When a loved one dies

When a loved one dies …

How does Centrelink help?

Even when someone we love is terminally ill, few of us can say we were prepared for the finality of their death.

This week we tackle this very sensitive topic with the intention of offering a constructive summary of those things you need to do in the weeks that follow the loss of a loved one.

Our role is not that of a grief counsellor. But we believe that it is important, up front, to acknowledge the emotional turmoil the bereaved are likely to be experiencing. So it may help to know that there is a dedicated Griefline with support groups, online forums and counselling by phone on 1300 845 745. 

Retirement Essentials assists older Australians to make the most of their retirement income by fully understanding the rules and requirements. So we feel it is important to support those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one by highlighting the steps they need to take with money matters.

Here is a brief summary of the major things it may help you to know as your navigate your way forward.

Notifying those who need to know

Most requirements related to the death of a loved one will depend upon the status of your relationship. The following information is mainly directed to those who have lost a spouse or partner, but some can also apply to other people who are significant in our lives.

Of course friends and family are a priority. But after this, you will need to inform a long list of organisations so a death certificate will be required. It you are using a funeral director, it is possible they will do this on your behalf. You will then need to make multiple certified copies of the certificate in order to use it with government departments, banks and other financial institutions, health funds, state transport authorities and more. Services Australia provides a very useful checklist including contact numbers.

Notifying Centrelink

It’s heartening to note that Centrelink has many ways of helping those who are bereaved. You must, of course, notify Centrelink as soon as possible, but they allow up to 14 weeks for you to do so.

It can be in your best interests to let them know as soon as possible, as it may have a direct and positive effect on your own income. 

Funeral costs

Funerals can vary from as little as $2500 to $20,000 or more. If the funeral home you are using is a registered Centrepay business, you can then use Centrepay to help pay for funeral costs. 

Centrelink Bereavement Payments

The aim of bereavement payments is to help those left behind to settle the expenses of those who have passed away. These payments are available to those who were receiving an eligible social security payment at the time of the death. 

The specific payments for those on a pension, (as stated by the Department of Social Services), are:

  • Where a single pensioner dies, or a pensioner whose surviving partner is not reliant on income support, the deceased’s estate receives a bereavement payment in the form of one additional pension payment after the date of death.
  • Where a member of a pensioner couple dies, the survivor continues to receive the couple combined rate of payment for up to 14 weeks after death.
  • Where loss of the survivor’s entitlement occurs as a result of a death (e.g. Wife Pension or Carer Payment) they remain qualified for the pension for up to 14 weeks after the death.

The payment is a continuation of payments made prior to the death and is paid for up to 14 weeks.

Further information can be found at Services Australia Human Services website

How does Centrelink now view you?

Once you have notified Centrelink of the death of a partner, you will automatically be reassessed as a single person. At this stage you will not need to supply new documents (apart from the death certificate). This may result in a big change in your situation, as the thresholds for singles and couples are very different. It is possible you will need some assistance to step through the new rules that apply. Your joint assets will now change and much depends upon the conditions in the will as to how much you will now have. 

There are no easy answers here as every situation varies, but sometimes the loss of a partner means also the loss, or reduction, of Age Pension benefits. It’s always worth understanding this as a future scenario, while you are both still able to. 

The advice from Steven Sadler from our Customers Services Team is to take some time to let things settle. The Bereavement payments will hopefully provide financial support for more than three months and you will be able to access the appropriate financial advice and support during this time. 

Things you wish you’d known before

We can’t wind back the clock, but others can often benefit from our experience. There are aspects of managing the death of a loved one that make us wish we’d done things differently. Here are some of the ways we can get caught out:

  • Having a legal will is so important. Yet many Australians put this off. It is a favour to your nearest and dearest to ensure your will is both legal and up to date.
  • Ensuring that family and/or friends know where your will is kept is also obviously important
  • Making sure joint bank accounts can be signed by both parties is important – with the exception of a situation where there is a lack of trust, in which case the trust issue needs to be dealt with.
  • Understanding Centrelink implications, should one half of a couple, or a person being cared for, passes away is best done before this happens.
  • Consider having an ICOD (In Case of Death) number in your phone contact list, so that the family or friends of those who are on their own or live alone will be able to be located quickly
  • Don’t hoard all the passwords to joint accounts – both parties need access to online commitments and transactions. 

Death is a topic that most of us wish to avoid for as long as possible, but it’s a kindness to those around us to think of the unthinkable and make sure our affairs are in order and as clearly explained as possible.  A consultation with one of our team members could help to answer some of your questions.

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