BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Page last updated at 14:05 GMT, Saturday, 20 December 2008

Have Your Say: Bereavement

A coffin and flowers

Sorting out the financial affairs of a husband or wife who has died can be a distressing and confusing process for anyone still trying to come to terms with their loss.

Most of the big banks have special departments to try to ensure it is done as effectively and sensitively as possible.

But not all companies are managing to do so.

What has your experience been of dealing with financial institutions after the death of a loved one?

Do you think there should be clear rules set out governing the way banks and building societies treat customers in this situation?

Or perhaps you have had to advise someone about finance after a bereavement.

This debate is now closed. You can read a selection of your comments below.


Simplified information for these issues and rules of intestacy ... should be more freely available
Jane, West Yorkshire

After my husband died intestate, myself and my son decided to sort affairs without using a solicitor. Most things went smoothly. However, opening an executors bank account with one of the major High Street banks, proved to be a lengthy process, 8 weeks, when we were promised 5 days! They will be receiving a complaint letter in due course. Another aspect is the question of a Deed of Variation when a person dies without making a Will. Trying to find information and understanding a Deed of Variation is quite confusing and eventually we decided to approach a solicitor. Simplified information for these issues and rules of intestacy, with various examples, and explained in basic language for the layman, should be more freely available, without having to consult a solicitor who may 'blind you with science'.
Jane, West Yorkshire

My (unmarried) brother died last year without a will. After my experiences dealing with all the call centre people I thought of offering my services as a mystery shopper for organisations who claim great attention to customer service but plainly never deliver any training in handling bereavements. The call handlers have a standard opening spiel that insists on speaking to the account holder - 'That's not possible' - 'Why' - 'Because he's dead.'

The worst was a credit card company - at first they were pleasant and reasonable. - 'Is it OK if we phone in three months to check progress with you?' After a while the contact person changed from a polite young-sounding woman to a fellow who made me feel as though I was being backed into a corner by the playground bully. In one call, after I'd said (again) that letters of administration hadn't been granted yet and that the solicitor had instructions to pay the credit card debt as soon as funds became available he asked me why the outstanding amount couldn't be paid immediately. After I blew my top, asked to speak to his supervisor (three times), and explained the situation to her, the calls stopped. So if the frontline contact's behaviour isn't acceptable insist on speaking to a supervisor early rather than late. And if necessary keep going up the chain.
Brenda, Glasgow

My mother died three years ago and I dealt with her estate without a solicitor. Inheritance tax was payable. The Probate Dept, HMRC, DWP, banks, building societies, ISA providers etc were all helpful and promptly returned death certificates and provided probate valuations and income tax statements and other info required except the bank's estates department, who wanted to see the will and took ages to provide info. I complained to the man in charge and they offered £100 compensation, which I asked to be given to charity. (And I switched my bank account from them to a building society that (then) offered decent interest on credit balances!) Also the local council were helpful but a bit slow about council tax matters. Yes, it would be a great help if all banks etc followed exactly the same procedures when dealing with executors, especially those acting without a solicitor.
John Ashworth, Sutton, Surrey

My 78-year-old father died two years ago, six weeks before Christmas, and my brother and I had the task as acting as executors for his estate. As mentioned in your programme, he died "tidily" such that he'd been meticulous in his admin, and it made a lot of difference. We received great assistance from the registrar of deaths at the local council (in our case, Bristol City) which was a blessing. What some listeners may not be aware of is a form issued by the Registrar that once completed, you send in to a government department who in turn notify all official bodies, departments and companies of the recently deceased person and remove said details from official listings. The reactions however, of financial institutions varied with all failing in one aspect, i.e., they always ask for the "original death certificate" But that "original" always remains as an entry in the Register, from which signed officially signed and above all legal copies are issued by the Registrar's dept. Getting this message across to banking personnel in order to close accounts was a struggle at times, until common sense would eventually sink in on their part.
Iain, Hull

This is a time when we feel very vulnerable
J Cosgrove, Brockholes Holmfirth

My husband died in January this year. He had an army pension. I had eight letters in six weeks from The Ministry of Defence, two from the same office sent on the same day, all giving me eight different final figures for my widows pension. The Inland Revenue Office got very cross with me when I contacted them because I had not given them my final income details sooner. They were not interested that I was not in a position to do so until Ministry of Defence had sorted themselves out. The bereavement department of the building society acknowledged receipt of the death certificate by addressing the envelope to "Mr J Cosgove deceased and Mrs J Cosgrove" and started the letter "Dear Mr Cosgrove deceased and Mrs Cosgrove" The added stress was unbelievable and official agencies are very poor at dealing with this situation. We the bereaved are not asking for sympathy just efficiency. This is a time when we feel very vulnerable.
J Cosgrove, Brockholes Holmfirth

When my father died a few years ago the credit card companies cancelled his cards and thus his wife's subsidiary cards. She was only allowed £200 credit, down from £13,500. She couldn't even pay for the funeral tea. Also the gas company, when informed of my father's death wrote him a letter saying "We hear you are moving on. Would you like a gas supply in your new home"!
Jackie Hall, Wimbledon

Their slowness is very frustrating
Chris Mitton, Sutton Coldfield

My recent experience of dealing with a not-particularly-complicated will, and making sure the deceased's elderly widow was properly treated: the huge, slow, ponderous, clunking bureaucracy of the state has actually been quick, courteous and got everything right first time, while the streamlined super-efficient customer-focused outsourced and private sector organisations have made heavy weather of sorting out transactions they must have to do every day of the week. While the banks, in particular, are rightly very careful what they let me do with someone else's money, there seems to be no awareness that my ultimate accountability is to the lady for whom I act as attorney and to the Probate Court, not to them, and their slowness is very frustrating.
Chris Mitton, Sutton Coldfield

Full marks to Lloyds at Cranbrook Kent. Extremely helpful and sympathetic. However many companies were not. Even though all our bills had been paid from the same joint account over 35 years it was very difficult to get them to understand that my name had to be there now. One telephone company went as far as to say I needed my husbands permission as his name was the one on the bill. Worst of all is continuing to tell people your husband has died in the repeated phone conversations as they make so many mistakes.
Jane Dowson,Cranbrook Kent

One telephone operator told me she could only discuss the matter with the account holder
Maddy Paxman, London

The financial institutions may have special departments to deal with bereavement, but the problem is training of front-line staff. When my husband died four years ago I often felt as if I were the first person ever to be reporting a death; staff were often unhelpful, and apparently baffled by my approaches. There was rarely any simple human response of sympathy. One telephone operator told me she could only discuss the matter with the account holder!
Maddy Paxman, London

When My mother died nearly five years ago, after I went into her bank and closed her account down, they also closed my account down, and told me I was dead, even when I was sitting in front of the computer at the branch when I went in to complain. It took over a year and numerous wasted hours of phone calls and letters to sort out the mess, including problems due to cancellation of the standing orders and direct debits etc which meant I did not get paid, had difficulties with my professional memberships, insurances etc, Just what you need after your mother dies!
Sarah McGuire, London

All was settled to my complete satisfaction
Mrs K, Derby

After the sudden death of my husband 15 months ago, all the agencies concerned were helpful, kind, considerate, the Probate Office, Revenue and Customs, building society, local council, RBS bank, could not have done more to help me. I am, to say the least, not a young woman, but all was settled to my complete satisfaction.
Mrs K, Derby

My first husband died in 2002 and on the whole companies were very good. The best was Legal and General who were sympathetic, efficient and even financially compensated me a few years later when they found they had made a minor error! The worst was a Vauxhall car dealer who having been told my husband had died, sent a reminder for a car service on the anniversary of his death!
Diane Fry, Southampton

Firstly, I felt very angry that Brittania had acted in that way, but would say that in the over 30 years I have dealt with them they have been helpful, considerate and polite. In today's programme the comment was made that 'probate can take anything up to a year' This is nonsense and should only be so for a very complex situation. As a recent executor of an estate, I was informed by the probate department of the solicitors dealing with the estate that it could take a year. They called it 'the executors year'. I and my fellow executor informed them that it had to be done in three months and it was achieved in just under 4! You are perpetuating a solicitors myth that enables them to make it appear complicated, when in the very vast majority of estates taxing, gaining probate and distributing the estate can be done in three months. Also executors should not meekly accept that the work done by solicitors should be blocked up as a percentage of the estate. There is no correlation between the value of the estate and the complexity of the work the solicitors have to do! We resisted this and got it done at a sensible cost to the estate. So Money Box get real!
Brian Seage, Liskeard

I can think of no other business that can make up their charges after the event in this way
David Evans, York

In my experience the solicitors who draw up the will "advise" the client to use their services as the executor or failing that, as co-executor, and nominate an unnamed "partner" in their firm. This presumably enables them to charge some fees at the highest (i.e. partner) level. When I said I was, as co-executor, willing to do most of the work (I was not a beneficiary but wanted an elderly relative to inherit the most she could) I was told that as they were co-executors they would have to check every single thing I did and this would take as much of their time as doing it themselves. I gave them all the papers (it was a very "tidy" death) and asked what the fees would be. They would not commit themselves though after pressing I did get a written statement that they would not exceed a certain percentage. The bill they sent exceeded this. I had earlier been told orally that in effect they charged for time, plus what the estate could bear. I would be very interested to know what others' experience of solicitors is. In my experience they have been not very efficient and I can think of no other business that can make up their charges after the event in this way.
David Evans, York

Money Box



Download or subscribe to this programme's podcast

Podcast Help

External internet links
20 Dec 08 |  Moneybox
Bereaved council tenant must move
05 Dec 08 |  Derbyshire
Wills and taxes for unmarried couples
17 Dec 08 |  Business

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific