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I'm a wills and business nerd. Mum. Gardener. #Radbosslady and protector of legacies.
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[00:00:01] Voiceover: This is an ABC podcast.
[00:00:04] Woman’s Voice: Hey, can I give you a heads up? This episode’s going to have some complicated financial stuff, but everyone’s situation is different. So you should really get your own advice.
[00:00:16] Jan Fran: It was just a regular day see and I was sitting in my office minding my own damn business when this dame walks in and she says to me, she says, “I need an investigator.” I said, “You’ve come to the right place. Pineapple Investigation, like it says on the door and I’m Jan Fran and she says, “Have I got a case for you, Jan Fran.” Anyway this dame, she goes on to tell me this wild story.
[00:00:46] Kate: Yes. So my dad died a little bit over a year ago. I’m fine. He wasn’t, obviously, but it was a situation where we were estranged for many years. I don’t know, if there’s a will. I don’t know anything, basically. It’s just, it’s almost like a stranger has died and I’m left with the, with the job of having to piece together his life and figure out what to do with his, his effects.
[00:01:17] Jan Fran: Truth really is stranger than fiction, see. That’s the thing with dying you reduce your own to-do list dramatically but the business of life just keeps ticking along without you and if nobody picks up that slack, eventually, the mortgage goes unpaid, the electricity shuts off, the cats don’t get worked and the [car ranger].. Forget about that. So what can you do before you die to ensure the people you leave behind don’t have to pull the weekend at [Bernie’s style] heist just to get into your bank accounts. Although I’d love to see that. Because otherwise, your loved ones are going to be left in the dark like Kate unsure of where pulling those threads of her dad’s life might lead.
[00:02:04] Kate: It was a situation where we were estranged for many years so, since I was about 13, hadn’t spoken to him and I got news that he had died the day before the funeral. So, what had happened was he had died alone. He was living in a share house and his body went unclaimed for about 4 weeks. And there was a community around him who was trying to track us down and I suppose some, like the police were trying to track us down. But for some reason they couldn’t find us and out of sheer coincidence, my uncle had met someone who said, “Listen there was this notice in the paper,” because he was in Brisbane at the time and we’re in Sydney, and they put two and two together and by that stage the funeral was three days away and then it took my relatives three days to contact me. So I found it very late. Flew up to Brisbane really quickly and went to the funeral having not seen him since I was a kid and then I was left with the task of figuring out what to do with his estate. Spoiler alert, I have done nothing because I have no idea what to do.
[00:03:19] Jan Fran: So you hadn’t seen or spoken to your dad since you were 13 years old. How old are you now?
[00:03:25] Kate: So I’m 40 so, you know, more than two decades ago.
[00:03:28] Jan Fran: Okay, that’s a long time.
[00:03:29] Kate: It’s a long time, time ago. So, you know, we’ve had no contact he and he had very minimal contacts with my extended family on his side as well. So, they, you know, we’re trying to stay in touch with him, but he had kind of isolated himself from the family at large. So what they knew was also pretty limited. Yeah. It’s kind of a mystery. Like I don’t know what kind of accounts he had. I don’t know, like, he was a veteran, so I knew he must have been getting some pension. I was told he might have a house but he was living at a share, in a share house at the time he died. So I don’t know if that’s true. But my relatives insist that it was. I don’t know if there’s a will. I don’t know anything, basically. It’s just it’s almost like a stranger has died and I’m left with the, with the job of having to piece together his life and figure out what to do with his, his effects. So what do I do? I have no idea and I suppose ultimately I could probably just let it lie. But I do feel you know, even though we’re estranged, he’s, you know, this other human being who had a tough life in his own way and I’d like to kind of help bring closure to that life whether or not he had any, an estate that was worth anything, like, as far as I know, I’m not a beneficiary of any of that. It’s really a case of wanting to kind of close everything up. If there was anything, my understanding is everything’s being left to my younger brother, which is fine, but I just don’t know the first thing about how to even track down what accounts he had. What he owned. What he wanted done. So I would really love to find a way or a path to figuring it all out.
[00:05:21] Jan Fran: Do you know where to start?
[00:05:23] Kate: No. Many other layer of difficulty is that this is all happening in a different state. So everything he had is somewhere else. There’s also, you know, a family overseas, like he had more than one partner. He had other kids that I don’t know as well. So I don’t know if he was seeing them as the people he should take care of or whether it was my brother or whether it was you know, who knows? It’s just a big tangled web.
[00:05:57] Jan Fran: Yeah. Do you know at least what documents you might need to get this process started?
[00:06:04] Kate: I guess the first step would be, I don’t know, some letters of administration or probate which establishes me as the executor of this estate. I mean, it’s really just been from a family point of view where I’ve just kind of by default being nominated as the person who will tidy this all up but there may be someone else who is regarded as next of kin for him. I just don’t even know so I guess that would be first step is to work out who’s the executor or make myself the executor.
[00:06:37] Jan Fran: Yeah, is it important for you to tie up his affairs? Is that an important thing for you to do?
[00:06:42] Kate: Yes, and no. So no, in the sense that he wasn’t in my life. I wouldn’t be getting anything out of this but I still, you know, feel bad for him as someone who lives a fairly unhappy life who was almost, you know, given a farewell by a bunch of strangers and, and it was just a bunch of strangers, 90% strangers. There were a few of us there in the end, but just there by the grace of God did we make it and who knows there might be things that I learn about him and his life that might bring me some more understanding of who he was and why he was the way he was, you know, obviously it wasn’t a great relationship or he was not a great parent, but you know, I might learn something from it. I just think he needs to get some kind of ending.
[00:07:28] Jan Fran: Yeah. Do you have any leads?
[00:07:31] Kate: No, so all I know is maybe I can go to the Public Trustee. The thing that has stopped me from doing this is, is emotionally even though I want to give him some kind of resolution financially, I don’t know how much this is going to cost me and ideally it would cost me nothing. I don’t mind giving it my time, but I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars to resolve his life. I just would rather not be out of pocket for it, but I would really like to be able to resolve it for him.
[00:08:02] Jan Fran: So we’re going to take some of your questions to a financial planner. So what are your, sort of, top questions for her?
[00:08:09] Kate: Who do I talk to first and, you know, what are the key things I need to resolve in order to resolve his estate? Is this going to cost me anything other than time? How long is this gonna take? What happens if there’s debt? And what happens if there’s actually an estate that’s worth something? How do we dispense of that responsibly if there’s no will?
[00:08:29] Jan Fran: These are all very good questions. It sounds like it might be a relatively simple thing or it sounds like it might end up being a super complicated thing. I guess, you’ve got to sort of start unraveling that thread, right?
[00:08:41] Kate: Yeah.
[00:08:41] Jan Fran: Yeah.
[00:08:42] Kate: Yeah because you know, there could be something. The thing that I’ve been told by my relatives was that they’re convinced he had house. I don’t want that house and according to my relatives who had, you know, more recent contact with him. He said that if he had anything, he would want to leave it all to my brother. Now, my brother can have all that stuff. I don’t care. I just want to, like, resolve it. So, what is the simplest way to resolve that? So we know, A. did he own anything or were there any accounts where there any debts because out of whatever state there maybe we’d like to kind of return some of that back to the community who kind of took care of his body and his situation when they organize the funeral and all that. So it’s just about you know, tidying it all up nicely and being able to close the book on the life that he had here and someone tell me what to do, please.
[00:09:38] Jan Fran: That is one hectic case to crack. I really want to help Kate. But who do I call about a thing like this?
[00:09:47] Grimmy: You know who to call, Jan Fran. Jan Fran! Obviously you would call your ghostly mate who has friends in the other realms and tons of otherworldly knowledge.
[00:10:00] Jan Fran: Oh God, Grimmy.
[00:10:03] Grimmy: Yes.
[00:10:03] Jan Fran: Wait, are you here to take me to the other side?
[00:10:06] Grimmy: Oh, no don’t. No. No, I’m here to do you a favor and hook you up with exactly the person you need to crack this case. Besides, I’ve been looking at your online banking.
[00:10:15] Jan Fran: Say what?
[00:10:15] Grimmy: No interrupting. And I see that you’re the bill payer in the household. Do you do most of the admin?
[00:10:20] Jan Fran: Yeah.
[00:10:21] Grimmy: And something I see a lot is that when I take someone, the person left behind has no idea how to access certain bank accounts or what subscriptions or loans that need to be paid and if you’re the one left behind unraveling that complicated web of someone else’s affairs can be a real bummer on top of everything else.
[00:10:38] Jan Fran: So do you have a contact for me or what?
[00:10:41] Grimmy: Oh, yeah. Let me have a look. Yup, here you go. The woman you seek is called Donna Lee Powell. She’s a financial planner who specializes in deceased estates and alike. I see her a lot actually. We play squash together once a month. She’s sneaky.
[00:10:59] Jan Fran: Sashay away, Grimmy.
[00:11:01] Grimmy: I’m helping you.
[00:11:05] Jan Fran: Jeez. He’s so, deal is so unnecessary. But yeah, I will take him up on that contact.
[00:11:10] Grimmy: I’m still standing here.
[00:11:12] Jan Fran: That’s illegal, you need to go.
[00:11:15] Grimmy: Oh pushy.
[00:11:24] Jan Fran: So Donna, I know this woman called Kate and she’s in a bit of a pickle.
[00:11:28] Donna Lee Powell: Yeah, that’s an interesting one. In this situation, the first thing Kate needs to figure out is whether there’s a valid and current will in place. And if there is, she needs to obtain the original document of that will and, and within that will in that original document that will outline who her estranged father has nominated as the executor of the will and how he wishes to have his estate distributed. There is no register for this and it’s a form that we come across quite regularly actually because people do these wills and they put them in a safe place and when somebody passes away, you know, they forget where they are and then quite often they’re unable to be located. So if there’s no will in place then the next thing is she needs to decide who’s going to apply to be the administrator of the estate. And have a discussion of that, you know, the situation in the estate and decide who’s going to apply to the court to become the administrator. So somebody who formally is almost in charge of the estate to wind up and distribute assets. And it’s state by state. So different states have different rules to how assets are distributed. If someone who dies interstate, which means they die without a will. You can nominate the Public Trustee to these sort of like a trustee of an estate if somebody doesn’t have somebody to act on their best interest if they are not of sound mind or they are unable to make decisions on their behalf, the public trustees is a government department that has been created to step into those roles for people who don’t have people that they can rely on to do these sorts of things, but she would then lose control. So rather than her applying to the courts to determine the determination for the estate and how that’s distributed, it would be the Public Trustee who does that on her behalf.
[00:13:11] Jan Fran: So, Donna is saying, basically, that this is pretty complicated. When someone dies you are under a huge amount of stress and grief and to make things worse, you have to somehow untangle that sticky mess of passwords and assets and debts and direct debits, you know, the kind of paper trail that a human leaves behind.
[00:13:34] Donna Lee Powell: You know, they can get bank statements or do a title search, just basically find out what assets he’s got also something very important is, she mentioned that he was a veteran, he would’ve been on Partner Veteran Affairs pension payments possibly. So it’s up to the executor or the administrator of the estate actually to notify them of his passing. And otherwise, they could be racking up some debt there that she, that the estate may be liable for. If you’re an Executor or administrator of an estate and you distribute assets and there’s some outstanding debts to that person that hasn’t been paid, maybe like the tax debt or you know, something like that, the individual executor can be liable for not paying down any individual debts that the person may have had if it’s not been paid in the assets have been distributed, you know, he may have superannuation funds or life insurance policies and it’s not as easy as it should be to be able to determine whether people have these types of assets that, and that potentially could change the whole outcome of the estate and the stress that this is putting on Kate. Yeah, it’s going to cost her a lot of time to administrate these but the way it works is usually the children or the spouse make the payments up front for all of these government fees or lawyers fees to get the process underway and they’re entitled to recoup the costs from the estate in tight situation. We actually don’t know whether there’s any money in the estate to be able to recoup the cost so I can, I appreciate her fears about moving forward with this because potentially she could be out of pocket. If there is no money in the estate to be able to recoup those costs. This is quite a common thing, you know, you hear some pretty horrific stories when it comes to Estate Planning and we touched on it before how people just don’t talk about it. Yet, it’s just so detrimental and so important to people whose well being that are left here, you know children, spouses that are left here after somebody passes away.
[00:15:45] Jan Fran: What are some of the unexpected costs that can rear their head when someone dies?
[00:15:50] Donna Lee Powell: Like I have a, I have a client who was, you know, in her mid-30s, her husband passed away. He was a sole director of a company he managed. He was the primary breadwinner of the family that had two young children and her legal process probably cost up to about maybe 8,000 but then the accounting costs were, you know, I think in between sort of 40 and 50 thousand dollars because of the record keeping to date and changing accountants and all those sorts of things that they literally are being paid to figure out the current situation. What was actually going on within the company. People just don’t know what they don’t know until they’re in that situation. They don’t realize the complexity involved, how important it is, and how everything can ride on just one document. We’ve got this antiquated, archaic estate planning system, you know, like, I had a situation just a couple weeks ago, like, you know, I lost my husband he passed away four and a half years ago and I went to the post office to launch my poor, my daughter’s, who’s 16, her passport renewal application. Went through the application online in detail made sure that I said that I could do as one parent and read it intricately to make sure that I didn’t require anything else to avoid what actually end up happening. So, you know four and a half years later rack up to the post office just before it was closing with my daughter in tow and the lady goes, “Well on the birth certificate it says that your daughter has a father, yet you’re the only one applying for the passport and the father will need to authorize a renewal of the passport.” So then I had to say again for the 50 millionth time, “Her dad has passed away. I’m sorry, he’s not here. Can I not just lodge it?” And she’s like, “I’m sorry, you have to prove that her father has passed away.” Now, I’d just moved house, you know, three months before I have, like, boxes and boxes and boxes of things that I have shelved that I didn’t think I needed to deal with. So, I then had to scroll through every single box that night and the next morning, I found some good luck at five o’clock the next morning, which was an envelope which had his narrative to get his passport, his birth certificate, the death certificate, all things I’d tucked away probably maybe a year ago after I’d finalized everything, thinking that I would never have to deal with that again and had I not been able to locate the original one, I had copies of certified documents, they wouldn’t accept that I had to find the actual original death certificate, had I not been able to find that, I don’t know whether I would have been able to get anything from Births, Deaths and Marriages because all the ID proving that I was married to him, that I was with him for like 20 or so years was in that one box. So I would have potentially end up in tight situation not knowing where to go, what to do because all my proof of us being married, you know, him being alive was all in that one box. So thankfully I have managed to find it. The rate was 39 when he passed away and he was doing that Busselton half Ironman so he was fit, healthy. The coroner’s report couldn’t determine what, why he actually passed away. So to this day we still, we still don’t know what the cause was and that in a sense that in itself calls me some angst in my whole estate planning process of dealing with the trustee of an industry super fund because it had undetermined they’ve pretty much weren’t comfortable paying the money out to me, even though I was his nominated beneficiary because they were concerned that I may have been involved with his death. So just having that conversation on the phone obviously triggered me quite emotionally and it was actually at that point that I actually outsourced my claim with them to my old business partner to help me facilitate that because I just couldn’t cope with it anymore. And that’s with all my strength and experience and I had been dealing with clients who have lost partners before. So it was just one component of it. So, you know, even when you are organized, you still get triggered by some people’s responses and insensitivity to when they’re dealing with such a personal issue, not to mention the fact, you’ve got to relive the day over and over and over again to explain to everybody why you’re there what you’re doing and what you need to achieve. It’s just, it’s ridiculous, really.
[00:20:00] Jan Fran: Try now. What can I put in place right now to make all of this easier in the event that something happens?
[00:20:06] Donna Lee Powell: If you want to make things easier and plan for you know, the unimaginable, I suggest that you get a proper will drafted by professional services. And I highly recommend that you repay for a professional that you know, and you trust that’s been recommended to you because the cost that you pay upfront now will be far less than if you don’t die with a will or your will’s actually invalid when you passed away, so ensure that you’ve got all your insurances in place and that you’ve nominated who you want those funds to go to. Make sure you’re aware of your superannuation funds and who you’ve nominated for those plans to go to after you’ve passed away and tell somebody that you know and trust where you keep all those important documents. It’s very complex area and it can cost the estate far greater and add so much more additional stress to your family and loved ones if you don’t sort out your affairs before you die.
[00:21:02] Jan Fran: We took Donna’s advice to Kate and she is going to have a good hard think about how to proceed. But all that chat about hidden assets and who has what nick covered, it’s got me thinking. People will really surprise you, won’t they? What would I be worried about people finding after I died? Other than anything that I’ve ever said on OkCupid ever. Is that still a thing? Your turn.
[00:21:32] Random Voice 1: I do worry about if that happened just all of, like, our financial affairs, like, with my partner and I, like, all the various transactions I’ve done and we have some stuff, what she would do with all that stuff. So I do think about, like, what we should be telling people.
[00:21:47] Random Voice 2: I will tell my sister’s to you know, like delete my cache, clear my browser history. Delete all the bookmarks. But in the end, porn is just porn, right?
[00:21:59] Random Voice 3: I think the thing that I’d be worried about most if I died suddenly was that nobody would find me for a while. They can find the vibrator. They can find all the weed stuff I have, it’s just what if I don’t find my stinky body running away on the floor.
[00:22:15] Random Voice 4: I’ve thought about this already. I’ve a plan. I’ve actually told two of my best friends where my keys are and they know what in my house needs to be taken away and hidden.
[00:22:28] Random Voice 5: I don’t want someone packing up all the nice things and then like, “Oh. So this is how kinky he is.”
[00:22:34] Random Voice 6: Not really. I’m pretty clean but maybe my dad would be disappointed if he found my drugs.
[00:22:38] Random Voice 7: I won’t care, I’m dead.
[00:22:40] Jan Fran: LOL. I mean, I know we’re talking about death, but that’s pretty funny. Okay, there’s a lot of information in this episode. So I’m going to have a crack at breaking down some of the main things we’ve learned about death admin. One, you should totally ask for help. You can go to moneysmart.gov.au and they have a whole section dedicated to how to cope financially with the loss of your partner and at another government website humanservices.gov.au, there’s even a list of people and organizations that you need to contact after death. And these National websites will usually be your first point of call for any free financial counseling or debt counseling that you’re entitled to. Two, you need to be proactive. That means checking what government payments you’re entitled to and contacting your loved one’s bank, following up with their superannuation or their insurance, and if you contract someone to do that ask them for a quote up front so you don’t get stuck with bill shock. And three, and this might sound like a bit of a no-brainer, but organization is really key here, people. If you’re hearing this, you’re obviously still alive, hopefully, so get your shit together, my friend, start a death folder. Yeah, start the conversation. Start a bloody Google doc, just start collecting the information and choose who you want to have access to it. Good? A good. I’m Jan Fran, this is The Pineapple Project and this season we are getting our house in order because, spoiler alert, we’re all gonna die someday. Next on The Pineapple Project:
[00:24:28] Man’s Voice: If someone doesn’t have a will, problems arise almost straightaway.
[00:24:31] Jan Fran: Real talk. Do you have a will or have you, kind of, been putting it off?
[00:24:36] Man’s Voice: That’s the issue that stops a lot of people doing wills because they can’t appoint someone who they trust to look after the kids.
[00:24:42] Jan Fran: Yeah, but if you leave it until it’s too late..
[00:24:45] Woman’s Voice: You find yourself having to justify what you’re entitled to.
[00:24:50] Man’s Voice: I’ve had sisters end up in fist fights at mediation.
[00:24:53] Jan Fran: That’s in the next episode of The Pineapple Project. This podcast is mixed by sound engineers Angie Grant and Krissy Miltiadou. It’s produced by Karla Arnall and Claire O’Halloran. The role of Grimmy, The Grim Reaper, is played by Rhys Nicholson. The host is me Jan Fran. The Pineapple Project’s executive producer is Rachel Fountain and Kellie Riordan is the manager of ABC Audio Studios. Sick team. Oh, yeah, and since we’re getting the 411 on your financial admin and whatnot, you should definitely go back and listen to the entire first season of The Pineapple Project. There is some really good info in there for you. Trust me. You just got to do some deep scrolling back through The Pineapple Project podcast feed wherever you’re listening to this episode and binge it all from the very beginning. Love you and miss you. Bye.
End of transcription. Total audio minute: [25 min 59 sec]
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