Today, I want you to sit back and think.
Thoda serious ho jaayein aaj? As much as I would always like this column to sound happy with a smattering of humour, a reader’s mail has left me kinda speechless and numb. Reproducing it as is... “Dear Sonal, I’ve been a regular reader of your column and ­simply love the way you write. Always wanted to mail you but never thought it would be under these circumstances. I’m Diksha (name changed), 33-year-old and a mom of two kids.
Today, it’s been exactly two months that my husband Ankur died of sudden cardiac arrest. He was a ­chartered accountant, and just 35 years old. Ours has been a fairly well-to-do, upper middle class nuclear family, and even though I am well qualified, I chose to be a homemaker to take care of my daughters who are eight and three years old. The day Ankur died so suddenly, my near-perfect world came crashing down.
I went numb with grief and stress. Everyone told me it’ll get better with time. But in the last two months, my stress has only increased with each day. Ankur was a tech savvy person, very active in online banking and transactions. He’d also made investments in insurance ­policies, mutual funds, chit funds etc and also given out some money to friends on interest. We were happy, and busy, and it never occurred to either of us that I should be made aware of all his finances. Frankly, it was never even discussed at home.
Ten days after Ankur died, his dad, who lives in Chennai, asked me if I knew the details of the home loan and car loan ­instalments. There were EMIs to be paid. It might sound shameful but I then realised that I didn’t even know his bank account number. He only got e-statements for his bank and credit card transactions ... and that threw me into an unending maze of passwords. Passwords that I did not know.
He used to tell me that he keeps a record of financial details on his phone, but even that had a password. I contacted the bank and they were helpful, but wanted me to produce ­certificates — right from the marriage certificate, to the ­medical reports to a death ­certificate. All of which again required me to furnish details that I didn’t have. Both his ­laptops were locked with secure passkeys that I didn’t know.
To make things worse, I realised that Ankur had been busy enough to not even change his nominee details in his bank account after marriage, and the nominee continued to be his mom, who had died six years back. There was no question of him having written a will, because no one anticipates or likes to even discuss death at such a young age. The last two months have been hell for me, and instead of getting to grieve peacefully, I’ve been running from pillar to post (have even had to hire a professional hacker), to get access to the rightful finances and savings of my husband. Do you have calmness tips for such a stress?”
Well, I have goosebumps, Diksha, at trying to imagine your situation, and at the realisation that a majority of us are living the same life as yours, and that of your late husband. A life that is utterly unpredictable ... and more utterly disorganised. Those who read my column range from 16-60, maybe older, men and women alike, and none of them wants to discuss or prepare for death at any stage.
Our lifestyle is putting us at higher risk of sudden deaths with each passing year, but our culture still ­prohibits us from talking about the repercussions, least of all financial, on those who are left behind. Even if we are working day and night like crazy to earn and save so that our loved ones feel secure, we don’t get around to spending just a little bit of time in telling them how to access those savings if we were to suddenly disappear from the face of this earth. I don’t know about calmness tips, but here are some learnings that at least I plan to follow, from Diksha’s ongoing nightmare.
Sit for half an hour today with the closest adult in your family (whoever it is, based on your ­circumstances). Take a pen and paper and write down, in front of them, the key details of your financial assets and how they can access them in case ­something were to suddenly ­happen to you. I know some of you would be stupidly thinking right now of your ‘white’ and ‘black’ assets, and whether it’s risky to put down everything on paper. Yaar, apne do number ke paise ke chakkar toh aap hi jaano, I just know that no money — number 1, 2 or 30 — will help your family if only you know about it and God decides to fall in love with you and take you away in an instant. Mutually decide with your partner where to safely keep these details, and try to use language which is ­understandable enough to your partner, but not to the whole world. Unless you want your naughty Chintu to get hold of that paper and announce your locker details at the next family function.
Spend half an hour next week to check if the nominee details on all your financial savings are up-to-date. Trust me, you don’t want your loved ones to run around producing certificates after you’re gone. It’s an ­avoidable torture.
I know sharing passwords is a tricky thing. These days spouses can touch each other but can’t touch each others’ phones. But, use easily available apps to securely e-vault all your passwords under one key which is made available to your ­nominee in case of your sudden death. A simple Google search will give you hundreds of options.
Finally, if you are over 30 and working, WRITE A WILL. Hate me for reminding you that death comes suddenly for a lot of us, but do it nonetheless. It’s a great parting gift.
Sonal Kalra wants someone to remove her browser history the moment she dies. Who wants to be a nominee for that? Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sonalkalra13. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra