Benjamin Franklin, the American president, once declared, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Franklin was right about death and wrong about taxes. Taxes are only a certainty for ordinary people, as millionaire businesswoman Leona Helmsley, once declared, “we don’t pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes.” The uncertainty of taxes for rich people was endorsed by Donald Trump who regarded the avoidance of tax as “being smart.”
For “little people,” along with death and taxes, comes paperwork, death and paperwork seem inextricably linked. The paperwork necessary when someone dies is greater than anything I had ever imagined.
When my Dad died, I had thought that once the doctor had given me a cause of death certificate, it was simple to call at the registrar’s office and register my Dad’s death. When I was told on the telephone that it was a forty-five minute appointment, I should have realised that it was not so simple.
I had to take Dad’s birth certificate and wondered how many people kept copies of their own certificate. There was a lengthy list of questions to answer about the circumstances of Dad’s death and about who was present. At its completion, I was told the certificate, that came from a desktop printer, was £11. I asked if I might have additional copies, three more sheets of paper were put into the printer – each cost me £11. I wondered how many people not used to dealing with officialdom coped. There didn’t seem many concessions.
A green form had to be taken from the registrar’s office to the undertaker to allow the cremation to proceed. The undertaker checked it and said all was in order. When booking the funeral, I had to pay in full, it had seemed a different world from that of the kindness of Seamus, the undertaker in Ireland with whom I worked on many occasions. Seamus might have had to wait a year to be paid; sometimes he was paid in instalments; sometimes he wasn’t paid at all. Death is different in England.
The registrar gave me a code number to use with the government’s, “Tell us once” service, which allowed me to use a government website to notify all the government agencies that Dad had died. Some of the questions were difficult to understand, those asking what benefits he received were incomprehensible. The government has so often made changes and uses such odd terminology, that I don’t know if the right boxes were ticked.
The paperwork has only just begun. Private pension providers need to be contacted, the terms of his war pension investigated, and there will be numerous, as yet unknown, letters to be sent.
Even having had the privilege of more years of education than many people, the paperwork has still come like a punch in the stomach. There must be a more humane way of doing things.