Navigating the Inevitable

A simple to do list before and after losing a loved one

By David Boyle - Mint Asset Management

Benjamin Franklin once said "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." And it was a quote that came to mind when I started writing this article.

Losing a parent is one of the most difficult things to deal with, especially if they were the last parent and meant the world to you. I can talk about this experience first-hand, after losing my mum at 95 just recently.

While dealing with all the emotional issues around losing a parent, there are so many other elements that you need to be aware of, especially if they haven’t been taken into consideration before the actual event.

So I thought I would share the process that I went through, so it might help you to navigate a better outcome than if you were dealing with all of the unexpected curve balls being thrown at you, in many cases at the same time.

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 changed from having a Mum, to being asked “do you want us to keep her alive”, as it was going to be unlikely she would survive the next few days. My life stopped for a moment and all the other worries I had dissipated into thin air.

Thankfully, a lot of the difficult questions my sister and I needed to address for Mum 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.

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 the relationship of family members. A will lists your wishes and allocations of your assets.

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 piece of mind for all concerned.

A conversation should be had with all direct family members, preferably documented. While many family dynamics are different and not perfect, 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. What you might not think is valuable, a family member may have an incredible emotional value attached to the item and it might mean a lot to them if they received it from you

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 away the stuff 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 when you pass.

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.

I was able to make it home to see Mum and spend some time with her until she passed away four days later. It was an incredibly emotional time, but also a wonderful time of reflection. 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 to start 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.

Contact your local funeral director. The one we had was excellent and helped with:

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 something that will be part of the estate and 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 authorised financial adviser to help with where the funds could be best invested to help not only your but future generations financial wellbeing

Take time out for yourself. Probably the hardest part I found. But really important to keep things together while juggling what appears to be a lot of balls in the air.

I was able to share the responsibility of the decision-making with my sister and, again, very lucky that we talked and agreed on every point and approach that we took.  I know it won’t as easy for many others who have more siblings, mixed families, and general complexities that are the reality for most people. The Waltons (for those who remember the show) is not how families are in real life but hopefully the above points and insights can help navigate one of the most challenging periods that we all have to confront at some time in our lives.

Disclaimer: David Boyle is Head of Sales and Marketing at Mint Asset Management Limited. The above article is intended to provide information and does not purport to give investment advice.

Mint Asset Management is the issuer of the Mint Asset Management Funds. Download a copy of the product disclosure statement here.