When The Money Suddenly Stops
Fairlady|May 2018

What would happen to your finances if your partner unexpectedly became incapacitated? When her parents found themselves in such a position, Lisa realised it was a question we all need to ask ourselves.

Lisa Witepski

Last year, my family was plunged into a nightmare that started with my father slipping and fracturing his neck vertebrae, which led to a month in rehab as he learnt how to walk, talk and brush his teeth again.

In between, there was a brain bleed, surgery, a scary period of confusion caused by ICU syndrome, a superbug and a monthlong coma, during which time he was hooked up to life support. Watching him hover between life and death was heart-wrenching for all of us, but for my mother especially.

Compounding her grief and anxiety were calls from creditors who hadn’t received payment since my dad had lost the ability to communicate. Those creditors included the medical aid scheme, which threatened to withhold payments to my father’s team of doctors, as well as the bank murmuring about sending evaluators in case our home had to be repossessed.

When my mother appealed to her private banker, she was advised to ask her sons-in-law for a loan or apply to put my father under curatorship, a lengthy process that would have to be reversed once he came around, if he were able to regain control over his finances. Time wasn’t on our side; these expenses had to be settled, fast.

Fortunately, our family lawyer suggested an alternative: when my father came out of the coma and could demonstrate that he understood what was going on, he could use his thumbprint to authorise my mother to act on his behalf.

My father has a gift for financial management, but he’d never shared his MO with my mother. Theirs is an old-school arrangement: he takes care of the money, and she sees to the logistics of the household. So when he couldn’t make sure the bills were paid, she had no idea where to start.

What the lawyers say

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