Resolve to get your affairs in order

As many of us embark on New Year resolutions, Associate Robert Telfer looks at the importance of planning for the future.

How are those New Year resolutions going?

Many of us start the year with good intentions – to eat healthier, go vegan for a month, drink less or get fit. A New Year marks a fresh start and brings hope of a new, improved version of yourself – a fitter, happier you.

But a new year is also an opportunity to think about the future and tackle those aspects of our lives that we often put off till another day; sensitive and sometimes upsetting issues that are nevertheless important to you and your family.

This could include drafting a Power of Attorney which allows you to plan for the future. A Power of Attorney puts you in control. It allows you to select a person you trust (usually a family member) to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapable.

This is a really important legal document and something which all of us should consider. Many people naturally assume that if they are no longer capable of looking after themselves, their family will take over and make decisions on their behalf. This is a common misconception.

Without a Power of Attorney, your family members have no legal authority to decide on your behalf. This can cause practical difficulties. No one can manage your finances, sell your property or make decisions about your care. Organising a Power of Attorney saves considerable work, cost, delay and stress to you and your loved ones in future years whilst avoiding the need to go to court to secure a guardianship order (a protracted process which can take up to six months).

Around seven in ten pensioners over 75 have no Power of Attorney in place. But this isn’t an issue which should only concern older people. None of us like to think about becoming injured or infirm, but while it’s tempting to put it off, it’s important to have robust arrangements in place for the future, whatever it brings.

You can find out more about Power of Attorney in this blog by our partner Colin Carr.

Making a Will is something else many of us put off – often for many of the same reasons I’ve outlined above. Research from life assurance provider Canada Life suggests that three in five UK adults don’t have a written Will – that’s a staggering 31 million people with no legal protection.

A Will sets out your instructions as to who will inherit your estate on death and is an extremely important document, particularly if you have a partner, property, children and/or a business. Dying without a Will gives you no control over how your money, property or belongings are distributed after your death.

The process of winding up an estate without a Will is also more lengthy and complex. A Will not only regulates how your estate is divided up but also gives you a say as to who should look after your children. If they are under 18, you can appoint a legal guardian to be responsible for various aspects of their care and upbringing. If you don’t, a court will appoint someone on your behalf.

A Will also ensures your children are provided for financially. This might include setting funds aside for their education, living expenses or a deposit for their first property. You may also wish to protect your partner if you are unmarried.

Unmarried partners are not automatically entitled to anything from your estate unless you have made specific provisions in your Will. Division of an estate can also sometimes lead to family disputes. A well-drafted Will can help avoid these arguments by clearly setting out how you wish your estate to be distributed. The reasons for drafting a Will are not exhaustive, and you’ll find more helpful information in this blog by Colin Carr, our resident expert.

It's not too late to make a New Year resolution. But this year, why not do something different? Resolve to make a big impact on your life and that of your loved ones - not by making lofty pledges - but by arranging a simple meeting with your lawyer and ensuring that your legal affairs are in order.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog, contact us on 0141 649 9552 to arrange an initial consultation.

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