This blog draws on the panel discussion I hosted a couple of weeks ago at McAuley Place – Managing Your Affairs in Sickness and in Health. My panel included solicitor Sharon Cahir and Rebecca Lloyd, Public Engagement Officer with the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF). They had some really useful insights into making a will – both the why and the how.

  • Don’t wait for the family gathering

Don’t wait until all your children are together to have the conversation. In solicitor Sharon Cahir’s experience, getting everyone together for a ‘nice chat’ can become a major barrier to the conversation taking place. The idea that it becomes a big event puts pressure on you.

  • Do be open

The experts do, however, advise telling your beneficiaries what your wishes are in the interests of openness. This can lead to negotiations between your kids so that you don’t actually have to make all the decisions – your daughters may agree, for example, that one takes the Waterford Crystal, and the other takes the dining room furniture.

  • Do a back-of-an-envelope exercise

Sharon recommends that after you and your spouse have talked it through, you should write up a voluntary document before you approach a solicitor to formalise it. It’s about getting what’s in your head down on paper. She recommends this because sometimes the notion of going to a solicitor can be a barrier, and it’s all about removing the barriers!

  • Do get the help of a third party

Sharon sees her role in succession conversations as the objective third party who has the benefit of being outside the emotional life of the family. This position allows her to ask questions that a family member may not like to, to tease out what’s important to you and to clarify grey areas. She sees it like moving pieces on a chess board. This independent person could be a solicitor, a financial adviser – particularly one who is experienced in later life matters – or even a trusted friend.

  • Pick a rapporteur

To go back to our first point and the daunting prospect of all your children sitting in the good room looking at you expectantly, don’t be afraid to set out your wishes to one child, and give that child the job of informing the others. There may be a son or daughter who is ideal for this – the practical one or the one who’s good with financial stuff. Choosing the emotional one or the dreamer may not be the best idea in this case!

  •  Be prescriptive

If your children couldn’t solve a dispute over a bike as kids, it’s highly likely they won’t be able to come to an agreement over something as emotional as the family home or as potentially divisive as money. Sharon Cahir has heard too many people say, “Sure they can sort it out between themselves”. This is not a good idea. Help your beneficiaries to avoid disputes by being specific about your wishes. Rebecca Lloyd from the Irish Hospice Foundation has seen too many times the agony caused by decisions not made. It makes bereavement so much easier when family members can say ‘It’s what Mam wanted’, she says.

  • Make a will for now

Sharon advises her clients to make a will for now, in other words to imagine that you are going to die this week. This helps focus the mind. How would you divide up your estate right now? You can revisit your will as often as you like, and you should. If you think about it, how can you be expected to know what’s going to happen in the future?

It’s all about grabbing the opportunities to make your wishes known rather than waiting for the right time. To underline the importance of making a will I’ll share this with you; Sharon told us on the night that there has been an increase in the number of people disputing wills under Section 117 of the Succession Act. I’m sure the last thing you want is for your kids to end up on opposite sides of the courtroom.

Ready to start future proofing your estate? Start here.