When actor Heath Ledger died in 2008, the most recent will he left behind was from 2003. Unfortunately, it made no mention of his current partner or his daughter, so they had no legal entitlement to any part of his estate.
Instead, his parents and siblings inherited everything. Fortunately, they disclaimed their interest so his partner and daughter could inherit the estate. Even so, this is still a prime example of what could happen if you don’t have a clear estate plan in place.
Getting everything in order while you are still alive is important because it can prevent problems for your family during a difficult time.
Fortunately, if you follow these important steps now, you can organise your affairs, so your family do not have to deal with any additional stress.
1. Update your will
Keeping an up-to-date will is a crucial step when organising your affairs as, if you do not have a will in place at all, your estate may be divided according to the laws of intestacy. This could mean that your assets do not go to the people that you intend.
As such, writing a will should be a priority if you don’t already have one.
Even if you do have a will, it is important to update it regularly, especially if your circumstances change. Marriage, for example, revokes your current will in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Your wishes may also change due to significant life events, like having children or starting a business.
Consequently, it may be a good idea to update your will on a regular basis to reflect your wishes.
Whenever you make changes to your will, it may be beneficial to consider who you name as the executor of the will and whether that person is still suitable. It can be useful to name multiple executors, and you might need to make changes if you get divorced or if a current executor passes away, for example.
2. Make a Lasting Power of Attorney
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document that nominates somebody to handle your affairs if you are not able to.
Typically, this applies if you are injured or suffer from a serious illness that means you are not mentally capable of making decisions.
You can make an LPA for health and care decisions, and one for financial decisions, though you can name the same person as attorney on both.
Having an LPA in place means that a trusted friend or family member can access your bank accounts, investments, and pensions to take any necessary action, such as paying bills. Additionally, somebody can make decisions about your care for you.
It is important that you put an LPA in place while you are still mentally capable. If you are injured or become ill and you don’t have an LPA in place already, you will not be able to set one up.
In this situation, your family may have to go to court to get permission to make decisions on your behalf.
3. Fill out an “expression of wishes” form
Your pension is not normally distributed through a will. As such, it may not automatically pass to your chosen beneficiaries when you die.
Instead, you need to fill out separate “expression of wishes” forms, sometimes called “nomination of beneficiaries” forms, to say who you want to inherit your pensions. Your pension provider still ultimately has the final decision about who they pay death benefits to, but they will normally follow your expression of wishes.
However, if you do not nominate a beneficiary, they have limited information to base their decision on. This could mean that your pension goes to somebody you did not want it to.
4. Make funeral arrangements
Making funeral arrangements is stressful for your family, so you may be able to make things easier for them if you do some of it ahead of time.
You may decide to organise the entire funeral and pay for it while you are still alive, so everything is already in place. Alternatively, if you do not arrange everything, it may still be useful to outline your wishes and give some details for your family to work with.
5. Create a list of your assets
Having a list of your assets and their value can help the executor of your will distribute your estate. It may also be useful when calculating how much Inheritance Tax (IHT) is due.
Your family will find it easier to manage your estate if you have this information ready for them. Consider creating a list of all your assets including:
- Cash savings
- Investments and pensions.
Keep this list updated whenever you make a significant purchase or make changes to your investments. You can keep this in a safe place with other important estate planning documents, such as your will.
6. Consider Inheritance Tax planning
While organising your affairs, you may want to take the opportunity to consider the IHT your family may pay.
A financial planner may be able to help you find ways to reduce the IHT on your estate so you can pass more of your wealth on to your loved ones. There are several ways to do this including:
- Lifetime gifting
- Increasing pension contributions
- Using trusts.
If you consider this as early as possible, you could find more opportunities to protect your wealth.
7. Gather and organise important paperwork
Your family will likely need access to a range of documents as they action your estate plans. Gathering all the relevant paperwork in one place will make it easier for them to find and distribute your assets according to your wishes.
It also allows them to access bank accounts and pensions and gives them all the relevant information they need to claim a life insurance payout.
As well as your will and any other information about your wishes, it is helpful to gather details about:
- Bank accounts
- Any other assets
- Credit cards
- Protection policies
- Your funeral wishes
- Any organisations that need to be notified
- Your financial planner, solicitor, or accountant, if you have one.
You can fill out all this information in our “organising your affairs” document and store this with the rest of your paperwork. It may also be a good idea to make some copies of this and give it to trusted individuals, like the executor of your will, for example.
Get in touch
Organising your affairs can be challenging but we can guide you through the necessary steps.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01904 655 330. As an award-winning financial advice company that was a 2022 VouchedFor Top Rated firm, you can be sure that we’re a bona fide company providing excellent advice and high-quality service.
This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.
The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate estate planning, tax planning or will writing.
A pension is a long-term investment not normally accessible until 55 (57 from April 2028). The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.
The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances. Thresholds, percentage rates and tax legislation may change in subsequent Finance Acts.
Note that protection plans typically have no cash in value at any time and cover will cease at the end of the term. If premiums stop, then cover will lapse. Cover is subject to terms and conditions and may have exclusions. Definitions of illnesses vary from product provider and will be explained within the policy documentation.