Thursday, 7 March 2013

Show me the money

The Namibian 14 Feb 2013

Millions of dollars are laying unclaimed with banks, pension funds and insurance companies. I have been informed that these companies believe it is the responsibility of the deceased to have informed the relatives of the policy of other benefit that the relatives are to receive. In turn, they insist, it is the responsibility of the beneficiary to claim their monies. Nonsense, I say! The company has been entrusted with a duty which must be kept.

In last week’s column I discussed the opportunities to be had by entrepreneurs in the assistance of customers. Many people are not aware of their rights and thus lose out on possible savings on products and services. An even further disturbing business practice is the non-payment of death benefits. After all, (a business might argue), the person has passed away and would not be aware if their loved ones had received the money they had worked so hard to put aside. Each and every person in Namibia has the right to find out if they have been left an inheritance, whether it is property, money or even a prized possession. Most of us presume that such matters will be taken care of after our deaths – but very few actually make sure there is enough information about our financial dealings so that our relatives or executors can make these divisions according to our wishes.

A typical example came to light recently when a friend of mine had a death in the family. The deceased was a pensioner and had received their pension money less than a week before the passing. My friend was given the responsibility of managing the financial costs of the funeral and decided to use the account of the deceased to finalise matters. Now, unfortunately, one of the other relatives had access to the bank card and had withdrawn the last monies left from the pension – and even left a negative balance. Upon enquiry, my friend was requested to provide a death certificate and proof of being the executor before he could access the particulars of when and where the money was withdrawn. The “missing” money was less than N$ 300.00 and my friend wondered if it really was worth the effort. Nonetheless, he provided the paperwork to the bank and was given the bank statement.

And this is where we come to an interesting discovery. One of the bank employees asked my friend why he had not requested for the death benefit of the account to be paid out. The employee explained that all bank accounts carried life insurance - and they charged it as part of bank fees on the account. Upon enquiry it turns out that all accounts with the bank had an automatic death benefit of N$ 2,500.00. When I heard the story I was amazed, as I am not even sure if my bank provides the same service. Or whether I am paying for this service and am not aware of it?

This brings another business opportunity to light. “Inheritance Tracing”. Not many of us have the financial knowledge, or even the time to check whether there is money not being paid out which rightfully belongs to us. Thus an inheritance tracing agent can assist consumers with checking with all financial institutions such as banks, insurance companies, etc as well as with the appropriate authorities (for example the Master of the High Court). In addition to tracing, there is also an opportunity to provide consumer education on matters pertaining to their last wishes. We might not like to think about our deaths, but we must do our utmost to ensure we do not bring more misery to our relatives through our passing.

If you have a bank account, funeral policy, shares or other financial instruments, make sure they are all listed with a person who you can trust. This can either be a financial advisor (insurance broker, etc.) or speak to your bank about their services in case of your death. 

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