Steps to take following the loss of a loved one

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If your partner passed away and you were suddenly responsible for paying all the bills and managing all the finances – would you know want to do? 

While you are grieving, you simultaneously need to make important decisions which can have significant financial implications for you and your loved ones. In this article we offer some advice on the first steps you should take if a partner passes away.

1) Notify key bodies

It is important to notify a few key organisations if your partner passes away. The Department of Human Services (DHS) can update Centrelink, Medicare and other records such as Child Support if necessary.  You should also notify the executor of your partner’s will (if this is not you), your partner’s superannuation company, your bank and any health and life insurance policies.  Once contact has been made with each they will be able to advise you of what you need to do next, and if you can claim any entitlements.  

2) Organise and pay for the funeral

Organising a funeral is never easy, but it will probably be your first task after your partner dies, and it is likely to be an expensive task at that. Funeral costs can vary greatly, and you may need to budget ahead to pay for them.  If you are paying for a partner's funeral, their bank may be able to release money from their account to help pay funeral expenses before 'probate' is granted, that is, before the court validates their will.

Some private health and life insurance policies (which are sometimes held through superannuation funds), may also provide financial assistance with funeral costs.

3) Find out if financial assistance is available

The Department of Human Services (DHS) provides payments, counselling and other services to help people adjust after someone close to them has died.  You should contact them to find out your eligibility for Bereavement Allowance (a short term income support payment for recently widowed people to help them adjust after their partner has died), Bereavement Payment  (helps ease your adjustment to changed financial circumstances after the death of your partner, child or person you were caring for) and Widow Allowance (ensures women have an adequate income if they have become widowed, divorced or separated later in life, were born on or before 1 July 1955 and have no recent workforce experience). 

4) Review your housing situation

You may want to stay in your family home, however if this is financially difficult, think about all the options carefully before you decide on a change. Moving too quickly may not be the best solution in the long term.  Your financial adviser will be able to help you decide how best to structure you loan and changing titles, mortgages etc.  Your financial adviser can also provide guidance about how major decisions you make could affect any government payments you receive.

5) Take care of the Will (and what to do If there isn't one)


If your partner has left a Will

·A will sets out how your partner wanted their estate to be distributed after their death. The ‘executor’ needs to distribute the assets of your partner in the way they have set out and finalise any debt and taxes they owed. People entitled to part of your partner's estate are known as 'beneficiaries'. Assets can only be distributed after debts are paid and once the Supreme Court has granted 'probate', or validated the will.

The executor will need the following documents to administer the will. Gather these documents as soon as you can:

  • Banking records
  • Credit, charge and store cards
  • Taxation records
  • Superannuation
  • Records of investments

·       Process Insurance Policies

If your partner had any insurances payable upon death such as life insurance you should take action to file these policies.  Life insurance may be paid to beneficiaries as soon as 48 hours after the presentation of a death certificate, provided the death is not deemed suspicious by the insurance company.  It may seem to be rushing things but access to any funds during this traumatic time may ease your stress slightly if money is tight.

·       Look Into Assets and Debts

After the death of a loved one, you may need to find out more about changes to the investments and assets you own.  The deceased’s financial assets and bank accounts will be automatically frozen until their estate is settled.  If you have a joint account, you should still have access to the funds.  

If your partner had superannuation you may also be entitled to a super payment however superannuation is governed by a death benefit nomination so the executor needs to contact the super fund and find out if there is one in place; if not the trustees of the super fund have discretion over paying out death benefits and the process will take longer.   Be mindful if your asset position changes it may result in changed Centrelink payment rates.  Make sure you also contact any current or past employers of your partner as they may be entitled to payouts for any owing sick, annual or long service leave.

What to do if there is no will

Intestacy is the condition of the estate of a person who dies without having made a valid will or other binding declaration.  Very few of the above steps can be completed if you do not know who is the beneficiary of your partner’s estate.  If you die without a valid will then an application for a Grant of Letters of Administration will need to be made to the Supreme Court. In most instances the grant is made to the next of kin of the deceased (usually the spouse, child or domestic partner).  In order to qualify as a domestic partner you need to have lived in a domestic or de facto relationship for two years, or have a child together, or have formally registered your relationship before your partner can benefit from your estate.    Things can get very messy and stressful for loved ones in the absence of a will, especially if special circumstances apply to your family such as multiple marriages, step children and the complexities of blended families.  The administrative task alone of establishing who is eligible is a huge strain for a loved one who is grieving which can be avoided if a will is in place.  It is important to seek legal advice if you partner dies without a will in place.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way”.

When your partner dies, you may be suddenly forced to take care of money matters - something your partner may have done for many years. Although you are likely still grieving, you must take care of yourself, and that includes your finances. If in doubt, it can be a good idea to seek help with managing your finances.  Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you are interested in estate planning, or if you need any help getting your affairs in order following the death of a loved one.

 

Disclaimer: All strategies and information provided in this article are general advice only; this advice may not be suitable to you because it does not take into consideration any of your personal circumstances.