The death of a loved one is never easy. It’s not something we like to think about, let alone plan for. When a loved one dies, whether it’s sudden and unexpected, or it follows a long illness, there are always so many things that need to be done. Unfortunately, most of them need immediate attention too, as I found out when my mother died.
Five things you need to do when a loved one dies
As some of you may be aware, my mother died from cancer when I was 21 and away at university. While her death wasn’t unexpected for my father and her friends, it came as a massive shock to me. She had asked them not to tell me how ill she was, so as not to interfere with my studies.
The night before she died, I had a phone call from a close family friend, suggesting I come home straight away. She was in bed, with a tube helping her breathe. Incredibly, I didn’t realise how ill she was but it was the last time I saw her alive, as she died in the early hours of the following morning. And then I had to cope with my father, who went to pieces. My mother was always the organised one who ran our home but this time it was all down to us. Here’s some of what we had to do.
#01 Report and register her death
Because she died from natural causes, our GP was able to issue a death certificate. I don’t recall if she had given consent for organ donation but I suspect her organs would have been unusable in any case. Thereafter, we had to register her death at our local registrar’s office. (Had her death been unexpected, we would have had to ask a coroner to investigate further).
#02 Tell people
This was the hardest part for me. We went through my parents’ address book and took it in turns to phone people. To be honest, this part is still a bit of a blur, I think we were both running on autopilot. But I do remember worrying hugely that we might have missed telling someone.
Without wanting to sound morbid, I have an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop with separate sheets for family, friends, work colleagues, and miscellaneous others. Each entry has a name, telephone number and address (if known). It’s very much a work in progress but when I have time, I try to update it. You know, just in case.
And I’ve made Alan my ICE contact on my mobile phone. This is so the emergency services know who to call if I’m in an accident, especially if I can’t speak to them. It’s such a good initiative, if you haven’t set this up already then I’d urge you to do so – you can find out more here.
#03 Arrange her funeral
My mother wanted to be cremated and left clear instructions on what had to be done, right down to her choice of music at the service. To this day, I cannot listen to either Pachelbel’s Canon in D or Beethoven’s 5th Symphony without tearing up.
#04 Manage her estate and probate her Will
Being super organised, my mother left her up-to-date Will with our family solicitor so probate (the process of enacting her Will) was much simpler. If she hadn’t, her whole estate would have passed to my father as they were married.
However, if they hadn’t been married, the courts would have decided according to the rules of intestacy – as unmarried partners have no right to inherit. My father would have had to apply to our local magistrates’ court for permission to act as Administrator.
#05 Tell the financial, government and online institutions
Did you know that any joint accounts are automatically frozen after one of the signatories dies? Well, we didn’t. Thanks to my mother’s organisational skills, all the necessary paperwork was in easy-to-find places. But my father still had to contact the banks, building societies, stocks and shares, credit card, insurance, mortgage, and pension companies. Then HMRC, DWP, our local council authority, the Passport Office and the DVLA. Only after they had all received a certified copy of her death certificate did things start moving again.
Fortunately, their utility companies’ and other service providers’ contracts were all in joint names and she had no recurring gym memberships on their bank account. (She didn’t regard exercise as beneficial or enjoyable in any way, shape or form – a trait I have inherited from her!)
Social media wasn’t around when my mother died. But if she’d had any social media, email and website accounts then we would have needed to cancel or transfer them as well, to prevent identity theft, if nothing else.
Looking back on all of this, I can’t believe how much we had to deal with. And at the worst of all possible times too. Of course, you may have thought about some of these issues already but if not, you may find this checklist from SunLife * helpful.
I’m fairly well organised as a rule but looking ahead to my own death is not something I’ve given a great deal of thought about. While I intend to be around for a good long while yet, writing this post has made me realise that a little planning ahead will not go amiss. That way, I have some peace of mind that if anything were to happen to me, Alan and Flora will have one less thing to worry about.
* This is a sponsored post.