How to avoid leaving a mess when the time comes

It’s a stressful time for all involved. Make sure you leave things in good shape.

Rosie Murray-West – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Rosie Murray-West | Independent Money Mentor

Award-winning personal finance and news journalist


Talking about death is hard. There’s nothing more likely to kill a dinner party conversation than a discussion of whether you favour burial or cremation.

Ignoring our own mortality, however, can leave our families in a financial mess. According to research on dyingmatters.com, 69 percent of those who have lost a partner felt financially or practically unprepared for it. A death in the family can lead to practical difficulties such as sudden lack of income, inability to get into bank accounts and legal wrangling over inheritance.

"The worst cases, such as families falling out over an inheritance, or arguing over funeral plans, tend to happen only when there has been no discussion and no planning," says Simon Chapman, from the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC).

So, while it may not be your favourite thing to think about, here are four things you really ought to do…

According to charity Will Aid, half of Britons have not made a will.

Making a will is important because if you die without one, your assets might not be distributed in the way you wish and there may be years of legal wrangling over your estate.

Once it is done, make sure it is stored safely and everyone knows about it. There are some suggestions of how to make a will and where to store it at the end of this article.

As well as thinking about what to do with your assets, this is the time to name possible guardians for any dependent children, so that they are properly looked after if the worst happens.

Modern life is complicated. Nowadays your executor – the person who you nominate in your will to deal with everything you leave behind – has to trawl through your entire digital life as well as your bank statements.

That includes your pension, the Premium Bonds granny gave you for your christening and even your Costa Coffee loyalty card.

But you can’t just leave your details and passwords in a drawer labelled ‘In case I die’, so experts at the Law Society suggest you make a Personal Assets Log. This document, which goes with your will, should contain details of every account you have, from online gaming to Twitter.

Don’t leave the passwords though – the lawyers say the user names will be enough. Do keep it up-to-date.

If your family can’t find your financial details it will delay their ability to get at your money. Since they might need it to pay inheritance tax, due six months after death, information is vital.

If you want a willow coffin or a cremation where everyone wears the colours of your favourite football team, be sure to let people know. This information can go in your will, if you like.

If you’re worried about how your family might pay for a funeral, you could consider buying a funeral plan, which allows you to pay upfront. If you do this, make sure you choose a member of the Funeral Planning Authority, whose members are bound by a Code of Conduct.

A death in the family, whether sudden or expected, will naturally cause great upset. Preparing in advance, both through having the ‘difficult’ chats about legacies and wishes, and by taking the practical steps above, will make life as easy as it can be at this difficult time. This preparation might just be the best last gift you can give.


Where to go to make a will

Anyone can help you to make a will, but unless it is properly signed and witnessed, and people can find it, your wishes might be ignored. Using a solicitor or will writer is a good idea, although if your affairs are very simple you can buy a DIY will kit in a stationery shop as long as you are careful to ensure it is witnessed and stored correctly.

A will writer may be cheaper than a solicitor. However, anyone can call themselves a will writer, so if you go down this route you should ensure that the one you choose is a member of a body with an ethical code such as the Society of Will Writers

You can find a qualified solicitor by searching on The Law Society website. If you use a lawyer you have more rights if things go wrong, though you may pay more.

Some will writers and solicitors offer online options, which may include a chat via Skype or a totally automated service. Always check the credentials of the company and how the will is going to be stored if you go down this route.

Other sources of information on how to make a will include the WillAid website , which allows you to make a will and donate to charity once a year.

This article about Will writing by the charity Age UK gives more information on how to make a valid will.


Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.