The relationship between grief and logistics
Gura, like many others, has been through his fair share of loss. He’s found that there’s no way to decouple logistics and grief.
“Grief is made hard by logistics, and logistics are made harder by grief,” says Gura. “It's that moment when you don't want to certify the death certificate … or when you don't want to call Amazon to delete someone’s name.”
The Empathy app (which is currently only available in the U.S.) is designed to provide both administrative and emotional support. Gura likens it to a really good friend who is also an estate expert, grief counsellor and savvy shopper with a line on money — and time — saving tricks.
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“More often than not, end-of-life services are built for the wealthy,” says Gura. “And that means way too often, they upsell and exploit the mass market … resulting in millions of families every year dealing with loss … left overcharged and overwhelmed.”
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Responsibilities fall to family without much support
Dealing with the impacts of grief is doubly hard in isolation. Jessica Lowe, the executive director of the B.C. Bereavement Helpline, says even two years into the pandemic, her organization saw a 106% year-over-year increase in calls for support between January and April 2022.
And with so many struggling, other areas of their lives are sure to be impacted. According to Empathy’s report, just over half of people said their job performance was negatively affected by their grief — and administrative tasks consumed an average of one hour per workday.
Currently, employers aren’t legally required to offer bereavement leave. Federal public servants are entitled to 10 paid days of leave per year. Everyone else in the private sector falls under their provincial policies, which generally allow for two to five days of unpaid job-protected leave a year.
However, when you consider that many — nearly 80% of respondents — said they pulled from their own savings or investment accounts to cover costs, taking unpaid time off work may not be an option.
“Caring doesn't stop and giving doesn’t stop after [death],” says Gura. “You just replaced your unsexy caregiving title with another unsexy executor or next of kin title — you're still doing so much work and you're still combining emotional and administrative financial decisions every day.”
Setting your family up for success when you’re gone
All the administrative tasks of wrapping up someone’s estate can seem daunting, says Betty-Anne Howard, a financial planner with Athena Wealth and Legacy Solutions in Kingston, Ont.
What surprised Howard the most going through Empathy’s report was the amount of anxiety and dread people experience wrapping up a loved one’s estate — and the level of fear they have that making a single mistake could cost them their inheritance.
“People need to find ways to have some confidence as they're settling these estates,” says Howard. “Because we know that fear and anxiety interfere with your ability to think clearly, and you need to be thinking clearly when you’re settling an estate.”
The time it takes to sort through all the details also surprised Howard. Although it was something she already knew, seeing it quantified was a good reminder of how time-consuming these activities are.
This is one of the reasons she feels strongly that everyone should be responsible for taking care of the details of their own deaths.
Of course that’s not always possible, but Howard says having a valid will in place even if you’re (presumably) a long way from death can go a long way toward making your family’s life a little easier one day.
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Dealing with death doesn’t have to be so painful
If everyone is responsible for their own deaths, as Howard posits, there are other things one can do to make the process easier on their loved ones.
One of the best first steps both Gura and Howard suggest taking is initiating these important conversations long before you think it’s necessary — both with your advisor and your family.
While that can be hard, Howard says the alternative of leaving your family with debts they may have to cover from their own accounts while trying to grieve your loss can be much more painful — and expensive.
According to a 2017 report by research firm Investor Economics, about $1 trillion will be passed down from one generation to another between 2016 and 2026 in Canada. But Gura says the families who need money the most are especially vulnerable to pitfalls, ranging from expensive and unnecessary sales pitches from funeral vendors, to complicated probate issues that eat away at an estate’s value.
In Empathy’s report, Gura adds that keeping ourselves and our families in the dark about the logistical realities of death only deepens the pain they’ll experience.
“The more we can defeat the counterproductive taboo against openly discussing death and its consequences, the more understanding and support families will gain from every quarter: from friends, relatives, employers and colleagues, funeral professionals, hospices, life insurers and more,” writes Gura.
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