In the middle of last year, two Tararua REAP Budget Service Mentors, Rozanne Jensen and Julie Walker decided it was time to do something about the difficulties many people can get into after the death of a family member. Both women have had careers in banking, and both had recently completed a Money Mates course run by FinCap – which created a space for them to advance their thinking.

They went to Grey Power and pitched the idea of running workshops for people in their community who needed to ‘get their ducks in a row’ before the inevitable happens. It was received with enthusiasm.

“When they were chatting after we had finished,” says Rozanne, “it was clear that many in the room, even though they were over 60, didn’t have a will and had never thought of having power of attorney. The idea of attending a course and learning about what they should be doing hit the mark. Most of them who were in the room attended our first course in August last year.”

The free course was run for two hours a week for five weeks.

The first session was about having an Advanced Care Plan and how that could be organised. Advance care planning is the process of discussing and choosing future health care and medical treatment options. It is about people making decisions about their medical treatment including future consent to, refusal or withdrawing of treatment, and substitute decision-making.

“We had a nurse who works at Palmerston North hospital where she helps patients write their plan come in and do a session,” says Rozanne, “so people can think about what they want and have a proper plan ready in case they need it.”

The second session was about legal matters. A lawyer and a legal executive came in and talked about power of attorney, probate, wills and other legal matters. Because of Rozanne and Julie’s banking experience they knew about the very real difficulties people could get into, for example if the remaining spouse didn’t have their partner's bank account details.

A session with a funeral director was next, so people were able to learn about different kinds of things to consider, including options around embalming, burial versus cremation, funeral service, caskets and things like pre-payment – all things that can be done to take some of the stress away from grieving family members.

Someone from the MSD comes in for session four to talk about eligibility for a funeral grant, and what happens to a remaining spouse’s superannuation. And the final session was on life insurances and issues like, for example, the benefits of a joint life policy.

All the speakers give their time voluntarily – so REAP makes sure they are given a gift. “There’s a lot of demand for the course,” says Roxanne. “We ran two last year, and this year we ran one in March, which was full, and have others scheduled for each term. Word of mouth is bringing in the new enrolments. As well, a local iwi has asked us to come and run a course for them at their offices in Dannevirke where their kaumatua meet weekly. And we have also been approached by the Women’s Institute, to give them a talk about the programme. If they are unable to come to our scheduled courses, we will run a programme specifically for them.”

So far, a core of about 16 people have attended each programme, with others dipping in and out as they chose which session is most relevant for them. The most popular sessions, says Rozanne, are those on legal issues and funerals. “But most are interested in them all.”

Julie says that she felt the impact was huge. “A lot of it was new information, such as what happens if you don’t have a will. There are so many legal implications of that. And less obvious things like the fact that if you are signatory to an account, that ends when a person dies. People brought their own experiences into the room so the group could see the importance of having everything in place to make it easier for a grieving family.

“I think, as course facilitators, if we helped each participant get one new thing in place we have succeeded.” Claire Chapman, Tararua REAP’s General Manager says she loves leading a team that is immersed in the local district and has eyes wide open to things that feel ‘not quite right’. “Loads of conversations are held with the aim of finding a solution to as much as we can. This Are Your Ducks in a Row programme has really hit the mark. Claire believes another aspect of the success of the programme is the informal, but professional manner of delivery. “It’s a heavy topic, and facilitators aim to make it light-hearted. There is lots of laughter and also lots of tears as real and raw scenarios are shared with many people opening up and showing their emotions. The interactive style allows the organisers and presenters to make sure they are delivering appropriate, culturally sensitive, and helpful information.

“Each session finishes with afternoon tea which gives the group time to continue valuable discussions and form friendships. This has proven especially helpful for those new to the area. Karakia and karakia kai prior to eating is a new cultural experience for many and leads to interest in other existing programmes where they can continue their life-long journey of learning.”

Trina and Pete Mokrzecki both attended one of the courses. “It was absolutely awesome,” says Trina. “There was no such thing as a silly question. We went to all of the sessions and we learned more than we expected. The most important thing I learned was the benefit of having a joint account, so as soon as that session finished we went down to the bank and I became a joint signatory. I tell everybody about it. I wish more people would go. It would save a lot of heart ache down the line.”