Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst by getting essential legal work in place
By Kay Hill
If you were a Scout or Guide then you probably remember the motto Be Prepared (which used to mean having a handkerchief, pencil, piece of string and 2p for a phonecall in your pocket).
It seems, however, that many of us have forgotten that early lesson, as when it comes to being prepared for the worst, we prefer to stick our head in the sand. Of UK adults, 68% (including 47% of over-55s) haven’t made a Will1, and fewer still have thought about Lasting Power of Attorney or an Advanced Decision.
If you die without a Will (or you have married which invalidates any earlier Will), you are “intestate” and Government rules determine who gets your estate. To avoid that, a Will (which must be witnessed and signed by two adults who are not beneficiaries) is essential.
You will need to choose an executor (or several) to deal with your estate, as well as decide who you want to leave money to. If you have children under 18 you need to appoint a guardian for them. You can state your funeral wishes in the Will, but this isn’t legally enforceable.
You don’t have to use a solicitor, although home-written Wills or those done using purchased forms are more likely to contain mistakes that could cause problems, and solicitors have insurance cover. You can also use a will writer or a charity, but check what insurance is provided against mistakes. Expect to pay around £200 for a Will by a solicitor.
Lasting Power of Attorney
There are two types of Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) which enable a friend or relative to handle your affairs:
Health and Welfare – allows your attorney to make decisions about medical care and treatment, but only if you are unable to make your own decisions (if you are incapacitated after a stroke or develop dementia, for example).
Property and Financial – enables your attorney, with your permission or in the event of you becoming incapacitated, to manage financial matters ranging from paying bills to selling your home.
Unlike the old Enduring Power of Attorney (which is still valid if the forms were completed correctly and is registered only when required), LPAs must be registered after completion at a cost of £82 each (with exemptions and reductions for those on low incomes). There is guidance to help you complete the forms, so a solicitor isn’t necessary unless you want one.
In both cases, you can have more than one attorney and you will need to notify close relatives about the LPA with a special form.
Advance Decision (sometimes called Living Will)
It’s best to have a frank discussion about worst-case scenarios with your nearest and dearest – if you have a health crisis they will be asked by doctors whether you had expressed any opinions. If you feel strongly, you can make it legal – if there are treatments you find unacceptable (perhaps you wouldn’t want a PEG tube, intubation or CPR) then you can put this in writing, stating that you don’t want those treatments even if it could lead to your death. It should be dated, signed and witnessed, and given to your next of kin and your GP. Bear in mind, though, that your feelings might change – appointing a health and welfare attorney that you trust to keep updated on your wishes might be preferable.