End of Life Ireland (EOLI) is a volunteer-led group seeking to foster conversation about end-of life issues. Alan Tuffery is a committee member of EOLI and this is the first in a series of posts on legal matters and end of life.
After several posts about deciding on your healthcare needs at the end of life, it is time now to think about some legal matters. The first topic in this series is about making a will, in later blogs I’ll talk about other important legal matters such as ‘enduring power of attorney’.
Why bother making a will?
Making a will is about disposing of your assets — the stuff you own — after your death. It is a technical matter and will usually require the assistance of a solicitor, so it will cost you money. There are some online wills services, but unless your circumstances are very simple, they are unlikely to be adequate. The aim of making a will is to make sure that your assets go where you want them to and also to spare your family unnecessary trouble to do that. If don’t make a will, your loved ones will certainly incur extra cost in administering your estate —and that means less to go round.
There are those who say ‘I have nothing to leave.’ However, even if you have no assets, if you have young children, you need to provide guardians for them. And if you don’t, the High Court will, and they charge you for it.
In my own case — without going into details which are solely my business! — I am married and we have two grown children and several grandchildren. My relatively simple state of affairs might covers many cases but there are many other living arrangements, such as what the census calls ‘cohabiting couples’. There are also ‘mixed’ families where the partners have children from other partners. Then there can be complications, because the law treats your ‘step-children’ (whom you have not adopted) as ‘strangers’. That means that whatever you leave to them may attract higher levels of tax than if they shared your genes. It’s that kind of question which requires the help of a solicitor in order to make the best arrangements.
Solicitors make wills every day and come across all sorts of domestic arrangements. They are also professionals and treat information in confidence, so you should not hesitate to mention special circumstances. If you don’t, you may store up trouble for your executors. We found the process quite easy and the conversation was pleasant and practical and I felt very comfortable discussing my preferences with the solicitor.
What should I do?
You will have to make your own decisions, but the lady to whom I have the honour to be married and I have arranged that the survivor inherits the assets of the other. When the second dies, the combined assets are to be divided between our children.
There is really no limit to the level of detail you can put into your will, For example, you can say that particular objects should go to particular individuals. On the whole, I suggest that ’Keep it Simple, Stupid!‘ is good advice.
Another object of the will is to make life as simple as possible for the survivor. Essentially this means that bank and credit union accounts should be in joint names. If an account was not a joint account at the time of a death, the deceased’s account will be frozen until probate is granted. That could have the effect of cutting off the supply of money and that is not a legacy I wish to leave to my lady!
It probably doesn’t make any difference whether utility bills are in joint names or a single name. The name of the account-holder may have to be changed even if it is a joint account. A comforting thought is that all companies have procedures for dealing with deceased clients. After all, over 30,000 people die every year in Ireland, so it is a routine matter for such big companies.
Who will manage my assets?
The last question is who will manage your assets after your death. This means appointing Executors who will make the necessary practical decisions so that your will is carried out. The first requirements of executors is that they are likely to outlive you! After that, executors should be someone competent, whom you trust. People who will inherit from you are not excluded from being executors, so adult children might be a good choice.
Remember, I am merely sharing my own experience, I am not a solicitor. You can get good information on preparing your will from any solicitor or on the Citizen’s Information website.