What do I do when my loved one dies?

-By Michelle le Roux

The worst has happened.

Perhaps it came unexpectedly, perhaps it’s been hovering for a while. The shock is the same…you’ve just lost a significant person in your life.

Saying goodbye is traumatic. Apart from the emotional distress of the passing, there is the added anxiety of having to make funeral arrangements and handling personal affairs. It’s an endless whirlpool of things to think about and paperwork to manage.

If you are a surviving spouse, partner, or relative, we’ve compiled a summary of items that you need to think about after someone passes away.  It brings order to a difficult time and allows you to focus your attention on yourself and your family instead.

Things that need immediate attention:

  1. Organ donation.

Try to establish if your loved one was a registered organ donor.

If you’re not sure, contact the Organ Donor Foundation’s Toll-Free Line on 08200 22 6611, and they will check against the ID number of the deceased. 

If the deceased was a registered donor, let hospital staff know immediately.  If the death occurred outside a hospital contact your nearest hospital.   Organ donation is extremely time-sensitive, so this item is at the very top of the to-do list.

2. Notify friends and family.

Notify other family members and friends and provide emotional support for one another.

3. Wishes for burial.

Check for a funeral policy and contact the funeral home (or if there is no policy, contact a funeral home of your choice). They will take your loved one’s body into their care, while you decide on burial or cremation options and make funeral arrangements.

Also, they usually take responsibility for submitting the notification of death to Home Affairs and obtaining the death certificate. Check that this is the case.  If not, they will guide you on how to apply for this yourself.

If you are religious, it’s a good idea to contact your pastor/minister/religious counsellor, who will guide you through this process.

4. Arranging care for dependents and pets.

If your loved one was responsible for the care of dependents or animals, arrange temporary care for them while you figure out a long-term solution.

5. Take care of the physical property.

Make sure that the property of your loved-one is secured. If he/she lived alone lock the house and the cars. Notify the security company that the property is empty and ask them to set the alarm remotely from their offices.

Similarly, if the deceased was a tenant, let the landlord know that the property will be vacant for some time.

6. Letting the office know.

If your loved one was employed (or actively volunteering somewhere), call their employer to let them know that he/she has passed away.

7. Finding the will & contacting the Executor of the Estate.

Locate a copy of the will to determine who the Executor is. He/she will take over the administrative aspects, such as filling out forms and dealing with the Master’s office.

If you are the Executor, be warned that these aspects can be a big administrative burden.   Don’t rush to start and finish the documents immediately after the passing (other than the notification of the death in step #3 above).

Things that need attention in the following days:

In the days after the passing, several items require your consideration. The following items will require a joint effort between the family of the deceased and the Executor of the estate.

  • Think about your immediate financial needs: if you were dependent on the deceased for financial support, how will you make ends meet until death benefits are allocated to you?
  • Report the death to the Master’s office within 14 days: the Master’s office will issue a Letter of Executorship that will allow the Executor to handle all necessary paperwork. The Executor must be appointed as quickly as possible because he/she will have authority over the deceased’s affairs, such as bank accounts.
  • Notify life insurance companies: most life-cover policies pay out a small portion of the total benefit (in the first days after the death) to help beneficiaries cover the cost of the funeral and their own short-term living expenses.
  • Speak to the short-term insurance broker: this is a high-risk aspect that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Policies in the deceased’s name need be identified to ensure that cover over assets (house, cars, household content) do not lapse.
  • Reach out to financial advisors:  let your financial advisor know of your loved one’s passing so that they can continue to look after the best interests of the investments (or portfolio) while they wait for the Executor’s instructions on how to proceed. The transfer of ownership, or distribution of proceeds, happens at the end of the estate administration process – often 6 months or more after the deceased has passed away. It is important that investments are properly managed in this period, in consultation with the Executor.
  • Notify the medical aid: particularly if you are the dependent of the medical aid where your loved one was the main member. They may already be aware of your loved one’s passing, but you must nevertheless notify them so that arrangements are made for your own cover to remain in place.
  • Identify important invoices or accounts: share this list with the Executor, so that he/she can arrange payment. It’s crucial that the Executor handles this aspect since payments made must be recorded in a certain manner and reported to the Master as part of the winding-up of the estate.
  • Check the deceased’s house more thoroughly: If he/she lived alone, throw out food that will expire, water the plants, turn off the geyser and water supply (if possible), and look out for anything that may need regular care.
  • Items that you need to be aware of, but will be handled by the Executor in the early days:
    • Opening an estate bank account.
    • Notifying the deceased’s bank.
    • Contacting the tax practitioner.
    • Closing credit card accounts.

Things that need attention once the dust has settled:

In the month or two after the death, the Executor should now firmly be in charge of the administration of important matters. You will still need to tackle less-pressing issues once you are ready. These include:

  • Updating your own will, and beneficiaries of policies.
  • Memorialising social media (Facebook, Instagram).
  • Closing email accounts.
  • Contacting the Post Office and notifying them to forward all mail to the Executor.
  • Cancelling memberships of organisations (such as the gym).
  • Cancelling subscriptions for newspapers and magazines.
  • Cancelling driver’s licence.
  • Notifying the Electoral Commission (IEC) to remove the deceased’s name from the voter’s roll.
  • Organising and distributing your loved one’s personal belongings.

Having the Foundation…

At Foundation Family Wealth, we believe in having a strong basis for the inevitable: we believe in planning for death.

We undertake rigorous estate planning and prepare thorough wills, but we also know that there will be plenty of aspects that you will have to think about, or manage, yourself.

We encourage our clients to keep a checklist with important documents and related contact details in a single folder so that survivors (and Executors) will be in a better position to do whatever is necessary after they lose their loved one. No time wasted on mindless details.

Contact us if you would like to revise your estate planning or will, or if you would like a copy of our template for organising your affairs.

Help your family be prepared for the day when your goodbye happens.

<Foundation Family Wealth is an Authorised Financial Services provider>

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