The old adage ‘hope for the best, plan for the worst’ is applicable to many areas of life. It’s equally applicable to death. Whilst many of us shy away from thoughts of our own mortality, there is much we can do to ease the burden on our loved ones when we’ve gone. Fairfield resident George P, who has recent experience of dealing with probate, shares what he has learned from the process.

My father, who passed away in April this year, started his planning thirty years ago when he retired from work. And I’m extremely grateful to him, because he made it very easy to deal with his affairs after he’d gone. I’m not talking about wills or funeral planning (important as they are); I’m talking about something far more fundamental. My father’s planning for his own passing was excellent, so here are two tips from him.

Keep a ‘Die Tidy’ file

When you’re gone, someone will need to find your important information and documents quickly. A good solution is to create a Die Tidy file. This is a colourful foolscap box file (dad’s was bright yellow) with the words ‘Die Tidy’ in big letters on the label. It needs to stand out for a reason – to save your relatives turning your home upside down looking for information after you’ve gone!

This box file should contain your ‘certificates’ as applicable (birth, marriage, divorce), national insurance number, tax reference number, property title documents (if you own your own home), car registration, a valuation of any expensive household possessions – and most importantly a document with names, addresses, phone numbers and account numbers for all your bank accounts, investment holdings, credit cards and pensions. You should also include a list of all the subscriptions and memberships that will need to be cancelled.

Gifting money or assets during your lifetime is a common way to avoid inheritance tax, but HMRC will consider historical gifts going back a number of years (currently seven years) so include a list of those too with dates, values and recipients’ names. If you have a will, put a copy of it in the Die Tidy file, with a note saying where the original is held.

For your own security don’t include pin numbers or passwords for online accounts. They aren’t much use to your relatives anyway – when you pass away all sole accounts and sole investments will immediately be ‘frozen’ for the period of probate.

Conduct an annual review

Things can get complicated if there is inheritance tax to pay, so it’s a good idea to do an annual review of your financial position. Each year, at about the same time, add up the values of all your bank accounts, investments, life assurance policies, and property (including your house and car). Don’t forget the less obvious things like any death in service benefit that your employer may provide. Then subtract any liabilities such as outstanding mortgage, loans and credit card balances. The remaining amount is the gross value of your assets at that point in time. Your executor will need to confirm the correct figures at the date of death, but the latest annual review figure will hopefully give them a good idea whether inheritance tax is likely to be due or not. Put an updated copy of your annual review in the Die Tidy file each year, or a note saying where it can be found.

Thanks to my father’s thoroughness, we were able to deal with his financial affairs very quickly without the need to appoint a solicitor. I contrast this with the experience of a family friend who had no idea where to start when his father passed away at around the same time. His father banked online and was ‘paperless’, leaving almost nothing to go on, which proved to be very stressful at an already difficult time. So I’m certain that your loved ones will thank you for ‘planning for the worst’, in the same way that I thank my father.

Do you have any advice or experience that you would like to share with fellow Fairfielders? If so, drop us a line: editor@fairfieldmatters.com.