What to do when a parent or guardian dies

What to do when a parent or guardian dies

Published on 31st May, 2021 at 10:36 am

The death of a parent or guardian can be overwhelming. Use this guide on all the tasks that need to be handled when a parent dies, and ways to cope with the grief of this loss too.

Straight away

Secure the death certificate
“Under normal circumstances, the funeral undertaker plays a role in acquiring the death certificate, as they are mandated to fill out a section of the Form BI (death report) of the deceased,” says Thumeka Mbam, head: back office processing at Sanlam Developing Markets Limited. “This is then taken to the Department of Home Affairs where the death is registered and a death certificate is issued.”

“Since the death certificate is a legal document that plays a role in winding down the estate, the executor cannot take care of much estate administration until after the certificate is secured,” says Elna Pieterse, national head of estates at Sanlam Trust. You also need the death certificate before you can claim funeral cover benefits – scroll further to find out more.

Reality Access for Fedhealth members get funeral cover worth R5 000 at no cost. The cover extends to the main member, spouse and children up to the age of 21. Find out more here.

Arrange the funeral
In the documents your parent or guardian left behind, they may have stated their wishes about what should be done with their remains, and the type of farewell they wanted. This information should be in a separate document to the will. “Some people make the mistake of putting these wishes in their will. However, it is not the right place,” says David Thomson of Sanlam Trust. “This is because a will is often only read after the funeral. A final-arrangements document should, instead, be drafted and these desires recorded.”

The document should also contain details about the funeral home or undertaker the deceased had chosen to carry out the funeral arrangements. Use this guide to help you organise a funeral.

Tell friends and family
While these days it’s common to share the news of a loved one’s passing on social media and WhatsApp, keep in mind the generations who don’t use these means to communicate, or those who you aren’t necessarily in contact with but who would like to attend a final goodbye. Place a notice of death in your local newspaper, with details of the funeral or memorial service and a contact number.

In the weeks after

Contact insurers
Life insurance
If you are a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, it is your responsibility – and not that of the executor – to lodge a claim with the insurer. Contact your parent or guardian’s financial planner to find out if a life cover policy was taken out in in their name, and whether you are a beneficiary. When lodging a claim, have the deceased’s ID number and policy number on hand.

“If there’s no beneficiary on a policy, you don’t need to do anything about it,” says Pieterse. An example would be if the policy pay-out was intended to cover estate expenses such as debts. “Sanlam Trust will be able to pick up all the major insurers and whether the policy will be payable to the estate.”

Funeral insurance
If your family has a funeral cover policy with Sanlam, you need to provide the following documents to claim funeral benefits:
• Proof of identity for the claimant (copy of ID or certified copy of birth certificate or certified copy of passport)
• Proof of identity for the deceased (copy of ID or certified copy of birth certificate or certified copy of passport)
• Proof of bank account into which the claim will be paid (bank statement stamped by the bank or cancelled cheque or salary advice showing the full account number)
• Copy of death certificate of the deceased
• Fully completed police report, if the cause of death was unnatural, accidental or suicide
• Copy of BI-1663 or DHA-1663 (notification of death) or BI-1680 (death report)

“These documents must be accompanied by a completed claim form,” says Mbam. “Once submitted, you can expect correspondence throughout the process until the claim has been paid. This includes confirmation that the claim has been received, timelines and the request for outstanding documents if there are any. Sanlam strives to pay claims within four hours.”

Read this for information you need to know about funeral cover.

Secure the will
If your parent or guardian had a financial planner, this should be your first point of contact to secure the most recent, accurate will. “If you don’t know whether your parent or guardian had a will, contact the trust departments of the major banks and investment houses, and quote the ID number of the person who passed away. Ask them to check if there’s a will,” suggests Pieterse. “If two different companies have record of a will, ask for the date of each will,” she continues. The one with the most recent date will be the most accurate will, which will come into play.
What if I still can’t find the will?
If you’ve looked through your parent or guardian’s paperwork, and have contacted their financial planner and various trust companies without any luck, you may need to do some phoning around. An attorney or bookkeeper your parent or guardian worked with could have a copy of their will. “If no will can be traced, contact Sanlam Trust to report the estate as intestate (without a will). The Law of Intestate Succession will then determine the beneficiaries of the deceased,” say Pieterse and Thomson.

Report the estate
“It’s important to contact the executor to report the estate,” says Pieterse. “Go through your parent or guardian’s papers and find all the documentation that the executor requires.” This list of documents includes everything that can possibly be in an estate. There are various ways you can report the estate: either by phoning your parent or guardian’s financial planner and forwarding all the documentation to be shared with the executor, or by contacting the executor directly and handling the matter telephonically or during an in-person consultation.

Be sure you are prepared for these surprising costs that arise after death.

Sort out the home
Before you and surviving family members begin to pack up your parent or guardian’s home, consider having a valuator come to assess the contents of the property. “It would be more affordable for the estate if the executor sends out the valuator first to do the valuation, before you begin packing up the home,” says Pieterse. This is because all valuable belongings (like furniture, paintings etc) are still all in on place, and the valuator wouldn’t have to travel to different family members afterwards to valuate the contents of the property.

Once this is done, and before you start packing up, ensure you have a copy of the will. “A will is a legally binding, written document that [an individual] makes freely and voluntarily detailing how [they] would want [their] assets to be distributed once [they’ve] passed away,” explains Thomson. Pieterse adds: “If you haven’t seen the will before, it’s important to make sure that you have your eyes on it, because people who are not inheriting in this estate are not allowed to take assets.” Have questions about wills? Read this to find the answers.

To avoid conflict, misundertanding and feuds arising – which can be common among those left behind after a family member’s passing – make a list of everything that each relative is taking when packing up your parent or guardian’s belongings. “If you make decisions, ensure everyone is on board,” suggests Pieterse. “If you are one of several children or dependants who are inheriting, ensure that all the children, if they are inheriting equal shares, are on board, and agree on who takes what.”

Make an inventory of assets and debts
The inventory is important because it will guide your executor on how the estate will be administered, says Pieterse. “The more accurate information you as a beneficiary give an executor, the more quickly and efficiently they can administer the estate,” she explains. While there are some centralised search tools that a trust company can use to trace properties and insurance policies, as well as private shareholding in a company and membership in a closed corporation, information about bank accounts and investments is something beneficiaries need to provide.

If you’re battling to find records of bank statements and investments, see if you can access the email account of the deceased. Most communications with investors and banking clients is done digitally now, so any bank or investment statements, or pay-outs of dividends, should have been communicated via email and be searchable.

Be patient in the grieving process

“You need to not put timelines on your grief and understand that the process is different for everyone – months for some, but years for others,” says Olwethu Jwili, a clinical psychologist. For many, the loss of a parent or guardian can be one of the most difficult losses to adjust to and grieve. After all, this is the person who has probably been at your side since day one, and been instrumental in nurturing you, and helping you grow into the person you are today. “You may be losing someone you have had a deep bond with – an adviser, a companion, a trusted source of comfort,” says Jwili. “Thus the loss resounds in multiple areas of your life, which also forces you to make too many adjustments, often without prior preparation.”
Lean on others
It is neither selfish nor self-indulgent to open up about your feelings following your parent or guardian’s death. When you are comfortable to do so, share what you are going through with family and friends you trust. “Access support structures, who need to be understanding,” says Jwili.
Talk to a professional
Unless close friends and family know how to counsel someone in the grieving process, they won’t necessarily know the best way to support you beyond listening and just being there in moments where you don’t want to be left alone. So look at booking to speak to a psychologist or counsellor for expert help. “Seeking professional help is essential, as a trained expert such as a psychologist or grief therapist may have a better understanding of how to offer the needed support,” says Jwili.
Speak with those who can relate
Sometimes getting support through an online grief support group can be key to making you feel less alone in your experience. Hearing “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling” or even loved ones assuming how you feel is just not helpful in the grieving process. Sharing your experiences, feelings, ways of coping and personal achievements in the grieving process with others who are going through the same thing can help you heal and adjust to this new phase in your life.

Read this for tips on how to deal with grief and loss.

Reality Access for Fedhealth members get R5 000 funeral cover for free as one of their Sanlam Reality benefits. Learn more here.

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