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20 May 2011

Death - a fact of life

Death - a fact of life

Death is one of our society's biggest taboo subjects with many both outside and inside the church being unwilling to face up to its implications. So, it's all the more important that we as church leaders ensure we are equipped to respond pastorally and practically when someone is anticipating death through to making the necessary arrangements and being alongside those going through bereavement. Here are some tips to assist with these sensitive tasks...

Making a will

  • It's important to make a will to decide how one's personal assets will be distributed (otherwise the law says who gets what & if children at what age), to consider how best to provide for people (including those in receipt of state benefits due to illness or disability), and to ensure unnecessary inheritance tax isn't paid
  • Wills can be personally written but it's wise to use a solicitor for advice on complex matters, how & when best to provide for chosen beneficiaries, and to ensure the will is valid
  • Before making a will consider what money, property & possessions there are; who should benefit; who will look after any children under 18 years; and who will sort out the estate after death ensuring implementation of the deceased's wishes (executor)
  • Keep the completed will in a safe place ensuring the executor or someone close knows where it is (if made by a solicitor they will normally keep the original and send a copy)
  • Wills should be reviewed at least every five years and after major life changes e.g. marital status, having a child, or moving house

Practical things to be done when someone dies

  • Remember everyone reacts differently to the death of a loved one - some will be in shock or denial so reluctant to make funeral plans, others may handle their pain by throwing themselves into activity
  • An early priority is the choice of a Funeral Director and fixing the funeral date - remember Fridays or Mondays are easier for those travelling a distance
  • Register the death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages - take the doctor's certificate and purchase several copies of the Registrar's death certificate for notifying banks, insurance companies, and other official bodies
  • Gather information about the deceased - date & place of birth; NI, tax & NHS numbers; marriage date
  • Find the will (deceased's solicitor may also have a copy) - the executor may need to obtain a 'grant of probate' or if there's no will a 'grant of letters of administration' may be needed for dealing with the estate. An executor or family member can do this themselves or with the aid of a solicitor
  • Notify the relevant house insurance provider (especially if the property is unoccupied), council tax office, HMRC, DWP or Benefits Agency, and mortgage company/landlord offices; cancel & return passport; notify DVLA of change of car ownership, return driving licence, cancel car tax; cancel subscriptions & redirect post
  • Solicitors as executors of the will can do the above notifications and probate arrangements for a fee taken out of the deceased's estate

Helping plan a funeral

  • Decide on whether it's to be a cremation or burial (the latter usually takes longer to organise and is more expensive) - is there a family grave already?
  • Book somewhere for the service - most cemeteries have chapels if there isn't an available church building (funeral directors can arrange this within the cost)
  • Remember chapel services are usually about 30-45 mins and have to be kept strictly to time
  • Plan the service content and who is responsible for what (hymns, tributes, talk, readings, prayers)
  • Decide how to notify people about the funeral - budget for printing cards and orders of service
  • Decide policy on flowers & money donations
  • What, where & who will provide (and attend) the catering for a get-together after the funeral - budget for this
    Finally, don't forget to look out for the bereaved person long after the event. The experience of loss will be unique to them... Be prepared to keep listening...

Fran Beckett OBE
with Donna Holmes
Anthony Collins Solicitors

For more information about making a will visit www.eauk.org/legacy