Coodanup 72-year-old Carole Webb was devastated when she lost her husband of 40 years.
As Mrs Webb writes in today’s Your Money, realising that the love of your life will never again walk through your front door is distressing.
Like all of us, Mrs Webb knows that death is a part of life and understands that at some stage we will all have to deal with the loss of a loved one.
What this sprightly retiree does not understand is why this troubling time in someone’s life is made that much more difficult because of “morons” at banks and utilities.
The cause of her angst? Trying to change bills and accounts from her husband’s name to her own.
The Your Money team is sure that many readers will identify with Mrs Webb’s often humorous account of spending hours on the phone wading through layers of “Press 1 if you want to …”.
We are also sure many readers will agree that the companies and agencies which supply services to us could do worse than create a “bereavement hotline” to ensure this distressing time is not made worse by red tape.
WARNING CALL FOR BEREAVED
When Carole Webb was widowed, call centres added to her pain. Here’s what happened …
As a recently widowed pensioner, who cannot afford a solicitor to take care of the numerous legalities necessary, I wish to enlighten others to prepare themselves. Preferably, of course, all the major banks, utilities and any other companies that insist on using recorded “follow the prompts” methods of providing service to their valued customers. They may even learn a thing or two by reading my article and start to realise they are causing untold stress to thousands of seniors.
I have to say the easiest, simplest, kindest transition of all was with Centrelink. One of the telephone companies was by far the worst.
With utilities, because they insist you can only be allowed to have one name as the account holder, you need to notify them that the deceased is no longer the account holder, so your name needs to be placed on the same account and a new billing system started afresh.
It doesn’t mean a thing that you are still living in the same house, using the same appliances, showering at the same time in the same bathroom, with the same washing machine going, and with the same phone number being used, with the same email address being used, the same TV being switched on … Get my drift?
So is it really necessary to put the grieving widow/widower/spouse/partner through all the extra tasks needing attention when they are finding it difficult enough coming to terms with the death of a loved one?
Imagine the scenario if you were a 90-year-old with no family, not on the internet and living in a country town with a darling husband of 67 years having taken care of the business side of things all your married life.
Let me tell you about my own experience with the phone company.
I am 72 years of age and have a deaf aide phone but I am a pretty switched on.
Contacting the phone company to change names on the account involved following the prompts, which is very frustrating when the five minutes you spend with the polite female recorded voice has nothing relevant to what you want to say or do.
The voice continues: “I am sorry, what was that you said …” or “Did you say …” or “Can you say in a few words …” until in the end you are shouting. My neighbours must assume I’m going stir crazy. Anyway, this alerts someone eventually, after you have been put on hold for 20 minutes, and finally, bingo!
Guess what? The person you are speaking to sounds like they are two blocks up from “The Best Little Marigold Hotel” and can’t pronounce their words properly, so I am no better off in trying to have a conversation.
“Is it really necessary to put the grieving widow or widower or spouse or partner through all the extra tasks needing attention when they are finding it difficult enough coming to terms with the death of a loved one?”
After being put on hold yet again, I get a lovely lady who calms me down and sorts everything out. But not before another 20 minutes asking me questions, including “Do you own your own home?” What has this got to do with anything?
Finally, after threatening to go to another company, she finds me a nice little package which suits all my needs and is a lot cheaper. I thank her and suggest she mentions at the next training workshop that they consider having a “bereavement hotline” given to everyone and serviced by properly trained staff, equipped to reduce stress when changing names on accounts.
After a couple of weeks had passed, I received a cheque for the estate in my husband’s name, this was credit we accrued as we always had Centrelink deduct money from our pension fortnightly to forward to the utilities, so this meant we never received a bill.
I went to bank it at my new account I had opened in my newly chosen bank, but couldn’t because it was in my husband’s name. I was required to get a certified copy of my husband’s will, showing I was the executor and sole beneficiary as well as the proof I was who I said I was with ID etc worth 100 points.
So I first phone the phone company again to see if they couldn’t give me the credit into my phone account, as it was the same number and same address.
Oh no, that is far too simple! I had the same experience as the changing-the-name scenario. A very nice lady (a different one) calmed me down and promised me she would definitely recommend the “bereavement hotline” at the next training session.
I went to check my statement of the joint name account my husband and I had used for years, online, but access was shut down. I had never bothered to learn the password. I tried to get a balance the old way I always did, on the phone, before my husband learnt to do it online, and it also was shut down.
I phoned the bank helpline, the chap was sympathetic, helped me get my own set up but when it came time for the password, I needed a mobile phone.
I have a mobile phone but I don’t text and this was the only way he could send me my password. He thought this was very funny. I was ready to scream at him.
I had to physically visit an ATM or go to the bank, which is what I did. The young woman told me I needed probate and a copy of the will.
So as my husband and I had our will in safekeeping across the road from the bank at the solicitors, I told the girl I would pop over and collect it. The kindly receptionist at the solicitors (I knew her mother well) told me I didn’t need probate as all I had was the home, an old car and fortnightly pension, and probate would cost me $2000.
I went back to the girl at the bank and told her and her reply was “Oh, don’t you?” I asked her why she told me I would need it and her answer was “because someone else told me”. Clearly the big four bank’s could do more to train their staff in “bereavement issues”.
I haven’t had a chance to get to the motor registration people yet. I am hoping it is pain free.
As people are living longer and leaving behind older spouses and partners, it is high time something was done to warn people of the difficulties they may face.
It would have been common courtesy to have the bank inform me they were shutting down my access and would like them to help me set up a new password so I was prepared?
Or the phone company to enclose an explanatory letter advising me what I would need to do to enable me to bank the cheque?
Coming to grips with the fact that a loved one will never walk through the door again is awful.
And these morons don’t help one iota.
* This article first appeared in The West Australian and was published on Monday 17 July 2017.