We unexpectedly lost my beautiful father-in-law five months ago. Like many men of his era, he took care of all things technological and financial.
Which means, along with his passing, my mother-in-law, Jo, is trying to cope with switching on Netflix as well as switching names on the Netflix account… Taking responsibility for not just the (numerous) household appliances and gadgets but also, one-by-one, taking over the utilities accounts... Driving, together with driving all the required updates to the car insurance, road-side assistance and registration (which for her meant more actual driving)… Turning into a single pension household overnight and turning off the Centrelink payments themselves (perhaps unsurprisingly easy)… Finding the money to pay the health fund gaps and the fortitude to remove my father-in-law's name from both the fund and Medicare.
"It was just a nightmare," she says, and several demands to speak with the 'account holder' – including previously when they knew he was in a coma – only added to the trauma. Unbelievable, right?
Jo names Medicare and the transport department (four forms and a JP witness) as the most onerous of the above list to deal with.
But that was nothing on probably the biggest personal challenge for her: the telecommunications. Easy for the prepaid Amaysim mobile. However, Telstra's otherwise helpful 'bereavement department' maintains that until the contract's end, she needs to make payments for the now-excessive internet and landline bundle. Or sign up for a fresh two years, at a slightly reduced rate. Of course, that consultant, didn't check if the package was still appropriate before transferring it into her name.
The bank, albeit via sympathetic staff, posed the other huge problem. Mercifully, there was one joint bank account – so Jo was able to keep accessing some money. However, there was a big drama… credit cards can only be in one name – someone has to take ultimate responsibility for the debt. Where there are two issued, the other one is simply a secondary card. And yup, it was in my father-in-law's name and therefore cancelled.
That leaves a woman with suddenly far more limited income who may one day have a need for emergency credit, with no means to get it.
More pressingly, this was a woman about to go on a short (pre-booked and by then just-what-the-doctor-ordered) overseas trip. With no credit card and no complimentary travel insurance.
In my own marriage, this flagged my husband could be in a similar boat were I to die, simply because in our relationship I do the 'money stuff' (he's 'technology' and Netflix would defeat me too).
What about you?
But no one has to die in a partnership for one person to lose access to credit, as found one stunned reader who recently, "without understanding the limitations", cancelled her Platinum credit card.
She and her husband of 40+ years have $800,000+ in savings and own two houses. But despite these assets and her good credit record, she can no longer get a credit card because her personal retirement income is low and the couple's income from superannuation and investment properties is mostly in her husband's name.
Another reader (also anonymously) laments a similar pension "imbalance" when it comes to her husband's defined benefit scheme. "It's a good scheme as long as he is alive! If I predecease him he stays on the 100% entitlement, however if he predeceases me, then the pension payment is reduced to only 68% of the pension that he was receiving at the time.
"This inequitable rule has obviously been in place since the major banks required men-only staff and were open on Saturdays!"
Unfortunately, there's naught that can be done about that one (and the same would obviously befall a man if the scheme was in a woman's name).
But provided you trust your partner, please add your name to every bill and bank account that you can, put it on at least some assets… and even think about getting a (low limit, for-emergencies-only) credit card in your own right.
In no other respect is a loving marriage a silent partnership. And it adds a financial dimension to grief.
Note: The Council of the Aged Victoria will release the Post Death Red Tape Project in April to assist people with the administration when a loved one dies.
This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 February 2018. It represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.
One in 10 Australians are supplementing their income.