Bereavement due to traumatic death
Financial and practical matters
After someone dies many financial and other practical matters have to be sorted out. If the deceased made a will, the executor of the will (also called the personal representative) is responsible for making sure that all debts, taxes and expenses from his or her estate are paid and for sharing out what is left according to the will. The executor's role can be complex and daunting, particularly as executors are often close relatives of the deceased and have their own grief to deal with, though a solicitor may do some of the work. Sometimes, if an estate is large or complicated, it is necessary to employ a solicitor. It is possible to complete probate using the coroner’s ‘interim death certificate.'
Insurance claims may be complicated too; especially if a loss adjuster is involved. Karen discovered this after her mother died in a fire. Loss adjusters are independent claims specialists who investigate complex or contentious claims on behalf of an insurance company.
Karen found a solicitor who charged reasonable fees and who dealt with her mothers estate. Karen...
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What about all the practical things you had to do? You had to sort out papers and other things?
Yes. I mean we were sorting out the papers, I mean we managed to get the papers from the house, and bought a big box of paperwork out of my Mum’s kitchen which was unbelievably, I mean, singed round the edges, but, and her will was actually in there, intact without a blemish on it, which was quite something. I put them with one solicitor to start with, because I thought there’s no way I can deal with all of this you know. I put it with one solicitors to start with after speaking to them on the phone, explained the situation, put it with them to start with and was sort of like, I don’t want you to do anything with it, just hold it for now until I’ve spoken to the family, i.e. my sister mainly, to see what she wanted to do. And then this solicitor had done two things, which I hadn’t asked him to do, because I’d said that I knew she’d got insurance, I knew she’d got this and I knew she’d got that um, so he’d started trying to get hold of that information, so I was stuck with a bill from him. Well I quick smart moved my stuff from him to a solicitor that me and my sister were both happy with, because I said to my sister, I’m not paying this guy’s fees and then they take a percentage of the estate. I said, “That to me is just daylight robbery.” Um, so I put it with another solicitor, who they don’t charge like that, and they explained exactly what they do, do, and what they don’t do, and led very much by what the executors’ wishes are, because basically you are asking them to act on your behalf.
And he’s been very good. But the only people that have been really hard to deal with are the contents insurance people, loss adjuster. It’s a nightmare, and he’s the one that’s still holding things up now. Everyone else has done what they need to do, except this loss adjuster.
What does he do? He has to estimate how much money is due as a result of everything that’s happened?
It’s taken that long?
Yes, it’s still going on. ‘Um, and that’s the final bit to do.
Good gracious. Why does it take so long?
Because he said that, well the solicitors' letters, because obviously when he has, the solicitor sends me a letter, he’d reckoned he’d been onto the police five times for their reports, and not said to them, you know, you don’t need to go to them, just go direct to the Coroner’s report now, you know. It’s all there.
So what the insurance will be liable to pay for you would be affected by the result of the inquest?
Yes. Like if it was a suspicious, then they’d be looking to claim whoever. So that sort of thing.
After someone has died, the deceased person’s bank, the tax office, insurance provider, and many other organisations need to be informed. See our dying and bereavement resources for links to information about what to do after someone dies. Informing organisations, such as utility companies, can be exhausting. Josefine sympathised with older people struggling with these practical matters and suggested there should be someone appointed by social services to help them.
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Josefine lost £2000 from social services because she was not aware it had to be claimed within 3...
Were there any practical things you had to cope with?
There were practical things, I was self employed and I did not know the benefits system. The Social Services sent me a letter six months after his death to tell me that three months after his death I should have claimed £2,000 widows benefit but now it was too late. And I was really struggling financially because I had taken two and a half months off because my mother was, was in a coma following a cancer operation. She went into a coma in intensive care with an infection the day of Nicholas’s death. My family didn’t tell me that but at some point they must have done because I then went out to see my mother.
Dealing with utility companies was awful. I needed to change the bills into my name, but it was so hard. I spent hours on the phone. They double charged me. I couldn’t claim the money back, I was so exhausted. You have no energy when you’re bereaved and these organisations, nobody’s responsible, you know, it’s none of their problem and I think really when somebody has died, particularly when somebody has died suddenly, there ought to be someone who sorts these things out for you. There should be a Government organisation that helps people. Just imagine what it must be like for older people, I mean I was quite young and still I had no energy, I just gave up, you know, and luckily I had help from my sister-in-law, helping me with an insurance claim and that took years and that dragged on and on… I suppose insurance companies never want to give you money so they give you a hard time but to give you a hard time when you’re bereaved just feels very cruel.
And I just don’t know if there’s any way to make things easier but I certainly could think that from a practical point of view if there were Social Services, a social worker could come round and take you through, to see exactly what a new situation you are now eligible for. And for someone to sort out some of the basic matters with Gas, electricity, phone, and, you know, because they know, they would then know very well what, they couldn’t run rings round you, as I feel they did because I was, and any other bereaved person especially if they’re elderly, they’re just victims of circumstance and so they give up. Lots of people don’t claim what’s their due because they can’t be bothered to, they can’t be bothered to fight for it.
You never got the benefit you could have had?
No, that was £2,000 apparently, I didn’t get. But I was lucky because I had family who gave me some money.
People who are bereaved may have financial difficulties. They may feel unable to work for a while yet have to pay funeral costs and other expenses. Thus they may need to claim government benefits or find other means of financial help. Some people had received financial help through their insurance or from the company that had employed the deceased person. Some had received government benefits, or financial help from one of the special funds for bereaved relatives. However, others had financial problems and many found practical matters difficult. Dorothy said that getting the correct benefits from a government department for her daughter-in-law was an ‘absolute nightmare’.
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After Dorothy's son was killed her daughter-in-law was left with two children and no income, and...
When, when my son was killed back in April 2005 the employer purely sent his pay slip and his P45 and he was killed, he died on the 13th April, so they paid him from the 1st to the 13th April. They didn’t even pay the month. So my daughter-in-law was left with two children and no money because she didn’t, she didn’t work. She was left with two children, and no money coming in at all. Just that, just that 13 days pay.
So having worked in the civil service and having a sort of idea of you know what was involved, unfortunately I was the one that had to go round with my son’s temporary death certificate, not realising how difficult it was, if, if I hadn’t had the background that I had, and the contacts that I, I was able to have I don’t think my daughter in law would have got the benefit, so I don’t know how people manage now with the… they have made it so difficult, so difficult for people. I mean years ago widow’s benefits were paid out as I said within six working days, we prided ourselves we could get money out to a widow and there was a lump sum paid to tide her over, a widow’s allowance for so many weeks, and then the widowed mother’s allowance if she had children. Now it’s a basic for the well it’s parents, it’s widowed parents, it’s men and women who get it now, but there’s no sort of lump sum, there’s no allowance, they just get a payment for themselves. To get paid for the children you then have to go to the Inland Revenue and make a claim for family tax credit, separately for the children.
So you have to go round all these different offices with this death certificate, trying to do it on the phone, oh it just, it was just, that was just a total nightmare, an absolute nightmare. I was able to call on the help of people that I knew in the department and at one point my-daughter- in- law was being under paid, and I knew she was being underpaid, again from my past experience, so I phoned up and spoke to the Customer Complaints Manager, in a particular department, and she told me I was wrong, and I said, “No, I think you’ll find I’m right,” I said, “If you go to a certain court,” I said, “You will find that in there, and I think you will find I am right, and that you are under paying her.” And the next day she phoned back and she said, “I’m really sorry about that, you are right, I didn’t know that.” Now if I hadn’t had that experience.
So it’s not a standard amount for a widow?
No. No. No, it depends on your National Insurance Contributions.
Oh I see.
That the person who’s died has paid.
No it depends on the National Insurance Contributions that the, that the, the person who’s died has paid into the system. How much, how much they get. I mean if I hadn’t, if I hadn’t had that past work experience, I knew that these things were, you know, that what, what was being paid, and what was being said was wrong, then no-one would have connected it.
If health and safety make charges, would there be any compensation due from the company?
My daughter in law’s solicitor is dealing with that, he has been dealing with it since 2005. That again, the employer has been really dragging his feet again, you know, every step of the way they have been coming up with arguments and whatever, so she has not received any compensation as yet, which is almost four years.
The relatives or dependents of someone who has died as a result of a criminal injury may be able to get compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. The bereavement award is a fixed payment of £5,500 (in 2014), but if a claimant is the only person qualified to claim then the payment doubles to £11,000. It may not be easy to obtain this compensation, partly because people only receive compensation if it is clear that the person who died had no criminal record themselves. Some people we talked to found it easy to get compensation but others found it very difficult.
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After James was killed in the London bombing Rosemary and her husband received money from a...
The fund they set up and all the rest of it was terribly well done. Yes, and all of that was amazingly well done and I do feel that some people had been a bit disingenuous about that, I mean we were all given rather a lot of money actually. Every time I opened my post for a while I seemed to have been given some more money, I mean okay that’s fine but, you know, I think I didn’t really see how people could argue that they weren’t getting anything, I suspect the people who were worse off were the people who were actually injured particularly the badly injured. I mean the bereaved it seemed to me were treated, I mean the, it was set up well, it was well organised and it was, and it wasn’t bureaucratic at all and it was run down, you know, when it needed to be. I mean I was very impressed by how un-bureaucratic it was.
Who set the fund up?
I think the Mayor’s office did originally… I think it might have been a mixture of people actually, but it was very well run and very efficient and I, and really, I mean when you read things in the press I’m not sure I really agree with that. I think it was very well run and I think we were pretty well treated. I mean some of the other stuff, the initial stage [such as lack of information] was far worse, much worse.
Do you automatically get Criminal Injuries Compensation from the Government?
Yes you do.
You get £11,000?
Yes you get that automatically and I suppose, I suppose, you know, we just got it, I mean in a way you sit there and think, you know, gosh, you know, and what would you do, well you take it obviously, I mean I gave it to my daughter, I think probably but you just think…. it’s this money life thing, you know, because it’s easier for me to say possibly than it is for some of the other people concerned, I understand that.
Did you have to apply for that money or is it just sent?
Not really, no, no, no I think they knew who we were. We had to fill in very minimalist details and we were just given it basically, I don’t, you know, particularly the money for me, the London Relief Fund or whatever it was, the criminal stuff was a bit more, I think was a bit more complicated. But quite honestly it was all very pretty straight forward. The other thing that was really good actually directly afterwards was our solicitor dealt with this of course, but for example, James still owed some of his student loan and the student loan company wrote it off immediately the next day, you know, and really, what was fantastic I felt, was that people like that acted whereas we had far more trouble with, I can’t remember, I think he had an overdraft, it wasn’t a huge overdraft but, you know, two or three hundred pounds, I think but I think we had more problem with whoever his bank was suggesting they might like to write that off too. I mean our solicitors were very keen on that they said, they should really write off everything, but I was impressed by the student loan company because it was actually very efficient and I think people perhaps, in these circumstances these things can actually be quite important if you were, you know, if you think you are going to be, having to sort out that kind of thing as well, so I think it’s always as well to actually go and see a solicitor to make sure that, that kind of thing is dealt with actually because it just adds to the trauma of the whole thing I think.
Anns son was murdered in 2005 and the trial was in 2006 but she was still fighting to obtain...
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How much money do people have a right to, as Criminal Compensation?
The amount of money is about £11,000. Of which half of that, five and a half thousand is for the father, five and a half thousand is for the mother. Now as we know, society; nowadays not all Mums and Dads are married, not all Mums and Dads are pro-actively Mum’s and Dad’s, often the missing parent has not played much part in the upbringing of that child. So there again I feel that, for that missing parent to be able to even make that claim despite the fact that they will have huge hoops to jump through anyway, I think that needs looking at.
I can give you one example of the pain that I was unnecessarily put through by the Criminal Injuries Compensation situation, and that is a week before Christmas. I was asked to send a copy of the birth certificate for Westley, to prove that I’d given birth to the child that I was grieving. This is an absurd thing to have to do, but most important, did no-one think of the possibility that asking for that so close to the worst possible time of the year, Christmas, was hugely insensitive, and I’m sure the poor people that are on the other end of the phone probably have a number of people getting very angry and people thinking well, that’s a very unreasonable person without realising that it’s not that the person’s unreasonable, they’re in a terrible state of often post-traumatic stress.
Was it very difficult to get the money?
I’ve never had the money.
I’m still in the process of fighting it.
Well because for silly reasons. Virtually every family is turned down at the first stage.
I just thought it would be a form and get the money.
Well, no it isn’t. Earlier today I had a phone call from a lady who is not, not everyone has a background of writing letters, is not always a) somebody’s forte and b) they haven’t always the ability to find the will to write the letters when they get turned down, to actually appeal, to read the books, to look at the forms.
But why has yours been delayed?
Well because, I mean as far as I’m concerned, I was just turned down, when I wrote back and appealed, I mean certainly when the case was heard the judge, one of the judges comments was that Westley’s life had been taken, a completely innocent man in an unprovoked attack.
So why haven’t you automatically been given the money?
Because of the monies don’t come through automatically, and what’s more I’ve come to realise that certain cases get dealt with very much quicker than other cases, if they’re high profile they’ll often get paid out where somebody else’s may not get paid out.
What date was the trial?
The trial was August 2006.
So they’ve had plenty of time.
Yes, in fact I’ve only just phoned recently to the CICA, the London office apparently had been closed, the papers go from Scotland to London and back again.
Sorry, what’s the CICA?
Oh the Criminal Injuries Compensation.
So you’re still waiting?
I’m still fighting it. Yes.
After Martin’s wife was killed by a bus he had to look after their children. He found it impossible to work, struggled to pay the bills and found housekeeping difficult.
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After Steph died Martin had financial problems and lost his sense of purpose. With a young child...
It must have had a big economic impact on you losing your wife as well?
Yes, Steph had two jobs, she was training to become a nursery nurse, and she, she’d just passed her NVQ3 in Childcare, which is a really good achievement for her, I worked in retailing in the weeks, and played in this band at weekend, which was sometimes quite good money. I’ve, I’ve basically been living off some life insurance we’ve had, which has sort of been whittled away, it’s quite a big chunk of that gone because I just found it too difficult to go back to work, a lot of that sense of purpose has gone. When Steph was here and I was working, you felt you were working for something, you know? You were quite proud to go out to work and at the end of the week, the end of the month whatever we had left, you know, that was a little bonus for us to treat ourselves. But you, you obviously, you have a more sense of purpose bringing the children up, making sure, you know, you think of, you think everything’s just going to go on as normal, they’ll get to 18, 20, then they’ll move out, they’ll get married and you’ve kind of done your job as a parent. And I thought that was what life was all about, but since I’ve lost Steph and faced with, especially my daughter, she’s so young at the moment, the future’s a really scary place, I know my sense of purpose has gone if you like. All, all I see now is getting through from one week to the next, making sure she’s healthy and well fed and that her clothes are ironed and she’s doing well at school, and the house is as clean as I can possibly make it. I struggle with the housekeeping, but that’s been my purpose in life since the accident. And the things like work seems very trivial to me, for, apart from that you need money to live, you kind of, like the sense of purpose has gone and nothing makes much sense to me anymore, because I know we’ll all end up in the cemetery like Steph is. Can you understand that?
You’re caring for your daughter though.
Oh, yes, she’s my number one priority. I gave up work to get her through the first couple of years, and the only money I have coming in is a is a widower’s allowance which is I think only about £50 a week, or something like that.
Is that from the state?
Yes. The rest of it has just been some life insurance we have, I’m just trying to be as frugal as I possibly can.
Would it be very, would it be possible to get back into a part time job if you wanted to?
I’ve tried, well I’ve tried with music because there’s some well paid musician jobs out there, but organising the baby sitting’s just, it’s like a military operation, you know I have to pick her up from school at half three, and I, I’ve tried it a couple of times, I’ve not tried day time work yet, the school holidays obviously, you’d have to pay for some kind of child-minder. As she’s getting older now I’m getting more ready to go back to work, but I’ve tried like my hobby job if you like, which was as a musician, it, oh it’s like a, it’s like a military operation, I was so tired by the time I’d got her to the baby sitters, and got all the stuff ready for the weekend, and I come back and I’ve loaded all my car up, and I’d go and do this gig somewhere, and I’d have to be up at the crack of dawn to get her from the babysitters the next morning, I was too tired and after what I’d spent on child-minding fees, it wasn’t really worth it.
After someone dies, bereaved relatives usually sort out the dead person’s belongings and decide what to do with them. This can be distressing. Some people we talked to almost felt guilty about moving their relative’s things. People gave things to relatives, some gave things to charity, some sold certain objects, and some decided not to touch them.
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Sarah's husband left a specialist collection of books and magazines that needed to be sold. She...
And then I suppose there were other practical that you have to worry about? Sort of changing bank accounts.
Yeah, bank, all of that bank accounts, house insurance, that was, that was a massive piece of work, but probably what was an even bigger piece of work for us, which was personal is that he was a collector and had more collections of things to do with transport than you could ever begin to imagine, and we’re still sorting those. And that’s been a task of just humungous proportions, an attic completely full of trains and boats and planes and vehicles. More magazines than you can ever be, and something, we counted 120 magazine titles.
Collections of, and thousands of books, all of which have had to be catalogued and showed, and sold in specialist places because they were all specialist things.
And actually dealing with all of that has been another of the things that I feel that has made this whole experience even more drawn out. Because you’ve got, and back onto this split personality business, you’ve got the need that you have to do this clearing out and yet on the other side by clearing out you’re throwing him out, disposing of him, the things that were his life, excitement. So you’re torn, you want to throw it out, or, I don’t mean throw it out, you want to dispose of it.
That’s a better term, and some of the things, something that cost £150 you don’t want to give to a charity shop, because when there were 40 of them that’s a large amount of money tied up in artifacts, that you can’t afford to give away or throw away, and so getting rid of them in a specialist way, you’re desperate to do, but you’re desperate not to do because the doing of it is somehow denying him his retirement pleasure. And so that’s another split personality thing, which is still going on, and I think will probably go on for another year or so at least.
William decided not to touch his daughters room. Three and a half years after Lauren was killed...
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Were there any important practical things that you want to talk about, that you had to do afterwards?
What do I say, what do I say? Well, one issue is what do you do when, you know, with her bedroom obviously, what do you do with the room?
And again it helps to talk to other people. I thought that I was being a bit you know a bit mad, a bit loony to think that I really wanted the room left the way it was, and not touched, but I found out that, that’s quite common. And so three and a half years later her room is just the same as it was on the day she died. And I don’t know if that’s healthy or unhealthy, but it is fairly common. I know that other people who feel that when they’ve lost a loved one they have to clear the room out, you know make it a bare shell, give away all the clothes, all the possessions, and completely redecorate. If that works, then fine but I couldn’t at this point, I couldn’t entertain doing that, except for the eventuality of say the house changing hands. And all her possessions are still there. Now there is a gradual integration of her possessions, or some of her possessions with her brothers. You know, in as much as, you know if she had a MP3 player and her brother didn’t, then you know, but strangely enough there is a tendency with her brother that he’d rather get something that hasn’t been Lauren’s than take something of Lauren’s as his.
If a traumatic death occurs abroad, other practical issues arise. Insurance may pay for all the expenses that are incurred, or the dead person’s employer may offer support, but after a terrorist attack people may not be covered by their holiday insurance. Susanna explained that after the Bali bombing the Foreign Office only paid to fly home an ‘intact’ body, not other body parts identified later. She also said that because people had died abroad, relatives were not eligible for Criminal Injuries Compensation.
The extraordinary practicalities to be sorted out were made more difficult by different time...
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There were huge problems with the fact that the Foreign Office, this of course was a bombing so people weren’t necessarily physically intact, and the Foreign Office would pay to fly back an intact body, what they called an intact body, but as subsequent bits got identified you had to pay to fly them back yourself. And some people couldn’t afford that. And so there were incredible levels of trauma superimposed on the original trauma.
And people were still dying up until Christmas, in the hospitals from their burns mainly. It took a long time before we knew whether or not my sister in law was going to survive, and she finally was well enough to travel just before Christmas, and so we had my brother’s funeral in a freezing Kent village church just eight of us, a very small number, just family, on 23rd December, and he’d been killed of course on the 12th October. And you had to do all sorts of ridiculous things like if a, if one of the key relatives is , isn’t able to attend the funeral you had to find mortuary facilities in the UK that can keep somebody in the deep freeze until they are ready to have their funeral. And all sorts of extraordinary practicalities that we had to sort out such as the time zone differences, and the language differences, and the dealing with Indonesian Police through British Police, and it was an extraordinary bad, confusing situation.
Who paid for, did the government pay for Dan to be brought home?
Up to Heathrow. So if you lived, if you didn’t live in Heathrow you would pay from there on, and quite a lot of people didn’t have very much money. And there was, because it’s an act of terrorism a lot of insurance policies don’t pay out, and because it happens abroad you don’t get Criminal Injury Compensation payments, because they cover UK only. And there are no funds available, the Red Cross collected funds but those funds only went to Australia and Balinese relatives, so we were left between lots of stools in funding terms. And it was an incredibly expensive experience.
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Matthew suggests that before people travel abroad they need to get insurance which will cover all...
Can you sum up the particular problems there are in bringing back, or finding out about somebody who’s died overseas?
Yes, well I mean from a purely practical point of view, I know I’m going to sound like the Foreign Office Website, but you need to have insurance because if you don’t have insurance then there will be an argument, and there will be a financial liability somewhere down the line.
The Foreign Office I’m sure nowadays have much more sensible procedures and will help. You need to know before you go anywhere, and I always do now, how to contact Air Ambulance, how to contact local, local you know our man in wherever it is, the Embassy or the Consulate or whatever. You need to have those details; you need to have medical insurance, and you need to be persistent. I think when, when you are involved in a situation where you have to bring a body back from overseas, the last thing you want is the burden of worrying about who’s going to pay for the coffin, and putting it on an aeroplane, when all you’re trying to contend with is your grief in having lost some, lost somebody. So if you can make sure that you’ve got all the sort of basic organisational things sorted out, then the grief will take its natural course. I think it’s where all these other complications combine with the grief to make it so much worse.
People get angry, and then start blaming everybody for things and, I can’t believe that that helps the grieving process. I know that there are a number of people who, from the Bali experience were, they perceived that they had a poor service from the Foreign Office and that, to this day they’re angry people and it’s sort of almost as if they’re blaming the Foreign Office for the, for the explosions. And that isn’t the case, you have to take a, you have to take a, I was going to say a sensible, you know, how can you be rational in those circumstances. I think you have to take a view that it isn’t anybody’s fault other than the people that pulled the trigger, or caused it and you know everybody else there is genuinely there to help. They’re not looking to stand in your way. So I think that, I know that the Foreign Office understands that grief is, has a particular effect on many people and that they have to do what they can to sort of mitigate that, and I think they do.
If a person’s family member or friend has died abroad the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may help people cope with the practicalities of a death overseas. See our dying and bereavement resources for links to further information about what to do if someone dies abroad.
Relatives can contact the Bereavement Register, a free service which will arrange for the dead person’s name to be taken off mailing lists and databases in the UK.
Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.