Looking after Mother-in-Law’s Finances

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David King writes about handling his mother-in-law’s finances  

  • I have been officially appointed as the “Financial Advisor” to my wife’s mum, my mother-in-law
  • She refers to me as her Financial Advisor whenever I am introduced to her friends and, to be quite honest, I like it although I am daunted about what it implies in terms of her finances lasting her for the next 20 – 25 years.
  • My father-in-law died nearly 2 years ago now. It was a traumatic time and I offered to help my mother-in-law sort out her finances
  •  I had never done anything like that before but I felt I had to help as she is part of my family. Here are a few lessons that I have learnt along the way

Banks Freeze Bank Accounts

  • The bank account of the person who has died will be frozen from the point of death
  •  This is fairly obvious but hugely inconvenient if there are standing orders or direct debits that are set up to be paid on a monthly or quarterly basis
  • Quite often you don’t know until you receive an unhelpful letter from a utility company or bank
  • Recommendation: ask your parents to record what DD/SOs are set up from their accounts including any reference and telephone numbers.
  • Accounts set up in joint names can also be frozen if they have a certain level of balance (this differs per institution)
  • It is sensible, therefore, for each of your parents to have their own bank accounts with the main joint account set up in a branch where they are known
  • I went along with my mother-in-law to the local NatWest and they sorted out access to funds from the joint account very quickly

Set up Direct Debits

  • The utilities for my mother-in-law’s home were all paid for by cheque, every month or quarter by my father-in-law
  • Given that she had never paid a bill in her life, remembering to write cheques became a real problem
  • We therefore converted all of her accounts to direct debit based so that she never missed a bill

Set up electronic banking

  • I live 200 miles from my mother-in-law
  • We set up access to her account via the bank so that I can see what balances she has in her various accounts
  • When she asks me “do I have enough money to buy x?”,  I can easily tell her
  • Setting up access is easy, I just popped into the branch with her

You will need Original Copies of Death Certificates and Probate Certificates

  • At the time of registering a death and/or probate, obtain perhaps as many as 10 copies of the certificates.
  • They are much cheaper if ordered straight away rather than re-ordering them on a one off basis later
  • Many organisations whom you need to inform about the death of a customer need to see an original copy
  • Quite often they will wish to see a copy of the Will. Having a copy of the Will certified by a lawyer is also very useful

Big Companies have Departments to Assist with the Death of a Customer

  • With the exception of one major telephone company, who were most unhelpful, the utility companies and banks all have departments which are set up to deal with your situation
  • You will need the relevant paperwork (certificates, will etc), but they are generally efficient in processing them and will return the originals to you very quickly

Write down Bank Account Numbers

  • Whilst many of our parents are unwilling to tell us how much money they have, many of them have multiple bank and savings accounts
  • Getting them to write down the account name, number and sort code for each as well as the institution will save a lot of time later trying to work out their assets
  • They don’t need to tell you the balances
  • Obviously ensure that you store the information in a safe place. Similarly, know where the deeds are to your parents’ home

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