If you know anyone that has become a widow or widower unexpectedly you will recognise that one of the most difficult times is the first few weeks after the funeral. Whilst friends and family members’ lives go ‘back to normal’, the widow or widower is facing a life that will never be the same as it was.
It can be incredibly difficult for someone who isn’t thinking straight following their spouse’s death to fathom what needs doing and when (and particularly so where their “other half” dealt with all the finances, contracts, direct debits and bills), and can be a real problem if there is a mortgage or rent to pay or children to provide for.
Obviously the best way of getting around this is to both work together with these responsibilities, but in many couples it’s often one person who takes care of ‘household bookkeeping’. Another way is to keep written instructions, or a timeline of renewal dates for things like insurance and annual bills, so that you can help your other half to understand these items as and when they may need to.
There are often good reasons for keeping finances separated (both for tax planning and care-home fee planning), but it is worth having a joint account to provide the widow or widower with cash to keep going for a month or two, particularly if they don’t have much income or savings themselves.
If something was to happen unexpectedly, could your husband or wife cancel direct debits, standing orders or pay things if they needed to? (This can also present a big problem if your spouse is severely ill, as for data protection reasons you wouldn’t be able to have access to their bank accounts without their say so, unless you have a power of attorney for them).
If you don’t want a joint bank account, consider whether the place that you live in together will be secure. Is there a mortgage and if so, whose name is it in? Would your husband or wife be able to pay the mortgage if you weren’t there or if they couldn’t access your bank account?
Property and mortgages
If you don’t have a mortgage, would your other half still be able to keep and manage the house by themselves? It’s common for a widow or widower to be advised to downsize or move to be closer to relatives, but often they don’t want to let go of the marital home straight away. If possible, it’s best to enable them to have the choice – it is bad enough losing a husband or wife without them having to give up their home before being ready.
Also, if you have children and aren’t married, can you be sure that they would allow your other half to continue living in your house if they inherit it and you haven’t specified living arrangements in a Will?
Children from another marriage
If you have children from previous marriage, you probably wouldn’t to leave it up to your widow or widower to decide ‘who gets what’ and when. Consider setting up Trusts for your children so that your wishes are clear and so that they can be carried out by an Executor of your Will (quite typically the widow or widower with one of your children).
Consider whether your husband or wife would particularly want anyone else to be involved in your funeral, and leave instructions in your Will accordingly. Many peoples’ families will want to ‘take over’ the funeral arrangements, thinking that they are helping. It can be a godsend for many widows and widowers to have that help, however, whilst they will no doubt appreciate being supported, by also having some involvement they can feel as though they are doing something that you wanted them to do, which was important to you and so will be to them, too.
It’s also a good idea to put some money aside for funeral costs if you don’t have the relevant funeral or life insurance.
Advice about making or updating a Will
Whether you don’t yet have a Will, or if you would like to make sure that yours is accurate, effective and up to date, you can contact a member of our Wills, Trusts and Probate Department, based at each of our offices in Leicester, Market Harborough and Hinckley using the telephone numbers below.