6 Lessons learned from settling my dad’s estate
As we go through the process, I’ve been learning a few things along the way:
- Joint accounts are great. Mom and Dad had joint bank accounts for everything so those were the 2nd easiest thing to deal with in terms of the estate. We booked the time at the bank, went in for several hours (yes really) and signed a lot of forms and then they were in Mom’s names.
- The easiest thing to deal with was life insurance. I sent the life insurance company a copy of the death certificate and the money was in her bank account within a week or so. That was very painless and appreciated.
- It’s important to have a credit card in your name. My Mom was always the “secondary card owner”. So when we notified the bank Dad had passed, all the cards were immediately cancelled. For a couple of weeks Mom had no credit card. It wasn’t the end of the world, but in different circumstances, it could have been difficult.
- Watch out for unsavory characters. While waiting for the bank to call Mom to get her info for a new credit card, someone called ‘from the bank’ and asked Mom a lot of questions. Eventually she realized that it was too much information and became suspicious and ‘the banker’ hung up. The fraudsters even called the bank to try to send money from Mom’s account to our ‘other brother in Japan’. It appears they read the obituaries and then call older people in the midst of their grief. Not very nice.
- It’s worth having a (good) financial advisor. I know I’m biased but here is my experience. My Dad did almost all his own investing through an online bank brokerage and he was excellent at investing and really enjoyed it. My mom was the beneficiary on his accounts (RRIFs and TFSAs). We were on hold for hours and were finally able to get through to inform them Dad had passed away, only to find out we had to book an appointment at the bank, so we did that. It turned out to be one of several hour appointments. Then we hear nothing. I sent emails, left voice mail messages, but no response. I figured out how to call the bank’s estate department in Toronto (again not easy because they don’t post these phone numbers), but the estate department can’t help me because they hadn’t received anything from the branch. They suggested we start over at a new branch or call the bank manager to complain. Almost in tears, I called the bank’s reception and I finally got a real person who told me the original advisor we met with had been in a car accident, but his out-of-office was not on!!
It’s been over 2 months now. It would have been far less stressful if we had a relationship with a really great advisor (just like me) who could keep us up to date, dealing with the estate department, and tell us exactly what needs to be done to move the accounts. We also couldn’t make any trades on the accounts during this time, the bank freezes the account as soon as they learned my Dad passed. There is a lot of value in having a knowledgeable and helpful person to contact.
A few weeks before Dad passed, one of my friend’s Mom died, who also lived in Victoria. My friend and her Mom had gone to her local bank prior to her death to ask for some advice about making accounts joint and/or update beneficiaries and for whatever reason, the bank rep told them not to, so they didn’t. And now they are going through probate which should have been avoided, and it’s time-consuming and expensive. Again having a knowledgeable advisor would have helped them out.
- Lastly, find a way to safely store your passwords that will be accessible to your loved ones. My parents were very security conscious and had passwords for everything. Dad wrote down everything… or so he thought. There have been quite a few occasions when we didn’t have a password for something that was really important, again frustrating and time consuming.
That’s it for now. There are sure to be more lessons as we continue down this path.