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How should service providers deal with the bereaved?

sorting paperwork

Dealing with the death of someone close can be traumatic and terrifying in equal measure. And when you’re the person left with the probate tasks, one thing soon becomes apparent: how service providers treat you is really, really important.

When my mum died somewhat unexpectedly this summer, as her only living close relative, I was the one left dealing with probate.

I’ve never had to do anything quite so sad as work my way through mum’s paperwork, phoning up strangers to let them know what had happened, when I had barely come to terms with it myself.

Thankfully, most dealt with the matter sensitively and efficiently.

NatWest was very helpful in explaining that it could pay the funeral expenses direct and sending me all the relevant paperwork. Mum’s phone provider, O2, had a dedicated bereavement team, as did her energy supplier, M&S Energy. Even her dental insurer was kind and helpful on the phone.

But my dealings with Virgin Media left me reeling.

Service providers and death: dealing with grieving relatives

I found it odd that a company with so many customers didn’t have an easily accessible bereavement team, but I duly rang the main customer-service centre. ‘We can’t do anything without a password,’ was the default response.

I was then asked, repeatedly, for a power of attorney. I explained, repeatedly, that a power of attorney was no longer relevant as mum had died. ‘Oh, is she already dead?’ came the reply. Sensitivity wasn’t the strong suit.

It was only when I refused to send a copy of the will (why wasn’t a death certificate good enough?) that I was put through to someone who promised to close the account in a few weeks’ time. I gave them my details and they said they would send all closing correspondence to me.

Two weeks later, and Virgin Media was still billing my mum for its future service.

Service providers and death: not getting it right

After taking to Facebook, I finally spoke to someone at Virgin, who told me they couldn’t, in fact, change the account name. ‘I just don’t see the point in you continuing to bill someone who I’ve told you is dead,’ was my exasperated reply. No, they couldn’t explain it either.

The account is now finally closed, but I am still upset and angry about the whole thing. In fact, I’ve switched to another provider myself, because I don’t want to have to pick up the phone to Virgin Media ever again.

One thing is painfully apparent – kindness and sensitivity go a long way at a difficult time; get it right, and your customers will be more likely to stick with you.

Have you had to deal with service providers and death at the same time? If so, how were you treated?

Comments
Guest

My sympathy’s on you loss Hannah.

When my mother died she had some savings with Abbey National which had not long been taken over by Santander. They were hopeless; it took weeks to transfer the funds to my name and they lost the first lot of paperwork I submitted including a copy of the probate certificate which I was none to happy about. It resulted in me bawling out the manager of the local branch which was supposed to be dealing with it in front of her customers and staff.

However that was as nothing compared to what happened with Compuserve. She had some War Stock which they managed on behalf on HMG. I wrote to them and they sent me the necessary form which I duly returned with a copy of the probate certificate. The next time I went to check on her old house I found they’d sent the form to her to countersign… No; I’m not having a laugh.

To their credit I sent a furious letter off on Monday, had an apology on Wednesday and the stock transferred on Thursday.

I also had a row with British Gas about the final gas bill for the property and some snags with the Inland Revenue. Principally they wrote and informed me that one of their surveyors would be coming to value the property more than a week after he’d been and I had to send them a copy of the report he’d sent to me but which apparently hadn’t reached the person dealing with my case.

It’s a difficult enough time without having this sort of hassle from people who should be better organised.

Guest

No doubt you got their backs up by losing control of yourself. If you do not treat employees of Organisations you want to assist you with respect do not expect them to be understanding and expedite your requests quickly.

Banks have a duty of care to their customers monies and sometimes are over zealous and incompetent, but point out their errors calmly and with understanding and they will be more helpful.

Guest

Your advice is sound Ron but you need to allow for the stress and grief that accompanies these circumstances. Banks should not be losing vital paperwork and fund managers should not be asking the deceased to confirm the transfer of their investments. What seem like minor administrative slip-ups take on a different dimension when dealing with an estate and they come one after the other from organisations that are supposed to be competent. I feel some tolerance for a little over-reaction is justified.

Guest

I didn’t lose control, it was a carefully constructed blasting. Sometime you have to complain and complain forcefully. I wasn’t worried about souring future relations with the bank as already resolved to move the money elsewhere and having nothing more to do with them.

Guest

My father-in-law died unexpectedly in hospital.

Apparently when you die, you are no longer entitled to anything free under the NHS. They contacted us to get the body removed or they would charge us for storage. You would think a hospital could conduct themselves with more sensitivity wouldn’t you?

Guest

That is unpleasant but may be a sign of things to come. Whether the problem is thoughtless people wanting to maximise income or a consequence of underfunding of the NHS, I don’t know.

Guest

I have spoken about social media companies holding your data after your death and sending you “birthday greetings ” even when notified , they obviously have an account with the British Spiritualist Association . But a more serious point is that I also posted a while back that in the US they are trying to change the legislation so YOU can be billed for a relatives debts and continued membership of organisations if there is a financial link to them . As you know what happens in the US happens here-eventually , as more and more US companies control British ones , its bad enough paying your own bills in this country without getting ripped off just think you have to keep on paying for dead relatives — what next a ban on using rain water as in the USA ? or how about air rationing with a meter connected to your mouth and nose, dont laugh somebody thought about , but its never got further than that.

Guest

In my experience of dealing with a few estates I have found that companies and organisations that have a latent history of doing their business through correspondence have the most sensitive approach, and this includes banks and building societies, insurance companies, department stores and major retailers, membership organisations, energy and water utilities, local authorities and government departments, and other traditional service providers. They usually have dedicated bereavement teams or specialists trained and experienced in closing accounts, refunding monies paid, sending final statements, and stopping direct debits.

Companies that have grown up in the digital revolution are far less adept at handling sensitive personal matters. To start with they don’t want to handle correspondence so force as much interchange as possible through their customer service centres so there is a minimum of personal engagement and continuity. The call centre staff are not sufficiently trained in the processes of settling deceased people’s affairs and the requirements for getting probate or administration of the estate. They are unfortunately ignorant but have no higher authority or specialist colleague with better understanding to whom they can pass the call. What they don’t seem to appreciate is that until probate has been granted to the executor [or administration authorised] there is no money available to continue paying charges so they will just have to wait. They go into their debt recovery mode without any apparent recognition that their customer is no longer with them. An official copy of the death certificate is the usual way of confirming the situation but staff don’t seem to understand that they only need to see it and keep a photocopy or scan it into their system if they wish to; with these organisations paperwork seems to disappear into a black hole. They also don’t seem to understand that the executor or administrator is usually dealing with thirty or more other organisations so needs to have important matters set out in writing. E-mails are just about acceptable but are rather cold and formulaic in the circumstances.