Putting your affairs in order

Doing what you can to sort out your money before you die can really help those left behind, and can avoid problems at a difficult time.

Step 1 – Make a will

If you haven’t already got a will now is the time to make one. If you want to make sure that your money and your belongings – your assets – go to the people or charities you want then you need to make this clear in a will. If you don’t the law will decide who they go to – and this might not be who you want it to be.

Your will tells people who you want to be your executor – the person who sorts out your money and your will after you die. You can choose more than one person to be your executor, but ideally not more than four. Professional executors like solicitors or accountants will charge for their services.

If you have children under 18, your will also says who should be legally responsible for looking after them if you die.

If you already have a will then check it to make sure it is up-to-date and think about any changes you want to add or draw up a new will. Changes to wills have to be made carefully to make sure they are legally recognised.

Step 2 – Get your paperwork together

You know where you keep your paperwork, whether it’s in a file or just a particular drawer – but your executor won’t. It’s a big help to them if you let them know where you keep important documents such as:

  • bank statements
  • credit card statements
  • mortgage information
  • property deeds
  • outstanding bills
  • details of savings and investments – things like share certificates, Premium Bonds and pension plan statements
  • insurance policies
  • tax certificates such as your P60
  • birth and marriage certificates
  • divorce papers

If you deal with your bills and bank accounts online then printing out some copies will help.

Don’t put it off

Sorting out your finances in advance can be a really big help to people left behind – and it doesn’t need to be a big job.

It’s also a good idea to make a list of regular payments that will need to be cancelled, for example subscriptions you might have to societies or clubs, magazines, breakdown services or donations to charities.

If you think it will help, you can also add information about things like when the car or boiler is due for a service and who does it.

Then make sure you let your executor and or your family know where they can find this paperwork.

Step 3 – Let your executor know where your will is

If no-one can find your will it could be ignored. Make sure your executor and your family know where to find it when they need it so your wishes can be carried out.

Step 4 – Think about clearing your unsecured debts if you can

If you have any unsecured debts – this means debts like credit cards and loans that aren’t secured against your house – then if you can afford it you might want to pay them off. This simplifies things for your executor, which in turn means that the money and personal gifts you want to leave won’t take so long to get to the people you choose.

Step 5 – Get some help in place in case you need it

If there’s a chance you’ll become too ill to manage your money, it’s a good idea to think ahead about who should be able to do it for you. It might be especially important to gain quick access to your money for anything from special treatments to family visits.

You can make informal arrangements with your family or friends to deal with financial institutions on your behalf. But you might also want to think about a formal arrangement – power of attorney – if you expect there to be a long period where someone else needs to act on your behalf.

By officially giving someone this power they can:

  • ensure that bills or care fees are paid without you having to worry about them
  • set up accounts (such as savings accounts) on your behalf

You can only make a power of attorney whilst you have mental capacity to do so. If things have been left too late, then someone has to apply to the court to be appointed as a deputy. This can be costly and the court might not appoint the person you would have appointed had you had the choice to do so. So best to get things sorted in good time.