WHEN DEATH ISN’T THE END OF PAIN

When a loved one dies, the heartache is bru­tal enough, but many fam­i­lies have their grief com­pounded when banks and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions close ac­counts or refuse to pay out money of those who have passed away. Billy Rule re­ports

The Sunday Times - - News -

IN that mo­ment of fear when panic clutched her heart and Sa­mara Deeg re­alised her hus­band could die she, of course, tried to save his life. Fling­ing her­self on to the kitchen floor she started CPR.

But, al­most in­stantly, two things went through her mind. Oh my God, he’s al­ready dead, I can feel it, he’s left us. And the sense that she was be­ing watched.

She glanced up and locked her stare with two sets of eyes, both as wide as saucers. And through those young eyes she read what was click­ing over in the frag­ile minds of her sons — Mitchell, 11, and Dy­lan, eight. They were com­pre­hend­ing what was tak­ing place in front of them. That their dad, Klae, who had sud­denly col­lapsed, was dy­ing.

Only mo­ments be­fore, on De­cem­ber 28 last year, Dy­lan had been with his fa­ther in the kitchen of their home in the semi-ru­ral sub­urb of Woodridge, 80km north of Perth.

As they were mak­ing break­fast Klae, 41, dropped to the floor and never re­gained con­scious­ness — a vic­tim of acute car­diac fail­ure. For some rea­son, the heart of the man who was the heart­beat of the Deeg fam­ily just stopped.

“The air was dif­fer­ent that day,” Sa­mara re­calls. “It was hor­ri­ble, yes, but this calm­ness also came over me. Some­thing that I can’t ex­plain but it was like Klae was with me, help­ing me keep calm in a cri­sis.”

She con­tin­ued do­ing CPR un­til an am­bu­lance ar­rived but, “I knew in my heart that Klae was gone”.

Af­ter a fu­neral and much griev­ing the trio did their best to move for­ward with­out their “rock” — Sa­mara mak­ing it her goal to try and set­tle back into the rhythm of life as quickly as pos­si­ble.

But that’s when the hur­dles ap­peared.

“The banks were the worst,” Sa­mara says. “Klae had two busi­nesses, so I was us­ing Klae’s lo­gon de­tails to keep every­thing go­ing, just pay­ing bills and pay­ing staff and things like that.

“Then I tried to log on one day and it wouldn’t let me. So I rang and ex­plained the situation and they said, ‘Come in to­mor­row’.

“The next day I walked in to the bank and a lady sat me down in an open area and got me to fill in forms declar­ing that Klae had passed away.

“Then she pretty much pro­ceeded to say, ‘All of the ac­counts in your hus­band’s name with the busi­nesses have now been frozen and you have no ac­cess to them’. And I said, ‘That means I have no ac­cess to any money’.

“She said, ‘Yes, I sup­pose so’. And I said, ‘What hap­pens to the mort­gage?’ And she said, ‘Well, at this stage you’ll still have to pay, but if you’re hav­ing fi­nan­cial prob­lems then you’ll have to ap­ply for fi­nan­cial hard­ship’.

“And this was all in an open bank area with other peo­ple about and within three weeks of Klae pass­ing.

“I couldn’t be­lieve what she was telling me. My world had just been ripped apart and ev­ery ques­tion I asked she couldn’t give me an an­swer. She said, ‘Oh, I have to check with over east and they’ve gone home now’.

“So I got out of there. I just had to leave. I was think­ing, ‘What am I go­ing to do? I’ve got th­ese busi­nesses with peo­ple who need to be paid. I’ve got bills to pay, a mort­gage to pay, din­ner to get that night’. Life had to go on. I was freak­ing out.”

The next day Sa­mara en­coun­tered just as much frus­tra­tion when deal­ing with bank staff on the east coast, say­ing: “They talk to you like your dog’s died. It’s just me­thod­i­cal.

“The thing is I had the money. I could have lived, I could have kept every­thing go­ing and we could have been OK. But they shut me down.” TWO years be­fore Klae’s shock death, fi­nan­cial ad­viser Donna Lee Pow­ell was stand­ing with her two chil­dren when she watched in shock as life­guards brought her un­con­scious hus­band, Brett, to shore dur­ing the Bus­sel­ton Iron­man.

The seem­ingly fit, healthy 39-year-old couldn’t be re­vived and he passed away in front of his dis­traught young fam­ily.

The cou­ple had been child­hood sweet­hearts and Donna felt lost with­out him.

“I couldn’t even drive, I wasn’t up to it,” she re­mem­bers. “When we even­tu­ally went back to Perth I had to sit in the back seat hold­ing my kids.”

As she at­tempted to move for­ward, she was frus­trated with the com­pli­ca­tions in­volved in try­ing to wind up an es­tate, in­clud­ing ac­cess­ing su­per­an­nu­a­tion and in­surance ben­e­fits. The worst came the day be­fore Christ­mas.

“We got an email on Christ­mas Eve (2015) from an in­surance com­pany say­ing they were re­fus­ing to pay out an ac­ci­den­tal death pol­icy,” Donna says. “Peo­ple can be so in­sen­si­tive at times.”

Hav­ing been in the fi­nance in­dus­try for 20 years, Donna was even­tu­ally able to over­come the ad­min­is­tra­tive and emo­tional hur­dles.

But that’s be­cause she was pre­pared — some­thing she says, “most peo­ple don’t get around to do­ing. Brett and I did, but when he died, I still had prob­lems with the in­surance com­pany — and this is all when you’re griev­ing and try­ing to be there for your kids.”

She adds: “No one wants to talk about wills and es­tate plan­ning. But hav­ing a will in place, hav­ing some life in­surance . . . it’s so im­por­tant. It’s not just older peo­ple who die.”

Her ex­pe­ri­ence mo­ti­vated her to re­fo­cus her busi­ness, DLP Life De­sign, on help­ing wi­d­ows man­age the fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties thrust upon them when their part­ner dies.

And some­one who came to her for help was Sa­mara Deeg.

“In Sam’s situation, her hus­band was the sole di­rec­tor of the com­pany — Klae owned the com­pany out­right,” Donna says. “So, even though Sam was mar­ried to him, she had no le­gal rights, un­til the pro­bate process was com­pleted. This can take up to six months.

“They also didn’t have a will — and this is more com­mon than you would think — so Klae died in­tes­tate, which means it’s left up to the courts to de­cide who gets money.

“In re­gard to the banks, they have to do what is legally re­quired. But it’s just the way they go about it that’s in­cor­rect.”

Some­one who shares that as­sess­ment is Christine Richard­son from The Grief Cen­tre of West­ern Aus­tralia.

Christine co-founded the or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2007 to help sup­port peo­ple man­age their grief af­ter los­ing a loved one. Her aim was to pro­vide a holis­tic path­way for part­ners or fam­i­lies as they try to move for­ward.

What she didn’t ex­pect was grief be­ing com­pounded as peo­ple tried to deal with in­sen­si­tive banks, fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, in­surance agen­cies, su­per­an­nu­a­tion funds, gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, tel­cos and util­ity providers.

She rolls off ex­am­ples such as the mother whose 20-year-old son passed away who “was treated like a thief” when she tried to sort out his su­per­an­nu­a­tion; the woman who be­came home­less be­cause she wasn’t aware of Cen­tre­link be­reave­ment pay­ments she was en­ti­tled to; the par­ents who weren’t al­lowed to close their late daugh­ter’s bank ac­counts; the lady who went down south to get over her hus­band’s death only to dis­cover her bank ac­counts had been shut down, leav­ing her with­out money.

“It’s re­lent­less,” she says. “How can th­ese places still mis­man­age be­reave­ment? It’s not as if this is the first time they’re deal­ing with fam­i­lies of some­one who has died.

“And, be­cause of the way peo­ple are be­ing treated, it means they’re even more trau­ma­tised.

“It’s all very well to say, ‘You need to be fi­nan­cially ed­u­cated’, but that's go­ing to be slow be­cause, for ex­am­ple, no one thinks they're go­ing to lose their 20-year-old son. It’s not in their headspace.

“Sure, we can ed­u­cate, but what we need is pol­icy change.”

Donna sug­gests some­thing like a por­tal or a web­site where you only have to en­ter your de­tails once.

“It’s the Gov­ern­ment who should act first — both State and Fed­eral,” she says. “If they set up their in­fra­struc­ture where there is some type of ecosys­tem where all the in­for­ma­tion is linked, some­thing like the MyGov set-up.

“Then peo­ple could give per­mis­sion to the Gov­ern­ment to re­lease in­for­ma­tion to the life in­surance com­pa­nies, su­per­an­nu­a­tion funds, the banks and the util­i­ties, so they can ac­cess the death cer­tifi­cate, coro­ner’s report and pro­bate as re­quired.

“It should be stream­lined and in­ter­linked. At the mo­ment the process is com­pli­cated and con­fus­ing. It doesn’t need to be.”

Donna also stresses the im­por­tance of sen­si­tiv­ity.

“In­sti­tu­tions need to seg­re­gate th­ese types of ser­vices into de­part­ments where staff are well trained with the re­quire­ments ex­pected, take a com­mon­sense ap­proached to out­comes and are sen­si­tive to peo­ple who are griev­ing,” she says. ANOTHER per­son who’s seen the in­sen­si­tiv­ity of the in­sti­tu­tions is prom­i­nent lawyer John Ham­mond. And, from his ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s those at a frag­ile age who are usu­ally in the fir­ing line.

“The banks have shown a to­tal lack of care and com­pas­sion for the el­derly try­ing to or­gan­ise ac­counts or ac­cess funds when their part­ner dies,” he says. “It des­per­ately needs to change.

“Banks are mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for el­derly peo­ple,” he says. “Many of them don’t have cur­rent pass­ports or a driver’s li­cence, which are a vi­tal part of the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion process.

“Be­cause of a lack of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in the form re­quired by banks, the el­derly are put through un­nec­es­sary an­guish. They need to be af­forded more le­niency.”

Like Donna and Christine, Ham­mond be­lieves the leg­is­la­tion needs an em­pa­thy in­jec­tion.

“El­derly peo­ple should be given the op­tion of pro­duc­ing a sim­ple statu­tory dec­la­ra­tion,” he says. “Make it a form avail­able at the bank, or the chemist or on­line that sets out their cir­cum­stances and

JOSH FRY­DEN­BERG

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