Despite the fact that it happens to every single one of us and is as every bit as natural as birth, very few among us are properly prepared for death—whether our own death or the death of a loved one.
Yet the pandemic might be changing this.
According to Census figures, the pandemic caused the U.S. death rate to spike by nearly 20% between 2019 and 2020, the largest increase in American mortality in 100 years. More than two years and 1 million deaths later, it's more clear than ever that death is not only ever-present, but a central and inevitable part of all our lives.
Yet, some in the end-of-life industry believe the pandemic’s massive loss of life has also created an opportunity to transform the way we face death, grief, and all of the other issues that arise when we lose someone we love dearly. In fact, this sentiment is the mission of the new startup Empathy, an AI-based platform designed to help families navigate the logistical and emotional challenges following the death of a loved one.
“For far too many, COVID-19 has been a terrible reminder that death and loss are all around us,” notes Empathy CEO and co-founder Ron Gura in a recent company report. “But it also represents an opportunity to shift public perception, to bring a topic that has been for far too long shrouded in darkness into the light of day, where we can fully examine it and figure out how best to help those who have to shoulder its burdens.”
As anyone who has dealt with loss knows, when a loved one dies, those left behind face major challenges, not only emotional and logistical, but financial as well. Empathy was designed to help manage and streamline these responsibilities for grieving families. In addition to the app, in March 2022 Empathy released its first-ever Cost of Dying Report, which surveyed more than 2,000 Americans—each of whom had lost a loved one in the last five years—to get a clearer picture of dying’s true cost to families.
Last week, in part one of this series, we discussed some of the Cost Of Dying’s most notable findings and explained how proactive estate planning can dramatically reduce many of the financial, logistical, and emotional challenges for your loved ones following your death. Here in part two, we wrap up our summary of the report and outline more of the ways proactive planning can relieve the burden of your death for your family.
THE COST IN LOST TIME
On average, the report found that families spent 420 hours over 13 months completing all the tasks needed to settle a loved one’s estate after death. However, the time commitment shot up to 20 months for estates that required the court process of probate. Additionally, most respondents underestimated how long these tasks would take: 54% said it took longer than they expected, while 31% said it took much longer.
To give you some idea of what consumed families’ time most during these months, the report breaks down the responsibilities that respondents reported taking the longest as follows:
Most Time-Consuming Tasks
Reducing The Time Burden For Your Family
With proper estate planning, you dramatically reduce the time your surviving loved ones will have to spend on many of these tasks. For example, by preplanning and prepaying your own funeral, you can greatly reduce what most families reported as the most time-consuming task.
For other tasks, such as dealing with probate and paying off estates with debt, you can use estate planning to totally eliminate the need for your family to deal with these issues. As we noted last week, you can save your family both the time and expense of probate by creating a revocable living trust. One other unnecessary task we see families spending a lot of time on is simply locating all of a loved one’s assets when they die.
This happens when you become incapacitated or die, and your family is unable to find—or simply overlooks—all of your wealth and property. And this occurs because most people fail to properly inventory their assets or keep that inventory regularly updated throughout their lifetime. Indeed, this is why there’s currently more than $58 billion of lost and unclaimed assets held by state and federal agencies in the U.S.
Keeping an updated inventory of all of your assets is so important, we offer this service for free to every one of our clients. Moreover, when you work with us, we will not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, we have systems in place to make sure your inventory stays consistently updated throughout your lifetime.
We’ve even created a unique (and totally FREE) tool called a Personal Resource Map to help you get the inventory process started right now on your own, without the need for a lawyer. Once you’ve done that, schedule a meeting with a local Personal Family Lawyer®, to incorporate your inventory with your other estate planning strategies.
THE TOLL ON THE MIND & BODY
The seemingly endless number of tasks and responsibilities grieving families must deal with can be both confusing and stressful. And since most of us have never handled such processes before, you face a surreal learning curve that only adds to your emotional burden.
To this end, more than 30% of respondents said they simply didn’t know what to do during the period immediately following a loved one’s death, and for those under age 45, that number rose to 43%. Not surprisingly, estates with debt typically caused more stress to those who had to manage them, and lower-income families were considerably more likely than those with higher incomes to report feeling lost during the process.
Such stress can even result in debilitating emotional and physical symptoms. As evidence of this fact, more than 57% of respondents reported suffering at least one clinical symptom of stress, while the average person suffered three or more. The most common symptoms induced by grief-related stress include the following:
Clinical Symptoms Experienced
A Lack Of Communication Compounds Stress
Our society is so separated from the dying and grieving process that just talking about it is often considered taboo. Sadly, this only makes things that much more difficult when we finally face death’s inevitable reality.
“Bereavement is emotionally and physically taxing,” writes BJ Miller, MD, Empathy's Compassion Advisor, in the report’s section on dying’s mental cost. “It's hard on your body, it’s hard on your mind, it’s hard on your life. By not talking about it openly, we have made it much harder than it needs to be.”
One positive part of this situation is that when those enduring loss are properly educated and informed about what to expect and how to best deal with these responsibilities, things do get easier for them.
“The good news is that when we give them the guidance they need, when we fill that knowledge gap, the bereaved tend to feel a lot better,” says Miller.
Don’t Leave Your Family In The Dark
One easy way you can make dealing with your own eventual death far easier for your loved ones is by working with a Personal Family Lawyer®. We will support you to have intimate discussions about planning for death and incapacity with your family. When done right, such proactive communication and planning can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and offer you peace of mind, knowing that the people you love most will be protected and provided for no matter what happens to you.
Furthermore, we take the time to get to know your family members and include them in the planning process. In this way, everyone affected by your plan is well-aware of what your latest planning strategies are and why you made the choices you did, along with knowing exactly what they need to do if something happens to you. And by getting to know your family over time, when something does happen, your lawyer will be there for the people you love, with an underlying relationship and trust already established.
A New Kind Of Estate Planning
As the pandemic has made abundantly clear, death is unavoidable—and it can strike at any time. However, you can make your eventual death far easier for the people you love by creating a proper estate plan. Moreover, facing life’s greatest fear head-on and planning for it will allow you to enjoy your current life even more. In fact, our clients often report a huge sense of relief after meeting with us, and they frequently say they wish they’d created their Life & Legacy Plan sooner.
In the end, by working with a Personal Family Lawyer®, you’ll discover that the estate planning process isn’t something morbid or depressing. When done right, estate planning is about far more than just planning for your death and passing on your “estate” and assets to your loved ones—it’s about planning for a life you love and a legacy worth leaving by the choices you make today—and this is why we call our services Life & Legacy Planning.
With this in mind, if you’ve been avoiding preparing for death, you could be missing out on an incredible opportunity for yourself, while leaving behind a potential nightmare for your family. If you’re ready to start truly living your life and make things as easy as possible for your family, meet with a Personal Family Lawyer® to properly plan for the inevitability of death in service to more life. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today for an appointment.