Losing a partner is no time to have to deal with money issues. Yet there is quite a lot to sort out in the event of the death of a partner. Some things need taking care of now – others can be put in place in the future. It can ease things if there is someone who can help – they can often think more clearly at such a challenging time.
You’ll need to think about the kind of send-off you want for your partner, but also about what you can afford. Talk to a funeral director about the options available. Even a basic funeral can be expensive but check if the costs are covered by your partner’s life insurance policy or other savings.
If the death of your partner was the result of an injury, ACC can help towards the costs of burial, cremation and related ceremonies. There’s helpful information on the ACC website about their funeral grants.
And if your partner was a beneficiary, Work and Income may help with funeral costs and ongoing living expenses. Find out more on the Work and Income website.
A will formally spells out how your partner’s assets (their ‘estate’) should be dealt with after their death. It may also include instructions for their funeral.
An estate could include things such as property, car, bank accounts, investments, KiwiSaver – anything owned in their name.
You will need to find a copy of your partner’s will or the solicitor or trustee company (e.g. Public Trust) they made their will through.
Until the will is settled (this is called ‘probate’) you may not be able to access your partner’s assets.
If your partner dies without having made a will, the law decides who among the family gets their assets. They may be divided differently to the way your partner would have wished.
For example, with married couples there is a set formula where the surviving partner will get the first amount in the estate, then the balance is divided between the partner and any children.
Under the Property Relationships Act, if you have been in a relationship for three years or more, you’re entitled to half your partner’s ‘relationship property’ if they die, unless you have made a separate agreement.
If there was a joint bank account, you may need to talk with the bank about changing the account details after your partner's death. Or you may need to discuss with your partner’s bank about gaining access to their personal accounts.
If you receive a life insurance payout, the bank will be able to advise on appropriate savings or term deposit options to store the money in the short term.
If your partner had been paying into a KiwiSaver or other superannuation scheme, the money will be paid into their estate and will be dealt with along with their other assets.
For some workplace superannuation schemes, a benefit (similar to a life insurance payment) may also be paid on death. In some schemes it is the scheme trustee's responsibility to determine who the benefit is paid to – so it's helpful if your partner’s preferences are made clear in their will.
If finalising your partner’s tax affairs you’ll need to talk to Inland Revenue. Their website has information about tax issues after a bereavement.
If your partner had life insurance, you may be entitled to a payout. Check with the insurance company.
If the payout is a significant amount you may want to consider your investment options.
Once you feel up to it, you’ll also need to review and update your own insurance policies – especially if you have children. If your partner was named as the beneficiary in your policies, that will need to change too.
If your partner’s death means a change in household income, it's important to know exactly where the money comes from and where it goes.
It’s a good time to calculate your net worth – listing all assets and any debts or joint debts. This net worth calculator can help.
Are there debts to pay off? Use this debt calculator to make a repayment plan.
No matter how much or how little you have to play with, sticking to a budget will put you in control of your money.
When you’re able to focus better on the future, you’ll need to set some new financial goals.
With so many changes after the death of your partner, you may need to review any investments you have, and even re-evaluate what type of investor you are. Sorted’s investor kickstarter can help.
Understanding your rights as a consumer and as an investor can make a big difference should things go pear-shaped.
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