How Estate Planning Can Reduce The High Cost Of Dying—Part 2



Death and taxes are inevitable. Though we pay our taxes, very few of us are properly prepared for death – either our own death or the death of a loved one.


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 clearer than ever that death is not only present but also central and inevitable to our lives.


One of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic is the way people now face death, grief, and other issues that arise when we lose someone we love dearly. 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 emotional, logistical, and financial challenges. 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 within 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 will 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

The report found that on average families spent 420 hours over 13 months completing all the tasks needed to settle a loved one’s estate after death. The time commitment averaged 20 months for estates that required the court process of probate. Most respondents underestimated how long these tasks would take. 54% said it took longer than they expected, while 31% said it took much longer.


The report breaks down the responsibilities that respondents reported taking the longest.


Most Time-Consuming Tasks

  • The funeral: 55%

  • Financial matters: 47%

  • The will and probate: 45%

  • Paying bills, debts, and taxes: 41%

  • Dealing with the house or other property: 25%

  • Finding service providers: 23%



Reducing The Time Burden for Your Family

With proper estate planning, you can dramatically reduce the time your surviving loved ones will spend on 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 eliminate the need for your family to deal with 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 doesn’t know about, all of your wealth and property. Most people fail to properly inventory their assets or keep that inventory regularly updated throughout their lifetime. This explains why there are 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 your assets is so important that we help you to begin this process. When you work with our firm, not only will we help you establish an asset inventory, but we will talk about instances that require updating your inventory.


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. Since most of us have not handled such processes before, the learning curve only adds to your emotional burden. 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%. Those dealing with estates with debts or those in lower-income families typically felt more stressed or lost during the process.


Such stress can even result in debilitating emotional and physical symptoms. More than 57% of respondents reported suffering at least one clinical symptom of stress, while the average person suffered three or more.


Clinical Symptoms Experienced

  • Stress headaches: 30%

  • Stress-related fatigue: 42%

  • Panic attacks: 17.5%

  • Memory impairment: 16%


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. This only makes things 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.”


When those who are enduring loss are properly educated and informed about what to expect and how to deal with these responsibilities, things can be 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 an estate planning attorney. We support our clients to have intimate discussions about planning for death and incapacity with their family. Proactive communication and planning can offer you peace of mind, knowing that the people you love most will be protected no matter what happens to you.

We can help you discuss your latest planning strategies with your family are explain why you made the choices you did, along with what they would need to do if something happens to you. We are available to your loved ones after you die if they choose.


A New Kind of Estate Planning

Death is unavoidable, and it can happen at any time. You can make your eventual death far easier for the people you love by creating a proper estate plan. Facing life’s greatest fear head-on and planning for it will relieve the stress. Our clients often report a huge sense of relief after meeting with us, and they frequently say they wish they’d created a plan sooner.


If you work with us, we hope 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 is about planning for a life you love and a legacy worth leaving by the choices you make today.


If you’re ready to create a plan for yourself, relieve the stress through education, and make things as easy as possible for your family, meet with us, at Rayboun Winegardner, to properly plan for the inevitability of death. Contact us today to schedule your first meeting for free.

This article is a service of Jennifer Winegardner of Rayboun Winegardner, PLLC. 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.


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