Home Money Sorting out Mum’s financial affairs after her death is an emotional rollercoaster – just one giant provider left me fuming, says JEFF PRESTRIDGE

Sorting out Mum’s financial affairs after her death is an emotional rollercoaster – just one giant provider left me fuming, says JEFF PRESTRIDGE

by Elijah
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Jeff Prestridge with his mother Helen, whom he nicknamed Helen of Troy and describes her as

Sorting out my mother’s financial affairs after her death late last month has been a rollercoaster affair, both emotionally and administratively.

Sometimes it requires detective work that Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of: searching for key financial documents. Occasionally, the discovery of unknown savings accounts has brought me joy, only to be followed by frustration because I had to deal with an AI bot on the phone. Due to grief? God help us.

Mom, or Helen of Troy as I liked to call her, died after a tough battle with cancer. She was 88 years old, although she looked more like 68.

When we went out to lunch together, people sometimes assumed we were husband and wife. Mom would be delighted, I less so.

Although the death certificate says she died of breast carcinoma, eventually the cancer had spread to all parts of her body, including her brain.

Jeff Prestridge with his mother Helen, whom he nicknamed Helen of Troy and describes her as “a homely bird who took pride in where she lived and thought she was invincible.”

However, until the day she died (January 29), she remained outspoken, criticizing us (her four children) for moving her to a nursing home during the last week of her life.

“I want to go home,” he insisted. “I can take care of myself perfectly well, thank you.” If looks could kill.

I couldn’t, but mom was mom: a homely bird who took pride in where she lived and believed she was invincible. She queens the castle.

For no less than 70 years, she had owned several homes in Sutton Coldfield, preparing her four children to lead independent lives, while supporting dad in his career as a successful commercial salesman (he was able to sell coal to Newcastle, in ( In fact, he probably did.)

She was a housewife, although she was much more than that. She ruled her home. There was simply nothing that could be done within the four walls of her home without her knowing. She gave the Chinese a good shot at surveillance.

So the impulse to imitate wrestler Mick McManus (a childhood hero) and put my younger brother David in a headlock would be nipped in the bud before I threw him to the ground.

“Enough,” he shouted from somewhere below. “Jeffrey, do your homework right now.”

A party I secretly threw when Mom and Dad went on vacation only stayed secret until she walked through the front door upon her return and immediately realized something was wrong. They took me out of school and gave me a reprimand to end all reprimands. I still have nightmares about it.

Dad (Stan the man) kept Mom sweet by taking her (and us kids) on vacations abroad before they became the norm. He also bought her designer clothes and jewelry. She reveled in the attention she received from other men. In the pomp of her, she attracted attention.

However, Mom was an extremely private woman. She was not allowed to tell her oldest friend about her illness, and she refused to see her when the final curtain began to be drawn on her life.

We were also not allowed to inform their neighbors. The wheelchair was kept out of sight, although he had no choice but to use it when we took her to lunch. As for someone coming to take care of her from time to time, there is no chance. “I’m not going to have a stranger in my house,” she got angry when we said it would be a good idea.

We actually managed to get a nurse to visit us and introduce herself. Mom sent her packing immediately with one or three fleas in her ear. We are ashamed.

Frustratingly, this privacy extended to their finances. After Dad passed away in 2017, it became almost impossible to control his money. Despite my knowledge of personal finance, his point of view was simple: “It’s my money and none of your business, Mr. Nosy PF Journalist.”

Although I finally convinced her to let me have power of attorney over her finances, all I really accomplished was keeping an eye on her bank account and transferring money from a savings account linked to her when she got her energy bill. He exhausted her funds.

Every time I tried to look for evidence of other savings accounts in her house (she never embraced the Internet), she would scold me and tell me to stop “meddling, messing around, and farting.”

Mom had a way with words, although I never quite understood the phrase “oh, shit in a sandwich.” She used it whenever she was frustrated, which was a lot in the last year of her life.

Luckily, when Mom went to the hospital after falling in the night and somehow ending up under her bed, my sister Joy (along with my brother Dave and older sister Pauline, a brick in the last few months of Mom’s life) They started snooping.

From every corner of Mum’s bungalow, he gathered a veritable array of documents: bank statements, building society passbooks, policy documents, utility bills, premium bond prize guarantees and insurance policies.

Figuring it all out hasn’t been without its challenges. Starting with the good, the Government’s Tell Us Once service was a dream. Using the unique reference number Joy obtained when collecting the death certificates, I was able to report Mum’s death online to several government departments simultaneously.

This meant I was able to cancel his passport, his state pension, his council tax, all in one go. All he needed was key information such as his passport details and national insurance number.

South Staffs Water couldn’t have been more helpful. A very helpful person said that Mom’s account would be closed immediately and that there would be no more charges while we sold Mom’s house. “Just don’t shower or wash the car when you’re there,” she joked. Gold stars everywhere.

Mum’s credit cards with M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco were easily canceled – she settled the balances by direct debit every month. And claiming a small life policy, taken out by Mum to provide funds for her funeral, was pretty straightforward. She will have more than enough left over to pay for the wake.

The staff at NatWest, Mum’s Bank and Nationwide in Sutton Coldfield were absolutely lovely and their accounts were closed quickly upon receiving a copy of their death certificates. In fact, Nationwide told me that Mom had another account besides the one we knew about.

Ok, it only contained £2.83, but it was nice that the building society was fighting for us (mum would have been proud of the fact that we hadn’t tracked it down). She has now sent me statements that will help me with legalization (I’m already losing sleep over that trip).

Mum’s private pension with Aviva (an annuity, originally taken out by my dad) was easily cancelled, although it was then disconcerting to receive a confirmation letter addressed to Mr J John (John is my middle name). I think I’ll stick with Prestridge for now.

My most disconcerting moments came when I called NS&I to inform them of Mum’s passing (she has some Premium Bonds with them). I used the phone number provided to report the deaths, but instead of being greeted with a friendly voice, I was put in touch with a “virtual assistant.”

Maybe I wasn’t concentrating, but the first time I didn’t immediately realize I was dealing with AI and lost my cool at the banal questions they asked me: “What’s your call today?”

When he asked me to summarize the reason for my call in one word, I shouted: “grief.” I waited and waited for a response until I suddenly realized that AI had already suffered enough for me and interrupted me.

The second time, the “conversation” was less tense because I knew what I was dealing with. He pointed me in the direction of a form I should fill out online.

But should NS&I use AI to care for people who may still be grieving? I don’t believe it and I have told you what I think.

He maintains that AI helps the organization “filter calls quickly and efficiently.” He adds: “Call wait times may vary, but after initially speaking to the virtual assistant, on average a customer should be able to speak to a person from our bereavement claims team in less than a minute.”

Of course, AI is making its way into all of our lives. But I’m not sure it works when taking bereavement calls.

NS&I should think again. It is certainly not outside your collective brainpower (or your financial budget) to provide a human-staffed grief helpline.

Rest in peace, Helen of Troy.

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