Dying matters, in more ways than one

Lily Free - 3 May 2022

2 May marks the beginning of Dying Matters Awareness Week, set up by Hospice UK to provide information, tools and support to help make it easier for people to talk about and prepare for death.

The subject of death can be a sensitive one. We often skirt around the topic, particularly if it’s about our own passing. Nobody wants to think about dying, and – happily - for many of us it’s still a distant prospect.

But it’s important that we acknowledge our own mortality, and have real conversations about how we’d like our affairs to be handled once we’re gone. After all, you could potentially be leaving your family with some real headaches if you don’t look at this properly.

As a starter, here are some things to take into consideration when putting plans into place. And if it’s not yet the right time to talk to your loved ones about your own death, these tips may help you approach the subject with the older generation.

Do you have a will yet?

Let’s start off with an easy one. Perhaps the most obvious and important preparation you need to take is to make a will. A common mistake people make when it comes to this is the assumption that, if they have a simple estate and little in the way of assets, they don’t need a will.

Regardless of your estate, a will is essential in ensuring your needs and wishes are met post-life, and it can often prevent family squabbles. People might be delighted – or disappointed! But at least they’ll know clearly where they stand, because you’ve told them.

While it is possible to create a DIY will, it’s generally a good idea to employ the help of a solicitor to make sure your will is a legal and comprehensive document.

Your will isn’t just about distributing inheritance money. It can also be used to establish trust funds, cover your health wishes (for example the donation of organs), and outline your funeral plans. You can also leave some of your estate to charity if you wish.

Who do you trust?

When organising your will, it’s important to think about the people closest to you. It’s often advisable to have more than one person appointed executor of your will, in order to ensure transparency and prevent fraud. Unfortunately, this does happen.

Also, not every family unit is conventional, so it’s important to establish exactly who you want to be involved in the distribution and reception of your estate. Current laws don’t always take into consideration ‘modern’ family set-ups. So as an example, your stepchildren will not automatically be in line to inherit your estate. Biological children have automatic rights, even if you’re estranged.

Make sure your will states everyone’s roles as explicitly as possible, to prevent anyone from missing out.

Documents and files

Many of us already keep our important documents in a special place, but some of us are a bit less organised! It’s a good idea to sort through your paperwork, from your passport and driving licence to your energy bills and any financial debts, to allow for easy access for the executor of your will.

Birth, marriage, and death certificates are also of importance, as are any life insurance policies. Try and keep important documents and letters in some sort of filing system so that it’s not complicated for someone to go through.

If you have a safe, make sure that someone can get into it. And don’t forget about your digital estate too. This is becoming increasingly important. We’re living in an ever more digital world, and most of us have an online presence.

Things to think about include passwords and PINs – and instructions for where things are stored. If you’ve gone ‘paper-free’ with things like bank statements and utility bills, it will help enormously if someone can get online and manage your affairs without having to apply for access.

There are online platforms that you can store all this information on. But many people feel more comfortable keeping a good old-fashioned written file or folder with this sort of information in, and instructions for the executor(s) to find it. But remember to keep it updated if you change passwords etc.

It’s also a nice idea to leave personal letters to your loved ones. You never know when they may need a pick-me-up, and something to remember you by will certainly do the trick.

A little conversation goes a long way

Some conversations with our friends, family and loved ones can be difficult to have. But they’re often the most important.

For help with conversations about later life, head over to Just’s ‘Later life conversations’ site. It contains lots of useful information on a range of later life topics, and will point you towards other organisations who can offer useful advice.