Dealing with sudden loss

Human lives can be fragile. Sometimes with no warning, loved ones can be taken from us. You may have been impacted directly, know others that have been affected or heard stories of celebrities who’ve gone too soon. This article looks the practical side of dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one and gives us some valuable insights.

I count my blessings that I’ve not experienced this myself, but two people dear to me have. They have been kind (and brave) enough to open up to me about their experiences. I’m truly grateful for their candidness and the insight this allows us.

I refer first to Helen, who was tragically widowed 11 years ago. I then talk about Dave, who lost his sister unexpectedly in January this year.


Helen’s story

Helen and John had been together for a number of years.  They were in their thirties, had a little girl of 13 months and things were going well for this young family. One morning, on his short commute, John was killed in a head-on car crash. What’s worse, Helen witnessed the accident. The only blessing, if you can call it that, was that he’d just dropped his daughter off at nursery and she wasn’t with him in the car.

Helen has been through a lot over the last 11 years and it hasn’t always been smooth or easy. She’s now in a position to give us some really practical advice:

Have a valid will

John had prepared a will, but died without having signed it as they couldn’t decide on the best guardian for their daughter. Without a will you are governed by intestate rules. His wish that his daughter shouldn’t have any inheritance when she turned 18, after seeing the effects on another family member, went out the window and there is nothing Helen could do to prevent that on his behalf. Luckily, Helen managed to keep the house in her name but ultimately had to make other compromises which John would not have liked.  Whether you’re having to make decisions on their behalf or things that are simply outside of your control, these are unnecessary things that could be avoided with a will.


Get some, but check the level of cover provided.

Life Insurance typically pays out on the death of the policy holder(s). This can provide a massive buffer if you have a mortgage and other bills to pay, children who need your attention and you just don’t feel ready to go back to work. Wills and probate can take months, or even years to complete. Helen and John had cover of £250K which went a long way, but with hindsight (that wonderful thing) she’d go for a minimum of £500K. She’d actually advise higher knowing what she knows now. The premiums were only £10 each per month at the time and so worth every penny for peace of mind.

Alternatively, there is Mortgage Payment Protection Insurance. Cover varies, but if you or your spouse is diagnosed with a debilitating illness your cover should pay off your mortgage for you. In death, it should also be automatic if you’ve got the right cover. Check your policy carefully as it could make a massive difference to your wellbeing following a bereavement.

Get a joint bank account

It’s tough enough to lose a spouse, but you also have to inform every utility company, phone provider etc. It’s so much easier if you have a joint bank account as they transfer the account to your own name over the phone in minutes as the payments are going from the same bank account as before. It may sound simple but it really helps.


Please take someone financially savvy with you when you meet with these people. You’ll be in a very vulnerable place and you could end up with financial liabilities that aren’t justified. Helen was in a position where she was asked to sign off a bill for £32K in legal fees which equated to around 40% of her the value of her husband’s estate. This was totally disproportionate to the work done. Needless to say, she didn’t sign and had a lucky escape.


Take it wherever you find it. Get out of your comfort zone of being part of a couple and try new things. You may find some of your “couple friends” not quite as friendly to you once you’re single/widowed. Try not to be offended, it’s human nature that they may no longer feel comfortable. Support might come from the most unlikely places, try to embrace it and accept offers of help, and more importantly fun, wherever offered.

Helen’s top tip

Helen’s top tip is to “live for the moment” and to make the most of life while you can. She certainly leads by example on this one!


Dave’s story

Dave, a trusted and reliable work colleague, is approaching the big 6-0. His sister Linda was 62. They’d experienced their fair share of family issues over the last few years. His dad was diagnosed and ultimately died from liver and bowel cancer. His mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had been moved to a suitable care home last year, long after she was properly able to cope.

Dave and Linda spoke frequently on the phone about their mum and they shared the visits between them – neither of them living close. Linda often did more than her fair share, in addition to holding a senior position in a large bank.

Linda was seemingly well when she died unexpectedly in January this year. Fit and healthy, she’d gone to a gym class on Friday evening. She’d arrived again at the gym on Saturday morning, but can’t have been looking well. She was advised not to do the class and ultimately someone had called an ambulance.

Unbeknown to anyone, it turned out that she had a rare underlying health issue affecting approximately 1 in 3 million people. Her veins were brittle and had actually snapped in a couple of places. She was operated on for a number of hours, before coming to and seeing some family visitors. The next day however, there were further complications and she ultimately didn’t pull through.


Dave shares the following tips with us:

Take the time you need

Dave understandably needed some time to deal with the shock. Fortunately his employer was supportive and allowed him time off work to deal with the emotional and practical turmoil that ensued.


Dave had his own loss to deal with, but also spent time with his brother-in-law and Linda’s sons

Dave helped his brother-in-law to sort out her belongings and there were a lot of them! Try to keep things under control. Would you prefer to sort out your own belongings or have someone else go through them after your death? I know what I’d choose.

Get a will

Linda also died intestate – i.e. she had no will, despite being an intelligent and fairly wealthy women. This is not uncommon, half of the adult population are estimated not to have a will. She was married for the second time and had two sons from a previous marriage. These were barely grown up and not yet fully financially independent.

Fortunately, the family sound very reasonable and amicable, but problems can often arise at these stressful times. Linda’s widower, to who everything ultimately defaulted in the absence of a will, has ensured her sons are taken care off. He has also made is own will to share his (new enlarged) estate between her sons and his own (from an earlier marriage).

Dealing with mother

One of the hardest things for Dave was managing his mum afterwards. Linda and Dave’s mum, who has Alzheimer’s, probably hasn’t fully understood the situation. Ultimately, he probably doesn’t visit her any more frequently, but there have been questions about Linda. “What happened to that nice lady that used to visit?”

Dave’s top tips

Dave’s top tips include making a will and having a power of attorney in place to deal with financial matters.



Life, which often seems so solid can actually be really fragile. We’ve heard of two examples where the life of loved ones was taken unexpectedly and prematurely. I’m sure many of you know of others.

My focus here has been on the people left behind, practical ways in which they’ve dealt with their loss – at the time and afterwards – and lessons they’ve learned from their experience. I’m grateful to them for sharing this with us.

So what are my takeaways? I have a valid will, but it dates back a good few years and could do with a review. I have life and critical illness insurance but I will check the policies for cover. And I’ll ensure I’m living for the moment too 😉

What are yours?


Thank you for reading. For more interesting articles, visit my blog at www.agelifebalance.com to learn more.