Your to-do list before and after losing a loved one
Losing a parent is one of the most difficult things to deal with, especially if they are the last parent and meant the world to you. I can talk about this experience first-hand – recently I lost my mum. It can be extremely difficult to navigate the curve balls being thrown at you (in many cases at the same time) while in the midst of such a stressful event. By sharing my story I hope to help others to prepare.
David Boyle Mint Asset Management
Benjamin Franklin once said "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." It was a quote that came to mind when I started writing this article.
While dealing with all the emotional issues of a parent’s death there are so many other elements that you need to be aware of – many of which you may not have taken into consideration before the actual event.
It was a normal lazy lockdown Saturday morning when I got the call from the doctor that Mum had suffered a severe stroke and was in hospital with only days to live. The doctor said she had suffered a “catastrophic event” and wanted to know if we had a “do not resuscitate” order in place.
Wow, back the truck up, I thought. From one simple call my life had changed. I went from having a Mum to being asked “do you want us to keep her alive?”, as it was unlikely she would survive the next few days. My life stopped for a moment and all other worries dissipated into thin air.
Thankfully, a lot of the difficult questions my sister and I needed to address in the following hours and days had already been discussed, so we knew what to do. I’ve listed them here to help other people be prepared.
1. Have an up-to-date will. No ifs or buts. Without one, things can go off track very quickly and may cause insurmountable damage not only to the value of the estate, but also to family relationships. A will lists your wishes and allocations of your assets.
2. Have an enduring Power of Attorney. Simply put, this is a legal document giving someone the power to act for you, if you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself. Again, everyone should have this over the age of 18 as it gives peace of mind for all concerned.
3. Have a conversation with all direct family members. This should preferably be documented too. While family dynamics can be difficult to navigate, it’s important to do this if you can. A will can cover off the main wishes regarding assets, but you should also consider the following questions:
- Cremation or burial?
- Private or public service?
- What music or songs you want to be played at your funeral. I’ve already written my songs down, in case you were wondering
- Non resuscitate order – would you want to be kept alive if you had no chance of enjoying any quality of life?
- List any charities or services that you might like to support
- Make a list of items you would like to gift to family members. Remember that a family member may have emotional attachment to an item that you do not see value in.
- Have a file that contains all your current accounts like phone, power, rates, insurance, copies of wills, Family Trust, Enduring Powers of Attorney, or any other documents that are important to have in one place. Trust me, this is a huge benefit and was the first thing I went to when I got home.
- Declutter the family home and garage if you can. Never easy but it helps others when you are gone. Check before you throw the stuff away because someone in the family, as mentioned before, might treasure it.
Having these conversations and getting the paperwork in place is so important to help with the work the family needs to do.
Covid-19, of course, complicated the process of getting to see Mum, who lived a plane ride away from me. If you’re in the same position and need to book a last-minute flight, the first thing you need to know is that Air NZ offers a compassionate ticket for family emergencies. Click this link to know more; the maximum flight cost is $169.00: https://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/compassionate-fares
I was able to make it home to spend some time with her until she passed away four days later. It was incredibly emotional but also a wonderful time of reflection. Those were long days and evenings. While she probably didn’t know I was there, it made me feel good that I was.
I spent some of that time writing Mum’s eulogy. A little hint here, don’t feel the need to write a long dissertation. Mum didn’t want to have a fuss, but my sister and I wanted to celebrate her life from our perspectives and I think we gave her a good send off, without too much fluff and a little humour along the way.
I also used some of that time to organise photos for Mum’s service (and asked extended family members for photos they would like added), which leads me to the steps that you need to be aware of when your next-of-kin dies.
1. Contact your local funeral director. Ours was excellent and helped with:
- The planning of the service
- Casket choice
- Funeral programme (you will need to choose a photo for the front and back)
- Notices in the local papers
- After match function: ours included the mandatory sausage rolls, club sandwiches and lolly cake
- Make contact with their lawyer. Really important to do this as quickly as you can. This then triggers a series of events that you need to be mindful of, in particular getting the death certificate and starting the probate process. A really important point to remember when the probate process starts is that all their savings and investments, including bank accounts, will be frozen.
So it is hugely important that you complete the following at the same time:
- Make contact with service providers. By that I mean go to that file we talked about earlier and contact the council, insurance companies and other organisations to see what needs to happen around maintaining or cancelling their accounts. This is not as easy as it sounds, so be prepared to have verification of your parent’s death and other letters of confirmation.
- Call close family friends. Never easy but we did have a list and, being part of a small community, word got around pretty quickly.
- Sell the family home. This is a likely outcome that will need some thought. The point earlier around decluttering really does help with that process when the property is eventually sold.
- Seek some financial advice. Depending on the size of the estate and assets, it may be worthwhile to get an registered financial adviser specialising in investment advice to help you with the best direction for these funds, for your own sake and the financial wellbeing of future generations.
- Take time out for yourself. Probably the hardest part I found. But it's really important to keep things together while juggling a lot of balls in the air, and time out really helps.
I was able to share the responsibility of the decision-making with my sister and, again, it was very lucky that we were able to talk and agree on every point and approach that we took. This process may not be as easy for others with more siblings, mixed families, and general complexities. Which is often the reality for most people – the Waltons (for those who remember the show) is not how families are in real life.
Hopefully my words here can help navigate one of the most challenging periods that we all have to confront at some time in our lives.