to Bel Mooney of the Daily Mail.

Dear Bel,

I don’t think I can say I have a problem, more a niggling worry that I’m sure is experienced by lots of people.

I’m in my 60s and have no family, friends or job. I just have my husband who is in his 70s. I suppose he is likely to die before me (not to be morbid, just realistic) and then I will be totally alone. This I will have to deal with like anyone else, but I’m concerned about what will happen when I die. Obviously I can leave a will so that any money and assets will be distributed, but what will happen to all the things that mean something to me, but have no monetary value?

For example — photographs, ornaments, all the little things one collects over a lifetime. With no family to leave things to, I hate the idea of strangers pawing through my things and then throwing them away. Realistically I know this is what will happen but I find it worries me. I don’t know why it should — after all, I won’t be there to see it. Am I being silly and shallow to be bothered about this, particularly when other people have terrible problems and tragic lives?

I don’t want to talk to my husband about this as I think he may get upset if he thinks I am upset.

Do you have any advice?

EVA

I know that the concerns this lady is expressing here are shared by many in the same or a similar situation. This is exactly the kind of scenario that Lovingly Managed was set up to help with. What a shame this lady doesn’t know about us. If she did, she could put in place an End of Life plan and contract us to carry out her instructions. If she did this, she would have the comfort of knowing that it wouldn’t be complete strangers ‘pawing’ through her things but people that she had met face-to-face and that the instructions she had left for those people, contained in her End of Life plan, would be respected to the letter.

Recently, Lovingly Managed was granted associate membership of SAIF (Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors) and we were asked to submit around 400 words to be included in SAIF Insight. We duly obliged and thought no more about it. Here it is.

******************************************

Lovingly Managed is a company offering a wide range of services that cover the spectrum of death and dying from end to end. Within this, the company provides a number of services relating to funeral organisation. These services are ones which are not undertaken by the funeral director so, by taking them on, Lovingly Managed aims to relieve the bereaved of still more of the administrative burden associated with organising a funeral. These tasks include things such as ringing or writing to relatives and friends of the deceased to inform them of the venue, time and date of the funeral; sourcing a venue, if required, and organising the catering for any post-funeral hospitality; sending out thank yous/acknowledgements for the receipt of flowers and donations on behalf of the family. Lovingly Managed will also send out first anniversary announcements or respond to first anniversary acknowledgements, organise an anniversary memorial service if this is required or work with the family to create an on-line memorial.

Lovingly Managed welcomes the opportunity to work in partnership with the independent funeral sector, providing our services on an outsourced basis so that independent funeral directors can enhance their service offering without increasing the workload for their existing staff or incurring higher staffing overheads and, as a result, be in a position to deliver added value to their clients and so gain a competitive edge within their local market.

While we’ve given a lot of thought to the kind of help a family may want in relation to a funeral, in addition to what is provided by their funeral director, and to what a funeral director would feel were services that naturally complement his/her own and so would be happy offering them to clients, we are always willing to consider any request for something we may not have thought of, either from the client or the funeral director.

Lovingly Managed also operates a referral scheme for funeral directors in relation to the drafting of Wills, Powers of Attorney, Advance Directives and the company’s own End of Life plans. Our End of Life plan allows people to document specific and detailed instructions regarding their end of life and the finalization of their estate that are not contained in a will or other legal document. They can prove immensely useful for people who are on their own and are worried about who will take care of things and they can also help to eliminate the potential for disputes between bereaved family members. They are a natural partner to pre-paid funeral plans. Contact us for more information on our referral scheme.

**************************************

Then we received the following email:

“I have seen your advertisement in this months SAIFINSIGHT publication that we receive as Funeral Directors and also reading your website I want to express my opinion. As a PROFESSIONAL funeral director of some 17 years dealing with hundreds of families I am so angry at what you say you can deliver especially what you think funeral directors do not do! You mention funeral co-ordination and organisation! and mentioning what we as funeral directors do not offer or organise. Can I tell you as a private family business what we provide families is second to none every detail is covered every option given, I wouldn’t dare hand that over to someone else to do for me. Your information is very misleading to say the least. I am going to go through your website with a fine tooth com be so to speak, and give my findings to the relevant funeral organisations. I am also going to express what I find to other funeral directors. SAIF also whom you advertised with need to look at what they print, again I am going to speak with them direct. I am so angry, I have looked after some very high profile funerals one in particular last year that was covered by all media, the amount of organisation, preparation and co-ordination that goes into all the funerals I look after not just that particular funeral, I treat as a privilege to able to organise. I trust you are all professionals yourself which I respect, but what you offer is a jumble of different things. I am also looking at your bronze silver etc etc plans, again its very interesting to say the least.”

****************************

Ooops, we do seem to have upset someone. Never were the words ‘I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood’ so appropriate.

Looking at the wording of what we’d written to see what could possibly have caused so much offence the only thing we could think of was that we should have qualified the sentence “These services are ones which are not undertaken by the funeral director so, by taking them on, Lovingly Managed aims to relieve the bereaved of still more of the administrative burden associated with organising a funeral” by adding the words, ‘as a general rule’ after the word ‘not’ i.e. ‘These services are ones which are not, as a general rule, undertaken by the funeral director so, …………’.  Or maybe the misunderstanding arose because by stressing the word not he thought we were somehow being critical of the service FDs provide when, in fact, our intention was to stress that our services don’t impinge on those provided by the FD but merely complement them.

When we set up Lovingly Managed, we researched where the funeral director’s service ends, AS A GENERAL RULE, and looked at where we could pick up any slack and offer additional services that would relieve the bereaved of more of the administrative burden that arises  in the immediate aftermath of a death.  In addition to that, we have all arranged funerals of close family members so know from personal experience what additional help we might have wanted which wasn’t part of our funeral directors’ service portfolios. This is in no way meant as a criticism of the service offered by funeral directors, just a statement of fact. Every business has to decide the scope of their service, what they will do, what they won’t, where their service ends or you could go on and on.

Obviously, from what our detractor has written, he won’t be interested in working with us because he offers all these services himself. Good for him. No one is forcing him to work with us; no one is forcing anyone to work with us. We have a service which we believe could be of benefit to funeral directors, not necessarily all of them, and their clients and it’s there if they want to avail themselves of it. If not, so be it. And, as it was an internal industry magazine, it’s obvious that it was not our intention to denigrate the service provided by funeral directors with the general public. But what I find perplexing is why he should take such offence at our service to the point that the tone of his email becomes vaguely threatening. He is going to ‘go through our web site with a fine tooth comb and write to give his findings to the relevant funeral organisations and he is going to express what he finds to other funeral directors’. I’m not sure what he thinks he’s going to find but he seems pretty determined to be as down on us as he can be as well as to actively undermine us to others and all this without ever having spoken to us.

Contrary to this attitude, Denise and Sharon recently attended SAIF’s Welsh Regional Meeting and Christmas Dinner and met several funeral directors who felt our business concept had merit and were interested in exploring how we might potentially work with them so we are encouraged that there is acceptance within the independent FD sector; hopefully the suspicious will be a small minority.

Denise, Sharon and I started this business because we believe we offer a valuable service that bereaved people will find helpful at a particularly difficult time in their lives, a view which is regularly reinforced when we speak to members of the public. We are therefore saddened that this particular individual seems to wish to attack our credibility and read the worst into what are genuinely good intentions.

PS: Next day …….

Oh, and then we received this one from someone who chose to contact us totally anonymously from one of those web sites where you can set up a bogus email address. I wonder why?!  May I just point out that the spelling mistakes are those of the author, so have a read and decide who is the ‘unprofessional’ one between us.

From: daffyduck@*************.com [mailto:daffyduck@**************.com]
Sent: 12 December 2011 14:27
To: info@lovinglymanaged.com
Subject: Lovingly Managed – Feedback
Name: Walt disney
Email: daffyduck@**************.com

Feedback: what a mickey mouse outfit you are, totally unprofessional chancers wanting to make money by offering deflunct services. It amazes us how you get away with what you offer and the price.. property seraches! room clearance! end of life planning! help with moving! escort service! why not add walt disney production!…

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.

No one could fail to be moved by the tragic deaths of the young parents and the paternal grandfather of baby Logan, six months old at the time of the car crash earlier this year which happened on the M4 motorway in South Wales which killed his parents and grandfather when the family was on the final leg of its journey home after a holiday in Morocco. Logan has been made an orphan while his paternal grandmother has lost her husband, son and, in all but legal status, daughter-in-law. I wonder if any of them had Wills. The grandfather may have, but he could just as easily be one of the 70 per cent of the UK population who haven’t made a Will and, if this is the case, then it’s an additional aggravation for his distraught widow at a time when she could, frankly, do without it, especially as a Will might have ensured a better position for her.

My bet is that the young couple didn’t. I mean, who expects to die in their early 20s? But tragedies do happen, so the minute you have something to leave, even if that ‘something’ is a child, then it’s absolutely vital to make a Will to save your grieving family from the additional stress and worry regarding custody of your child/ren. “Well my mum/sister/brother will have him/her; why do I need a Will?” I can hear you all asking. While my intention is not to frighten you – maybe just give you serious pause for thought – it’s important that you realize that there is absolutely no guarantee that your child will go to the person you thought he/she would go to if you haven’t specified a guardian for that child or children in a Will.

When a child is orphaned, and there is no legally appointed guardian (which is what a Will ensures), the child becomes the responsibility of the local Social Services.  They have the final decision as to who will raise the child. Your family can say until they’re blue in the face that you would have wanted your child to go to X; if Social Services don’t think that X can provide a good enough home environment then X won’t get your child. They may be able to take them in the short-term but, in order to keep them on a permanent basis until they reach 18, X will have to submit to a stringent assessment that can take several months, much like when people apply to become foster parents, resulting in an extended period of uncertainty over whether or not “relative carer” status will be granted to X. During this time, your child may or may not be permitted to live with X and, if Social Services don’t feel that anyone within the family is suitable as a guardian, your child can be put into care, fostered or even adopted.

Even when “relative carer” status is given, Social Services have the power to rescind this at any time if they feel things are not working out to their satisfaction and X will always be subject to regular and ongoing assessments.

We read or hear about people dying in accidents every day, and there are lots more that we never hear about, so it becomes commonplace.  It takes a story with a significant ‘tragedy’ angle for it to achieve headline status that thrusts it into the public consciousness.  But will people think ‘that could be me; I’d better get my Will sorted’? Well, maybe a few. I know one couple who did write Wills as a direct result of this accident. But for most people, even if it does prompt them to think about the fact that they don’t have Wills, it’ll be a fleeting thought that fades with time and then disappears until the next major tragedy occurs. After all, things like that only happen to other people – don’t they?  Well sorry but no – the fact is, it really could happen to you.

I watched Channel 4’s ‘24 Hours in A&E’ recently. I didn’t catch it all but it featured an 85 year old man who had apparently suffered three heart attacks. Now I’m not sure what the time lapse was between each heart attack – years, months, days, minutes – but the third one was the one that killed him.

He spent his last minutes on this earth being rushed into A&E, having tubes inserted into him, having doctors trying desperately to get his heart going again. Did he want this? Who knows? He was 85. He’d had a long life. Did he want more time or was he accepting of the fact that, at 85, he’d reached the end of his time on this earth?

One thing, the doctor who tried so hard to save him knows that this isn’t what he wants for himself. He felt that this was no way to die and I’m with him on this, but without any instructions to the contrary the doctor was duty bound to try everything within reason to save this man’s life, no matter how invasive, aggressive and ultimately futile.

Would I want that for myself? Probably not; not at 85. Now at 75, if I was unfortunate enough to suffer a heart attack or a stroke or something equally as serious, assuming I’ve been relatively fit and healthy up to that point and the doctors believe that I have a good chance of resuming a reasonable quality of life for another five, 10 or even 15 years, then I probably would. If, however, they feel they can get me going again merely to ‘exist’ then, frankly, at 75, 65, even 55, I’ll pass. There comes a time when we have to accept that we’re not going to be able to cheat death forever; it’s going to catch up with all of us in the end and we must think about this and decide what we’re prepared to settle for if we ever find ourselves in this situation. Now your number and your threshold for an acceptable quality of life will be different from mine but the point I’m making is that if no one knows your number or the quality of life you’re prepared to accept, you could find yourself subjected to the same life saving procedures experienced by our doomed 85 year old, even though you had reached the point where you had made peace with the inevitability of your own death and would not have wanted this kind of intervention.

So, how do we avoid this? By making an Advance Directive (commonly known as a Living Will) and giving copies to your family, your doctor, your local hospital, your solicitor – anyone who might need to know your wishes at such a time. Doing this means that, even if you’re in a coma, people are left in no doubt as to what you would have wanted had you been in a position to communicate your needs and will hopefully inform any decisions being made regarding your treatment. It will also relieve your family of the burden of having to make what could be a truly untenable decision that even they may not be able to agree on.