Families left without money after loved ones pass away
what has happened. This one document should be enough. After all, it’s a crime to lie in a stat dec.”
Comprehensive change doesn’t appear to be on the Government’s agenda, but when contacted by The Sunday Times, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg — who is overseeing the financial services portfolio — highlighted the rigour they have recently introduced.
“Following a request by the Coalition Government, the Australian Banking Association in consultation with the Australian Competition and Investments Commission (ASIC) updated the terms of the Banking Code of Practice to . . . clarify consumer expectations with respect to handling deceased estates,” he said.
“Additionally, ASIC is placing staff within the big four banks as well as AMP to monitor governance and compliance of these organisations, including how they handle disputes with their customers.
“The Government recently legislated to create the Australian Financial Complaints Authority which (from November 1) will allow all financial complaints . . . to be centralised with a single scheme, thereby reducing consumer confusion.”
Christine Richardson and Donna Lee Powell will continue to lobby governments for change but, in the meantime, they are holding a seminar to help those who find themselves fumbling through the financial fog after losing a loved one.
“It’s got to the stage where we have to hold an information night,” Christine says. “We want people to understand that if someone dies after they’ve turned 18 there is going to be complex financial expectations whether you’re ready for them or not.”
Donna adds: “Yes, people need to be educated so they’re aware of what they might have to go through. It’s complex. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”
Christine has proof that the process can be made easier.
“The Water Corp, for example, completely overhauled their bereavement system,” she says. “We started talking to them four years ago and they actually heard us. They have bereavement staff, they have staff trained to look after the estate. It’s all part of their training now. They’re getting it right.”
Water Corporation’s customer and community general manager, Catherine Ferrari, confirmed the effort they made for those going through grief.
“In recent years we’ve spent a lot of time understanding our customers’ needs,” she says. “(This) helped us redesign our processes to make it easier for (grieving) customers to deal with us. We (wanted to) look at these issues through their eyes.
“In these circumstances we can appoint a case manager, so someone experiencing bereavement can have one point of contact to help make any changes needed.
“We have also simplified the process by providing customers with immediate access to manage billing, payments or financial hardship queries regarding the account still in the deceased’s name, without the need to provide an authorisation, such as probate.”
A more streamlined system would have helped Samara Deeg, who breaks down when she retells the roundabouts she had to navigate. “There were things I had to deal with that make me so cross,” she says.
“It just shouldn’t be like that. And it shocked me. Your local bank branch should know what to do. They should take you into a private room and say, ‘Right, this is what’s going to happen’. I walked out of there not knowing what was going to happen and I was freaking out.
“A week later I went to get the kids’ stuff for school: books, shoes and all that — and had my card declined. They’d cancelled my card because I was the secondary card holder. No one had told me.
“So I had two kids looking at me with these big eyes thinking, ‘What's going on here, mum? Are we OK?’”
Filling out countless forms and being put in the phone queue for financial hardship instead of dealing with specialist bereavement staff almost broke Samara.
“I’ve yelled at so many people because I’m just so angry at explaining my situation 10 million times,” she says. “You know when you go, ‘Just for a minute, think if this happened to you and where your levels of being reasonable are’.
“They just wanted forms filled out, and information from you that is so invasive many times over and over. I was really stressed about the mortgage. I spoke to this one lady and said, ‘You know, you never made me feel like you were going to put my mortgage on hold, you made me feel like it was an application and that it was never a given’.
“When they finally did put the mortgage on hold they had a valuer come over and he was taking pictures of my house before he even came in. And then when he came in he casually says, ‘Oh, so you’re refinancing, are you?’ And I launched into him, I said ‘NO!!’
“There was no empathy training. None.”
With the help of Donna, Samara has been able to break free of the financial fog and, last week, a day before her birthday, the first one without Klae, a life insurance policy was finally approved.
Samara adds: “If I didn’t have Donna I don’t know where I would be. I am deadly serious. I probably would have given up. I wouldn’t be where I am. Because I felt so supported by Donna, from the first time I spoke with her.”
The Sunday Times rang a spokesperson for the Australian Banking Association and emailed questions but there was no response.