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The unthinkable task of making a will: it's time to deal with it says Karen Kay

PUBLISHED: 10:26 20 February 2015

Archant

Most of us, thank goodness, can see the sense in making a will. But what if you're still here, unable to manage life on your own and relying on others?

As I write this, I also have a to-do list open on my laptop. Pretty near the top of the agenda is ‘Sort power of attorney’.

It has been there for a few months now, and bounces back and forth, ranking higher or lower according to the urgency of other tasks in hand. It’s always there: a job that needs to be done and one that should be prioritised, but seems to be leapfrogged by endless more pressing chores.

Aside from the cost of instructing a lawyer or estate planner, or getting to grips with the logistics of preparing and lodging documents myself, there is the uncomfortable truth of why it needs doing that one has to face when appointing lasting powers of attorney. The simple fact is, none of us likes to admit that life may some day change for the worse.

We all know that death is inevitable, yet so many people pass away intestate, leaving loved ones to grieve amidst a plethora of paperwork and potentially acrimonious turmoil as they deal with the mess of unspecified inheritance. Some years ago I did the sensible thing and made a will, and have the peace of mind that my wishes are set out clearly.

So, now to face the brutal truth that life itself sometimes throws a few curveballs. Some are delightfully positive, bringing the thrill of unforeseen opportunities, but others can leave you reeling as you and your family face a bleak future. Many make assumptions that it won’t happen to us, or that we’ll wait til we’re old until we do something about it. But that’s not the sensible option.

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing a young man in his twenties who had been the victim of a hit-and-run incident while he was an undergraduate student. The accident left him in a coma for months, and when he finally emerged, brain damaged, he required endless rounds of therapy. With his incredible family around him, he is fighting back against the injuries, but his life will never be the same again.

Last year, I met another inspiring man and his family in the course of my work. Alex Woods was in his thirties, with four young children and a devoted wife, living their dream on the coast in France, when he received a blow to the head during rugby training. His young wife, Tamsyn, is now his carer, as the family face a future they never imagined. Alex is brain damaged, paralysed and blind, with epilepsy. She has found enormous strength, from her faith, from her children and pulled from inner reserves she never knew she had. To watch her is to witness true selflessness, as she devotes herself to making the best life possible for her loved ones.

I have no idea if power of attorney was an issue in either of these cases, but the chances are it probably was. Most adults have bank accounts, loans, credit cards, insurance policies, rental contracts or mortgage agreements, and more. We hear stories of direct debits continuing to be taken from accounts of the deceased, or those who are incapacitated, long after they are able to pay monies in to support the outgoings. We hear horrendous cases of partners who have to go to court to access an incapacitated spouse’s bank accounts to support their family.

Only a couple of weeks ago, a freelance cameraman colleague passed away suddenly, leaving his long-term girlfriend mourning her loss amidst a mountain of bureaucracy as she struggled to access funds to keep a roof over her head. She shared a note on social media, in a flurry of condolence messages, urging everyone to sort power of attorney as a matter of urgency, stressing the unnecessary extra pain it causes when ignored.

I recall listening to Martin Lewis, the founder of moneysavingexpert.com, on the radio a few months ago, saying it is one of the most important things any of us can do – in financial terms, at least. In many communities around the world, the subject is openly and candidly brought up in conversation, yet according to 2013 figures, 58% of British adults have not made a will, and though I couldn’t find any figures for power of attorney, I’m confident it is probably higher.

With increasing cases of dementia and an ageing population, we should all be encouraging our parents to deal with this if they haven’t already. But don’t wait until you are drawing a pension to give it serious consideration. How difficult can it be to identify the person or people you trust to take care of your finances should you not be able to do so? To manage the sale of your home to pay for residential medical care should it be required? To appoint someone who can make decisions about your care and living arrangements should you not have the mental capacity to decide for yourself?

So, without further ado, I’m moving it higher up my list and plan to action this task promptly. And so should you. Look, I’m going to make it easy for us both. Here’s the first step: just go to www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney/overview.

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