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Practical issues (funerals, wills, finances)

Coping with cancer

This page has information on dealing with practical issues when you know that you are dying. There is information about

 

Your will

Most people will want to make a will, to make sure that money and possessions they leave behind will go to the people they want it to. This is a legal document, and so needs to be prepared and written in the right way. Often it is best to pay a solicitor to help you. This is not usually very expensive.

If you have already made a will, but need to update it, it is important that you do so sooner rather than later. Once you have made your will, tell your next of kin where you have put it. We have a section which gives more information about making a will. It takes you through the process of drawing up a will and how to list your assets to discuss with the solicitor.

This lists the documents and information (bank details, insurance policies etc) that your next of kin may need to register your death. The form has space for you to fill in instructions on where they can find the necessary documents.

 

Your finances

Financial problems can be very stressful, especially if you have been ill for a long time and have had to give up work because of your cancer. You may be spending more on special diets, heating or laundry. You may worry about how you will pay bills, your mortgage or rent, and other living expenses. Help and support is available to you for many financial issues that you may have. Our coping with cancer section has information about Government benefits and charity grants that you may qualify for if you have cancer, or are caring for someone with cancer. The social worker at the hospital or hospice can also give you advice on where to get financial help.

 

Living wills, advance decisions and advance statements

Many people who know that they are going to die make a living will. This is in case the time comes when they are no longer able to make decisions or communicate their needs. You can only make a living will when you are mentally able to do so, so it has to be done in advance of needing it. This document is helpful for your next of kin, and the health professionals involved in your care. It is only used once you have lost the ability to make decisions for yourself, for example if you are unconscious.

There are two types of living will. These are known formally as an advance decision and an advance statement. An advance decision is a legal document detailing the circumstances under which you would refuse medical treatment. An advance statement contains other more general instructions and wishes about future medical care and treatment. It can include personal preferences and religious instructions. It isn't legally binding but doctors and nurses should take account of it when deciding on your care.

For more information about living wills and what makes them valid, you can download the pdf format fact sheet Advance statements, advance directives and living wills from the Age UK website. You can get a template of an Advance Decision to complete from an organisation called Compassion in Dying. Or you can adapt a living will from the book Dying well by Richard Reoch (1997) - listed on our advanced cancer reading list.

 

Power of attorney

You may also want to think about who will manage your financial affairs if you are not able to do this anymore. This is called Lasting Power of Attorney. (Until 2007 this was called Enduring Power of Attorney.) You can organise power of attorney ahead of time, so it’s ready when you need it.

You can also choose a person to make decisions on your behalf about health and welfare. This is called a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney. A health and welfare attorney could make decisions about issues such as where you live or what you eat. You can also give them the power to decide about medical care.  

You can find information and free forms on the Government's website about Lasting Power of Attorney. For a fee, you can get a Lasting Power of Attorney form from the Clickdocs website.

 

Choosing the type of funeral you want

Discussing your funeral may not be an easy subject. Understandably, some people find it morbid and unsettling to discuss their funeral before they die. But others find it comforting to plan and organise their own funeral in a lot of detail. There may be certain music, songs, poems or prayers that you would like to have. You may want to have the funeral at a specific church and be buried in a certain cemetery. You can also say whether you want a burial or cremation.

There is no wrong or right way to do any of these things. It is a very personal issue and up to you and your close relatives and friends. The important thing is to let someone know your wishes.

If you would like to plan your funeral before you die, most funeral directors will be very understanding and can help you. They will do all they can to make this time as easy as possible for you.  Choosing a funeral director can be difficult. Friends or relatives who have had to arrange a funeral may be able to suggest someone. If not, then you can contact the National Association of Funeral Directors. They can provide you with the details of local funeral directors who are part of this professional association.

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Updated: 15 August 2012