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British public unprepared for life after partner’s death

Research shows that most people fail to make appropriate end-of-life plans to the detriment of those they leave behind

19 May 2014

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Just over half of Britons are unaware of their partner's final wishes and the majority are not making adequate plans for their own death, according to a study by the Dying Matters Coalition.

Some 83 per cent of those surveyed admit that they are uncomfortable discussing dying and making end-of-life plans, while just 6 per cent said they had written down their preferences about future care, should they lose capacity.

Only 36 per cent have written a will and 32 per cent claim they have been involved in an argument about money or property following a family death. Despite this reluctance to talk about the issue, 80 per cent believe all adults should have a will to avoid disputes.

Digital legacies were included in the research with 71 per cent of respondents saying they have never thought about what would happen to their assets, such as social media and online accounts. More than one in ten said they would want a friend or family member to keep updating their social media accounts on their behalf after they die.

Kevin Poulter, editor at large of Private Client Adviser's sister title Solicitors Journal, said: "To properly meet our clients' needs, we must be able to advise on these new and emerging media and technologies. This means that we should have at least a basic knowledge and understanding of the variety of digital assets out there and how to realise them.

"Photographs, emails, music, films and even computer-game characters all have value, be it financial or sentimental. As banking and shopping moves increasingly online, investments and accounts are less identifiable from what were once standard estate documents."

Dealing with digital assets and managing the online legacies of those that have failed to prepare for death are likely to cause some headaches, not just for solicitors but also for the courts.

Claire Henry, chief executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care, said: "While dying is one of life's few certainties, the reality is that the majority of people are still shunning important conversations and practical actions such as writing a will.

"Although we're encouraged that the majority of people can see the need for adults to write a will and indeed actually support this becoming a requirement for all, there's still a long way to go as most of us still aren't planning ahead.

"That's why we're calling for a national conversation on dying, so that all of us become more comfortable making our wishes known, including on emerging issues such as digital legacy, which we know that most people have never considered.

"Talking more openly about dying and planning ahead is in everyone's interests, as it can help ensure we get our wishes met and make it easier for our loved ones.

"You only die once, which is why it's so important to make your wishes known while there's still time."

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Wills, Trusts & Probate