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A helping hand

Financial Guidance for Widows

Whilst I have not had to deal with the loss of a partner myself, my Dad died in an accident at the age of 54. The first few weeks after the passing of your partner go by in a blur. Lots of friends drop in giving their love, support and food. But after the funeral everyone goes back to their lives and you are left on your own.

We can guide you through the many different financial decisions that need to be made, letting you know what needs to be done now and what can wait a little a longer.

My Story

I was 31 when I received a message to call the Lismore Base Hospital where upon I was told by the nurse who answered the phone that my Dad had died in an accident, he was 54. The instant numbness and grief still shocks me in its intensity even 15 years on. I remember that day as if it was yesterday.

I was lucky in way, I live in Brisbane so after the funeral and getting the initial “things” done I could return to my home and detach myself to some extent from the reality that Dad was gone.

My Mum on the other hand had to return to the house, learn to live alone and figure out what she had to do. Mum and Dad lived (Mum still does) on 100 acres which runs beef cattle. Dad and my brother did all the work around the farm and looked after the cattle. So not only did Mum need to learn how to do the farm jobs, so she could help my brother, she also needed to take care of financial and legal issues.

After the funeral everyone goes back to their lives and you are left to your own devices. This is often a time where you feel a high level of isolation and loneliness.

My aim with this site is to you some guidance on what needs to be done and what you can expect from a financial and legal perspective.

I have put together a checklist that may help you in getting started with what needs to be done after the funeral: click here to download the checklist.

What to expect

Take your time in making decisions, your mind is likely to be a little cloudy, and this is not optimal for decision making. Let people know that you will be taking your time in making decisions and if they are not happy with this, seek new advisers.

The death certificate can take up to 6 weeks to arrive.

Typically, financial institutions will not start processing the payment of claims until the Grant of Probate (also known as Letter of Administration) is granted.

Insurance Claims

Insurance claims can take several months. Especially if a person has passed away from an illness. Insurance companies need to be sure that the illness (if not disclosed at the time of application) was not present at the time of application. This involves the insurance company getting medical records from Medicare – this can take up to two months.

Before claiming an insurance benefit seek financial advice, as the payment of the benefit may have immediate and ongoing tax issues.

Superannuation

Superannuation claims can also take several months especially if the deceased didn’t have a binding death nomination in place. The trustees of the super fund need to make sure that the benefit is being made to the most appropriate person/s.

Again, before claiming superannuation benefit, seek financial advice as the payment of the benefit may have immediate and ongoing tax issues.

Copies of Documents

Nearly everyone will need a copy of the Death Certificate and Will, so initially get 10 certified copies of both. Your solicitor or a JP can do this for you. Make sure they certify every page of the Will.

Tax Returns

You will need to lodge a final tax return for your spouse and also one for the Estate if the distribution takes some time and the Estate accrues income before the distribution occurs. As such the Estate will need a tax file number (TFN).

Bank Accounts

If you have a joint account, you should be able to continue to operate the account after you notify the bank of the death of your partner. However, any account that is held in their name only will be frozen by the bank once they have been notified of the death until the account is distributed via the Will.

Credit cards

Quite often a couple will hold credit cards seemly in their own names, however often this is technically not the case. Often the cards are actually held in one person's name with the second person being added to the card. If the person who is the primary card hold passes away, then the second card holder may have their card frozen and hence unable to make purchases with it. In this case the bank will generally issue you a new card if you meet their criteria for doing so.

Going Forward

It’s the little things that crop up from time to time that you haven’t thought of that may cause problems, like keeping up the servicing on your car. If your car receives a regular service the mechanic usually puts a sticker on the inside top right hand corner of the windscreen letting you know when the next service is due. Pop the date in your diary.

Looking after yourself

Losing a loved one is a shattering event that affects you emotionally, physically and spiritually. Try to look after yourself. Consider:
• Diet and exercise – grief impacts on the body and can cause symptoms such as sleeplessness, anxiety and a range of physical symptoms. Take care of yourself by paying attention to diet and getting regular exercise. Make sure that you receive good medical care and try to develop a good relationship with your doctor.
• Relaxation and sleep – schedule time every day to wind down, using whichever method works for you. Meditation, tai chi, taking a bath, playing sport, reading, undertaking hobbies, listening to music or watching your favourite television program, may all be of benefit. Try to get adequate sleep – grief can exhaust you.
• Care with drugs – try to avoid drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol to help you manage your grief. They may temporarily dull your pain, but cause other health and behavioural difficulties. If medication is needed, consult your doctor.
• Be realistic – be kind and gentle to yourself. Accept that you need to grieve in ways that feel natural to you. Don’t judge or criticise yourself for not coping as well as you think you should or others think you should.
• Reference: This section comes from www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no set time period to how long your grief will last. Everyone is different.

Some Legal Jargon Explained

Difference between Assets held as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common

Assets held in joint names are held either as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. The difference between the two is essentially that if an asset is owned as Joint Tenants and one joint tenant passes away, then the surviving joint tenant/s automatically takes ownership of the asset without the need for it to pass through the will.

If an asset is held as Tenants in Common then each person who holds an interest can dispose of their interest in the asset via their Will to anyone they see fit.

What is a Probate?

Probate is the court order that is issued by the Supreme Court of Queensland allowing your executor to “execute” the provisions of your Will. Probate is the legal sanction to your executor to carry out the terms of your Will and distribute your estate in the manner described in your Will. Your executor requires a Grant of Probate before they can obtain control of a number of the assets in your estate including investments held in financial institutions, real estate and the like. Once the Grant is obtained, an executor can then proceed to liquidate the estate in preparation for distributing it as set forth by your Will.

Our Services

We would be honoured to help you through this very difficult time. With our experience in this area we can guide you through the financial decisions you will need to make and assist you in securing your financial future. The initial consultation is free of charge. To make your initial appointment please phone (07) 3018 0587.