Dying Matters Awareness Week: Wills, funeral plans and bereavement benefits

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Karen Maisey has worked at Prospect Hospice for the last eight years.

“They can do what they like when I’m gone, it won’t bother me.”

I have often heard people say this when they’re moving towards dying. I think it’s because people don’t want to discuss dying, and so simply avoid the subject or adopt a blasé attitude to cover up their true emotions. This can leave a minefield of emotions and fears for the people who are left behind, who can be left wondering what happens next. Even simple questions are left unanswered: Did their loved one want to be buried or cremated? How are they going to pay for the funeral? How are they going to manage to make ends meet in the future?

A will can address all of these matters and save the family a lot of heartache. It doesn’t have to be complicated and is a simple way to express what you want to happen after you’ve died. In your will you can outline funeral wishes and the details of who is going to inherit what, and writing it can be fairly straightforward – it can just be written down on a piece of paper, so long as there are two independent witnesses who will not be beneficiaries of the will to countersign. From my experience I would always recommend having the will drawn up professionally by a solicitor, in case there is any chance that someone might contest the will (including extended family). Sadly, I have seen too many families who have fallen out at a time when they really needed each other’s support.

Occasionally I have met people who say they don’t care what happens to them after they die because they don’t have enough money for a funeral. This doesn’t help those people left behind though. A funeral can cost in excess of £4,000 and it has to be paid for – some people get into serious debt through trying to give their loved one a decent funeral. So it’s really important to discuss your plans and to consider insurance or a pre-paid plan to cover at least part of the cost.

It is also worth knowing that the government have recently changed their bereavement benefits. If someone is under the state pension age, they may be able to claim a lump sum of £2,500 followed by 18 monthly payments of £100 following the death of a loved one. However, this does depend on National Insurance contributions paid by the deceased person. Another major change is that, if you are responsible for a child under 20 years of age in full time education, you could get a lump sum of £3,500 followed by 18 monthly payments of £350. This is a new arrangement which replaces the Widowed Parents Allowance, which previously entitled surviving families to a benefit payment until children left education.

If you are on an income related benefit, you may be entitled to a payment from the social fund.

One thing we know for sure though is that we are all going to die at some point. In my experience of working at Prospect Hospice, I have seen many times that it is the families who have had open discussions about death and finances and have made plans around these are able to make the most of the time they have with their loved one, even as they’re moving towards dying, without some of the worry and stress of what will happen to them financially after their loved one has gone.