For Maryam Habibullah, Safewill’s Head of Product and Design, the importance of end-of-life planning came into clear focus when she suddenly and unexpectedly lost her younger brother Omar in 2020. Here, she shares her personal experience and why she believes it’s vital that everyone has a Will.
Omar and I were really close when we were kids. We moved to Australia when I was 12, and he was 4 years younger than me. Because he was the youngest and the only boy, my parents favoured him the most. He was really into skateboarding. He took the wrong path and hung out with the wrong people and we drifted apart. Before his death, he was living with my mum in Sydney but was going to move to Melbourne. We had an argument before he left and stopped speaking for about a year.
Omar died interstate in Melbourne. He had developed an addiction to heroin. He moved to Melbourne, and my sister who also lived there was seeing him and telling me how he was. It was getting worse and worse. He had lost his job. My sister was trying to get him into recovery but he was spiralling out of control. I thought about calling him many times, but life always got in the way. One day she called me and said he wasn’t responsive. His girlfriend at the time had found him, and he’d died of an overdose.
This all happened during COVID. My whole family was in Sydney, including my sister who normally lived in Melbourne. We didn’t know what to do, how to handle this kind of situation or who to contact. We were just at a complete loss because it was so unexpected. In the end, we found someone who could help us bring his body to Sydney to be buried. The funeral home we went with felt very cold and unhelpful. It was more like a business transaction rather than a caring company who was taking care of my brother.
Omar didn’t have a Will or estate plan. He was 31. I think he assumed he’d have the rest of his life to do that. I know that I did, as well as a lot of my friends. We didn’t know what assets he owned, if he owned a car, what was in his super – we knew nothing. It was really hard for my mum. My parents’ first language is not English, so it was left to my sister and I to do all this stuff. I was already dealing with the grief, plus the guilt of not talking to him for a year. It was so overwhelming to figure out who to call, what sort of lawyer we needed and to understand if we had to pay his debts.
It took about two years to sort out his estate. We all agreed everything should go to my mum, but my sister filled out a form incorrectly saying he had a partner, despite the fact he’d only been with his girlfriend for four months and they weren’t living together. Because of this, his superannuation fund paid out his substantial death benefit to her. We hadn’t even known she’d existed. We had to get a lawyer involved and do Letters of Administration and Probate and all of these things I’d never heard of before. I was the sole person dealing with the lawyer back and forth for two years.
I felt like I couldn’t grieve and move forward. It was distressing as I was constantly having to deal with his death again. I had to go through his phone to dig up information about how long he and his girlfriend had been together, but I had none of his passwords. I had to reach out to his friends and figure out his phone code, contact multiple companies to close his accounts. It was so hard. In the end, his girlfriend agreed to give my mum half. She took the other half and we never heard from her again. If he had a Will, this wouldn’t have happened.
Death is not talked about enough. This experience has taught me that people do die young, but we just don’t talk about it. People own things like shares and Bitcoin now – and what happens to it after you die? It’s definitely made me realise that it’s so important for everyone to have their estate planned out, down to your super and everything that you own. I’ve also learnt that people say one thing, but once you die, money, estates and inheritance really change people.
The fact it was so hard made me take the job at Safewill. I knew it was something I wanted to do after going through that process. I didn’t want other people to not have a Will when it was so easy and so cheap to do. It has helped me with what I do at work. I design Safewill’s products so I know they’re easy for any person in Australia to use. I want to make our products accessible whether people speak English well or not, or if they’re young or old. I believe everyone needs a Will and a plan.
This is the first of a two-part story on Maryam’s experiences of grief and loss. The second part – about losing her son – can be found here.
Get started on writing your Will (and your other end-of-life planning) with Safewill.