How Estate Planning and Empathy Can Reduce The High Cost Of Dying—Part 1


Prior to the pandemic, very few among us are properly prepared for the death of a loved one, or our own. Some in the end-of-life industry believe that the pandemic’s massive loss of life has 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 personally 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—and in the process, “change the way the world deals with loss.”


A Digital Assistant For Grieving Families

Empathy provides users with digital tools that offer step-by-step instructions detailing all of the administrative, legal, and financial tasks you need to manage in order to finalize a loved one’s affairs and settle their estate. To help users prioritize their work and avoid burnout, the Empathy app flags the most time-sensitive tasks.


In addition to the technology, Empathy also offers human-centered support in the form of live Care Specialists, who can be contacted via the app. The Care Specialists support you by answering questions, helping you locate services and providers, and even handling certain tasks for you if needed, such as calling funeral homes, contacting life insurance companies to speed up policy payouts, and helping executors file court petitions.


Determining Dying’s True Cost

In partnership with Goldman Sachs, Empathy’s first-ever Cost of Dying Report 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—and as Gura says, “bust open the taboo that has for too long kept it out of the public consciousness.”


The report looked not only at the financial burden dying brings, but it also examined the cost “in time, in stress, in harmed productivity, and in strained interpersonal bonds.” Paired with the results of the research, the Cost of Dying includes a collection of insights from the study’s advisors, partners, and experts in the bereavement field.


The following are some of the study’s most notable findings, along with corresponding insights from some of the report’s contributors.


THE FINANCIAL COST Following a loved one’s death, the total bill—including the funeral and hiring all of the other professional support—cost families an average of $12,702. The average cost of a funeral was $7,267, and according to the National Funeral Directors Association, that cost has risen 7.6% in the last 5 years.


On top of the funeral, families paid an average of $5,846 to hire additional professionals, such as lawyers, financial advisors, and realtors. The bill charged for these services include the following individual costs:

Professional Services

  • $3,910 lawyer fees (nearly double for estates that required probate)

  • $4,461 real estate professionals

  • $2,456 accountants

  • $1,637 therapists or social workers


Notably, one-third of families surveyed completed the probate process, which averaged $16,800.

Fortunately, by working with us, your family can avoid the time, expense, and emotional burden associated with probate. For example, by placing assets in a properly created and maintained revocable living trust, assets held by the trust will pass to your loved ones without the need for probate or any court intervention following your death or incapacity.


But that’s not the only way proactive planning can help your loved ones following your death. Using our Life & Legacy Planning Process, you can achieve a variety of other goals, including asset protection, avoiding family conflict, funding long-term care, estate tax mitigation, as well as family legacy creation and preservation, to name just a few.


Paying The Final Bill So how did families pay for all of these expenses? Only 1 in 7 families had any of the costs associated with their loved ones’ death paid in advance or were able to use payable-on-death funds. Additionally, more than half of families had to deal with estates that included debt. To foot the bill for these expenses, families used their own savings or investments, checking accounts, or credit cards.


“A majority of families find themselves unprepared for and under-informed about the real financial costs of death, with few available resources for finding out,” writes internal medicine physician Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, in the report’s section on death’s financial cost. “They can spend months or years terrified that a wrong move will wipe out their inheritance or even their own savings.” Ungerleider notes that a lack of proper estate planning can lead to the deceased’s home being seized after death “to pay off expenses incurred through Medicaid, even if the family member who was their primary caregiver is still living in the home.”


This is another area where thoughtful estate planning can be invaluable. We offer planning strategies that can help you and/or your senior parents qualify for Medicaid and other benefits, without putting the family home or other assets at risk, and serve as both you and your family’s trusted advisor at all times.


Next week, we will discuss more of the Cost Of Dying’s most notable findings and detail other ways you can dramatically reduce the financial, logistical, and emotional burden for your loved one’s upon your death using our Life & Legacy Planning Process. Until then, if you are ready to create or update your estate plan, contact us today.


This article is a service of Truest Law, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.


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