What happens to your money after you die?

GravestonesDeath. It's not a nice subject, but it is important to put some thought and preparation into the way you organise your finances now, for when the time comes.

A bit of research and work can make a big difference to just how much money your loved ones have once you're gone.

The Will

Let's start with a positive.

When you write a Will, one or more executors will be named - these are the people in charge of dealing with your money and assets once you've passed away. Chances are your money will go into probate - basically the process of dividing up your assets, and where they should go. This process can take up to six months, and applies to all estates of more than £5,000.

The executor is then tasked with valuing the estate, and handing out the cash as instructed in the Will. However, there are a number of costs that may affect just how much cash the family members get.

Check out Make a Will without the solicitor's fees for more on how to cut the cost of writing a Will and Your Will could be useless or dangerous! for what happens to your cash if you die without a valid Will in place.

Life insurance

Life insurance isn't necessary for everyone of course, but if you have any dependents who rely on the money you bring in each month, it is essential, even more so if you have a mortgage.

It goes without saying that as soon as you pop your clogs, your family should be making a claim on your insurance policy, particularly as it may take some time before your loved ones get their hands on that cash.

Typically, that life insurance payout will go into your estate, and can take up to six months to be delivered to your family.

The way around this is to have your policy written in trust, which will ensure that the money goes straight to the named beneficiaries rather than to your estate. Be sure to read Save your family thousands in taxes for more on trusts.

Inheritance Tax

OK, onto some of the bad news. The reason that your executor will have to value your estate is so that it can be worked out whether you are liable to pay Inheritance Tax.

There are very few taxes that rile people as much as Inheritance Tax - I know it always sparks a row in my family - but whatever your views, it pays to plan ahead.

As things stand, if your estate is valued at more than £325,000, you'll pay 40% tax on every penny above that threshold. You can leave your estate to your spouse without paying Inheritance Tax, essentially forming a 'couples' band of £650,000.

So before your loved ones can get the cash that you have left to them, this bill will have to be settled.

The pension pot

What happens to the money you have built up in your pension pot over the course of your life depends entirely on what sort of retirement funding you actually go for.

If you die before the age of 65, and your cash is stored away in a SIPP or personal pension, your fund will be given to your family, completely free of tax. Your family cannot keep the pot as a pension, however, they must take it as a lump sum.

Things can be slightly different with occupational pensions. Exactly what happens next depends on the type of occupational scheme you're in.

If it's salary-related and you're still making contributions, you may enjoy one of the following, depending on your precise scheme:

a return of all of your contributions, usually repaid without interest

a tax-free lump sum of up to four times the salary you were getting at the time of your death

a pension for your spouse, civil partner or another dependant – the amount will be stated in the scheme's rules

If it's salary-related, but you've stopped making contributions (perhaps because you have left the company) then your dependents don't get such a good deal. An income must be provided to them so long as you are married or in a civil partnership and the scheme is providing benefits instead of the Additional State Pension.

Tax tricks to improve your wealth
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What happens to your money after you die?

If you wear a uniform of any kind to work and have to wash, repair or replace it yourself, you may be able to reclaim tax paid over the last four years. For some people, this could mean a windfall worth hundreds of pounds

The interest you receive on savings accounts (with the exception of cash Isas) is automatically taxed at a rate of 20%.

Higher-rate taxpayers therefore tend to owe money on the interest they are paid throughout the year. If, however, you are on a low income or not earning at all, you should be able to claim all or some of the tax deducted back

You can apply for a refund of vehicle tax if you are the current registered keeper or were the last registered keeper of your vehicle that no longer needs a tax disc

If you pay tax on a company, personal or State Pension through PAYE (the system employers use to deduct tax from your wages), you may well end up overpaying

There is a limit to the amount you need to pay in NI, whether or not you work for an employer.

Instances in which you may find that you have overpaid include if you work two or more jobs and earn more than £817 a week and if you move from self-employment to employment, but continue to pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions


What if you die after you have reached retirement age, and cashed in your pot for a traditional annuity? What happens then? The answer depends on whether your annuity has a guarantee period. Unsurprisingly, this guarantees that the annuity will continue to dish out some cash for a specific period, even if you die halfway through that period. Your family can choose to have that money paid out on a monthly basis, or in a lump sum to your estate.

A further way of protecting your annuity is to go for the catchily titled annuity protection lump sum death benefit. Should you die before the age of 75 a lump sum equivalent to the amount you used to buy an annuity, less any income you've received, will be paid to your estate or beneficiaries.

However, if you have a normal annuity without these features, your money will go to your provider and not your loved ones.

If you instead go for an income drawdown pension after retirement, and die before the age of 75, your dependents will be able to get your cash in a lump sum, though this is taxed at 55%. It really does all come down to which type of pension and annuity you go for, so be sure you research what happens to your money once you die before you sign up.

What happens to my debts?

The UK Insolvency Helpline says that it receives absolutely loads of calls about this subject each year, and it's an understandable issue to be concerned about.

The first thing to be clear about is that the debts do not just disappear after death. Generally the estate will pay off the outstanding debts before the cash is then dished out to the family and friends. The only times that individual family members will be liable for a debt you owed before you died is if the loan or credit was taken out jointly. That's why it's essential to take out life insurance if you have a joint mortgage, for example, as that way you can be sure your partner won't be turfed out of his or her home at the worst possible.

What happens if I am owed money?

Again, this falls to the executor. If there is an agreement in writing that you are owed money, this should be easy enough to enforce, though if the money was lent on a casual, informal basis, then it's unlikely your estate will be able to regain that money.

The situation with business debts, should you own a company is a touch more complicated. It can get a bit tricky legally, so the best thing to do is get advice from an organisation like the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The dead celebrity rich list
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What happens to your money after you die?

King of pop Jackson was rumoured to have financial problems when he died in June 2009.

However, his music shot back into the charts as soon as he was no longer around to make any more and it is estimated that Jackson has sold well over 10 million albums since his death at the age of 50.

As a result - according to the latest figures from Forbes Magazine - Jackson's estate made an incredible $170 million (£108 million) in the 12 months to October 2011.

Presley's estate, which is thought to be worth about £1 billion, has generated many millions from music royalties, licensing deals and tourism at Graceland since his death in 1977, aged 42.

And it continues to earn about $55 million a year, partly thanks to posthumous appearances in adverts for products including Apple's iMac to Lipton's Tea.

Monroe is one of the most iconic stars of all time. And despite dying in 1962, her curvaceous image is used to sell everything from Visa to Volkswagen.

When she died, aged 36, her estate was valued at £1 million. However, the Forbes figures indicate that it earned a massive $27 million in the 12 months to October 2011.

The Beatle's estate has earned vast sums since he was shot dead in New York in 1980.

It was valued at about £100 million at the time of his death, but is since estimated to have grown by a further £200 million. And according to the latest Forbes list, it still makes $12 million a year.

The Nirvana singer, who committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 27, continues to be an iconic figure for many fans.

And his songs are still bringing in huge amounts of cash. In 2006, Cobain's widow Courtney Love sold 24.5% of the grunge band's publishing catalogue for a rumoured £35 million.

Not all the celebrities on the list are singers or film stars. Crime writer Christie has also amassed a huge fortune since her death in 1976, aged 85.

Her books continue to fill shelves around the world, while the immense popularity of her sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple have made her the bestselling author of all time, according to The Guinness Book Of Records.

However, his music shot back into the charts as soon as he was no longer around to make any more and it is estimated that Jackson has sold well over 10 million albums since his death at the age of 50.
As a result - according to the latest figures from Forbes Magazine - Jackson's estate made an incredible $170 million (£108 million) in the 12 months to October 2011.

Einstein died in 1955 at the age of 76, but the dead scientist is still raking in $10 million a year, according to Forbes Magazine.

His image has been used to advertise everything from McDonald's Happy Meals to the Toyota Prius.

The reggae singer died of cancer aged 36 in 1981. But the Marley family has continued to receive massive royalties from his musical catalogue.

It includes the best-selling album "Legend", which alone is believed to have earned them more than £10 million since his death.

The American rapper was just 25 when he was killed in Las Vegas in 1996.

However, his untimely death has not stopped him becoming the most successful hip-hop artist ever, selling more than 75 million albums worldwide. His estate is thought to earn about £4 million a year from his back catalogue.

The Hollywood star, who started her career at the tender age of 10, died in March 2011 at the age of 79.

By October of that year, according to Forbes Magazine, the value of her estate had swelled by about $12 million.


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