Too many people have the view that they won’t need to put their affairs in order until later in life – and this can result in chaos and heartache for loved ones. Every adult in England and Wales should have 3 simple legal documents in place to reduce the stress and worry should anything happen to them.
1. A Will
Making a Will is not simply about saying where your property goes. It’s also about:
Deciding who should take care of minor children. You can appoint a guardian for your children, rather than leave this to chance.
Deciding who should take care of pets. You can also leave a conditional gift for their upkeep.
Expressing wishes as to your funeral and burial. Whilst you may not care, it can be very stressful and upsetting for relatives to make these decisions (particularly if there are disagreements within the family) and having a plan to follow reduces that stress.
Leaving a message to loved ones. Ultimately your Will is a message that you care and that you want to provide for those close to you. Failing to leave a Will sends exactly the opposite message.
Many people misunderstand how their property will be dealt with if they fail to make a Will and this is perhaps why around two thirds of the UK’s adult population still doesn’t have this important document in place. For example:
- If you’re a cohabitee, you’re not automatically entitled to anything should your partner die – even if you had children together.
- If you’re a spouse, you won’t inherit your husband or wife’s entire estate on their death if they have children (whether children with you, or children with a previous partner).
Intestacy rules are not fit for purpose which is why making a Will with an experienced lawyer or solicitor and keeping it updated is absolutely essential for every adult aged 18 and above.
2. A Lasting Power of Attorney
Sadly, accidents and illnesses can befall us at any age, so making a Lasting Power of Attorney is not something that should be left until later in life. If you lose mental capacity, someone will have to apply to the Court of Protection for a Deputyship Order on your behalf – but that someone won’t necessarily be the friend or relative you would have chosen.
Further, although it’s possible to get a Deputyship Order for health and care decisions, the Court of Protection is reluctant to grant one – meaning most of these decisions will be made by those looking after you. With a Lasting Power of Attorney you can choose who should make financial decisions and who should make health and care decisions for you – and this doesn’t necessarily need to be the same person.
It’s also possible to leave instructions and preferences with a Lasting Power of Attorney, covering things such as your diet or whether your house should be sold. Click here to read 18 good reasons why you should make a Lasting Power of Attorney.
3. An Advance Directive
An Advance Directive tells people what medical treatments you consent to (or don’t consent to), so that if you can’t speak for yourself (for example, because you’re unconscious), you can still make decisions as to your care. This can greatly reduce stress for relatives who may be uncertain about making big decisions, such as whether to continue life sustaining treatment.
Solicitors often charge to help clients make an Advance Directive but really there is no need – you can use the Compassion in Dying free form and do it yourself. Alternatively you can make an Advance Directive online at My Decisions.
Although you can include the same type of instructions on a Lasting Power of Attorney, the Advance Directive allows a lot more detail as to specific treatments. However, be careful – if you make a Health and Care Lasting Power of Attorney, you need to make sure that it does not conflict with anything you write in the Advance Directive.
It’s really important to let people know that you’ve made all three documents, and to store them safely.
- You can deposit your Will with the probate service for safe keeping
- Alternatively your solicitor may offer a free storage service
- Ensure that when you make the Lasting Power of Attorney, you notify sufficient people of its existence in the first place. If your Lasting Power of Attorney gets lost, it’s possible to obtain a copy from the Office of the Public Guardian.
Finally – in addition to the above three documents, all cohabitees (including cohabiting relatives) should have a Cohabitation Agreement whether they have just started cohabiting or have lived together for some time.