It’s hard losing a loved one. No matter which way it happens – sudden loss or after a long illness. I guess human nature is to generally be caught unawares because after long illnesses and near misses with the grim reaper you would think that there would be no surprise when the moment actually comes.
Unwinding a life is a tedious thing. As I sit in yet another endless queue to sort out yet another death admin matter, I figured that I may as well document my experience. Here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
1. Save the undertakers number.
Morbid. Yes. Weird. Yes. Necessary? Yes!!
It’s a rather odd thing to call around undertakers and funeral parlours, but I did that. I needed to know if our funeral cover was sufficient. In the process, I decided on an undertaker based on their ‘bedside manner’ and transparency with costs and information. I didn’t save the number. Years later, when death came, the ambulance driver called what I can only assume is his ‘promo code’ undertaker. Did you know that funeral parlours are franchise businesses? I didn’t. Well, that is I didn’t until they came and took the body. Now that they’ve got your loved one, whatcha gonna do? Pay them whatever they want, that’s what. It wasn’t the franchise of my choice – this one was the one with the trash bedside manner. Legit – as we were gathered around the hearse finishing the service and they wanted to go back into the Church to take their flower vases.
2. Understand the documents required to claim for funeral cover / have at least ZAR 30k stashed away for ‘just in case’.
So your loved one is dead. You know, your family knows, social media knows but does home affairs? If you happen to have funeral cover, they need the official notice from home affairs BEFORE they will process your claim. You will get the money in 24 hours if you have all the required documents. In our case, death was on Tuesday, papers came in on Friday and were collected on Saturday. The claim was made on Saturday, the funeral was on Tuesday. On Monday, I happened to be in the mall and thought I’d pass by old mutual to check on the status of the claim. It hasn’t even been opened (sigh). They proceeded it while I waited. Note, you will not bury anyone until you’ve paid the service provider in full. We used emergency funds. The inContact came during the service.
3. All the admin, none of the directive.
Do you have a will? Is it current? Do people know where to find it? If the answer is yes to all the above then you can keep scrolling. If not, you need to get your shit together.
Start with simple things like your burial wishes – sand or fire? Scatter or retain? What do you want to wear, if it really matters to you? Casket or coffin? (the price differentials are mad).
Side note: deciding the last clothes and dropping them off in a black bin bag was the absolute pits. It was so fucking heartbreaking. That was the saddest part of this whole expereince for me.
Now to unwind an estate. This is the closest thing to hellish outside of the queues at Beitbridge border post. If you’re unfortunate enough to have been bereaved where there is no will, then you’re in the shits. There is paperwork. So much paperwork.
You need to go to the master of the high court to get a letter authorising you to get documents from the bank and any policy and service providers so that the master’s office can verify the size of the estate. If there are assets that you list on the inventory form e.g. a vehicle, you need a copy of the registration papers, a house – a letter from the bank, final bank statements etc. If the deceased was married, you need a copy of the marriage certificate, divorce certificate (if applicable), details of the nominated person (ID, proof of residence). In the case of the nominated person being someone other than a living spouse, you need a copy of the spousal ID.
Once the letter of authority is issued then you can go to all the service providers and close off accounts and sell assets. That includes city council accounts because they will not just give you back your money. The process is more complex if there are minors as dependants or the estate is valued over ZAR 250K. We had 99 problems, but thankfully this wasn’t one.
I love him, but my father was disorganised AF. It was a wild goose chase all the way through. Who did he have policies with? Are they still current? Hours on the phone trying to figure this out. His car is paid off but where are the papers? We can’t sell it until we settle the outstanding licence fees (does anyone want to sponsor us? It’s only ZAR 2.7 we need to pull out of our arses on a random Friday in March). Oh, they need copies of documents? I didn’t know. That’ll be ZAR 75 for 12 pieces of paper – the vendors at the gate are so fucking expensive. *note to self, always keep copies of all the documents plus proof of residence of the executor.
4. No money, more problems.
There will be claims against the estate. What estate? Who is the estate? The person with authority as per the letter from the master’s office is ultimately responsible, so be careful what you volunteer for. It’s completely bizarre and frustrating to get letters of demand after you’ve lost someone. Everyone is suddenly owed something, and for the most part, those left behind do not have the context or information to challenge the claims. And so you pay.
The fucking irony about death is that it is hardly final. It’s hard to grieve when you’re either waiting in line or swiping your card, doing the absolute most to bring some finality to death. In all of this, my biggest takeaways are:
- use service providers renowned for their primary service. We laugh at the Dube’s but we could have really used the ZAR 200 airtime and ZAR 3k grocery benefit. Death admin is expensive and time-consuming enough without having to drop off a corpse at old mutual.
- make sure your policies are up to date. It’s frustrating to have to call around trying to figure it all out.
- carry around numerous copies of relevant documents: your ID (if you’re married, both maiden and married), your proof of residence, letter of authority, death certificate and ID of the deceased. These will be asked for by everyone, and it will save you numerous trips to the same place as they ask for one missing document at a time (because – government).
- keep snacks and some entertainment on you. The waiting is insane.
- expect to have to fight with at least one service provider about erroneous billing (Discovery Health, I’m talking to you).
So in conclusion, if you’re legally classified as an adult, get (and keep) your shit together. Here’s a shortlist of things to start with. Also, while you’re at it, get decent life insurance. We will inevitably cry, but it’s better to dry one’s tears with a Gucci scarf.
What are some of the things you wish you knew about death admin? Let’s chat!