If you think the Cost of life in the US healthcare system is high, wait until you see the cost of death.
A new report details the direct financial impact of the death of a loved one, as well as the less tangible costs of loss.
The 2023 report on The cost of death was released today by Empathy, a company that helps people deal with the logistics and emotional burden of death. The report includes the results of a survey of nearly 1,500 people who had lost an immediate family member in the previous five years.
Overall, the average direct costs associated with the death of a loved one can reach $20,000. This is before taking into account the loss of income due to time off or health costs necessary to manage health and mental health symptoms.
On average, survey respondents said they paid $3,584 at the funeral home (less than the 2021 national median cost of $7,848 reported by the National Association of Funeral Directors). Funeral plots cost respondents an average of $1,841. Small expenses, such as catering, officiants, flowers, music, and invitations can add up to more than $1,700 combined, making a funeral the largest expense associated with the death of a loved one.
But the costs don’t stop at the funeral. Survey respondents said they pay an average of $4,384 to deal with financial matters, such as hiring accountants and paying bills.
Respondents spent nearly $5,000 on legal matters, including attorney fees and fees associated with the sale of assets. Disposal of real estate can add an additional $4,000.
Many respondents reported using their own financial resources to pay death-related bills; 42% used their own credit cards or checking accounts and 36% used their savings. Only 14% were able to access funds specifically designed for these purposes, such as life insurance or final preparations insurance.
Rinal Patel, Founder of Pennsylvania suburban agentexperienced first-hand the costs associated with the death of a loved one.
In February 2022, her 35-year-old brother died of a heart attack while in Dubai for work. Patel spent over $4,000 to bring his body back from Dubai and paid the full funeral bill of around $10,000.
“He was my only brother and I couldn’t let him be buried in a foreign country,” she said.
In addition to the direct costs, the death of Patel’s brother also cost his income. As a business owner, Patel missed deals while she was away mourning her brother.
“His death cost me dearly financially, emotionally and psychologically,” Patel said.
Death-related costs strike at a time when many people can least afford it.
Almost all (92%) of employed respondents said they took time off or adjusted work commitments to manage the experience. For many workers, this indirectly costs them money.
Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents said they took unpaid leave, while about half (51%) took paid leave. Women were more likely than men to take unpaid leave and half as likely as men (9% versus 19%) to report being satisfied with their employer’s bereavement leave policy.
Empathy’s report indicates that most American companies offer one to five days of bereavement leave. But most people need more time than that to deal with the logistics of dying, let alone the actual grieving.
Jasmine Cobba licensed grief and trauma therapist from Texas, was fortunate enough to be able to use accrued paid time off when her mother died in 2020 of complications from metastatic breast cancer.
Although his employer at the time was supportive, Cobb noted the disconnect between most employer bereavement policies and the needs of employees.
“Generous mourning is an oxymoron and is generally non-existent,” she said. “The maximum I’ve heard of companies extending is around two to three days maximum, which tends to be incongruous when experiencing a deep and significant loss.”
Health costs related to death
In addition to a significant financial impact, 93% of survey respondents said they experienced at least one health symptom as a result of their loss. A majority of respondents experienced at least two symptoms and 34% had four or more symptoms for more than a few months.
Persistent symptoms included anxiety, reported by nearly half (46%) of respondents. Other symptoms included trouble sleeping (38%), weight loss or gain (33%), irritability or anger (30%) and memory problems (30%).
Women were more likely than men to experience symptoms for a year or more. For example, 23% of women and only 12% of men reported experiencing anxiety for more than a year. Women were twice as likely as men to experience prolonged sleep disruption (16% vs. 8%) and to gain or lose weight (14% vs. 7%). One in ten women (11%) reported persistent panic attacks, compared to 6% of men.
Brittany Nicole Mendez, 27, based in Tennessee, marketing agent at FloridaPanhandle.comstill experiences symptoms associated with the loss, seven years after her brother’s death.
Mendez, then 20, was visiting family in San Francisco for Christmas when she learned that her 22-year-old brother had been hit by a car while walking on a crosswalk. He died the following day.
Although the direct financial burden falls on her parents, who started a GoFundMe to help with unexpected funeral expenses, Mendez was not paid for the extra weeks she spent in California with her family.
The real cost for Mendez came in the form of lasting mental health issues.
“I never had any real anxiety, panic attacks or depression before he passed away,” she said.
After his brother’s death, Mendez had trouble eating and sleeping. She still suffers from extreme panic attacks caused by the fear that she or a loved one will die unexpectedly.
Danielle Jones, 38, of Tampa, Florida, is also suffering lingering health effects from the death of her mother from heart failure in 2021. Jones’ mother died on the 57e birthday.
Jones paid for everything out of his own pocket, including the trip and the process of emptying his mother’s house. She minimized expenses by replacing funerals with visits to specific friends and family members. Her cousin, who worked for a funeral home, helped her by paying for her mother’s cremation.
But the non-monetary costs weighed on Jones.
“His death shook my world,” she said. “It was difficult to go back to work. I cried between work calls.
Jones began seeing a therapist, but the therapist was disorganized because she herself had just had a death in her own family.
“I stopped seeing her,” Jones said. “I couldn’t handle missed appointments.”
Jones said there were many nights she couldn’t sleep through the night. She said she only ate if someone reminded her. Cooking, grocery shopping, and walks reminded Jones of his mother. They spoke daily during these routine activities.
“I couldn’t go into my kitchen because it reminded me of her,” she said. “It was hard to go back to my life as I once knew it.”
Although Jones is a board-certified nutritionist and wellness strategist who writes about his experience of grief, she said she had gained 20 pounds since her mother died. She blames emotional stress for her grief.
It’s perhaps no wonder the effects of death can last so long. The process of managing a death can take much longer than expected. Resolving all the financial issues associated with the death of a loved one took respondents about a year on average. They spent an average of 20 hours a week dealing with these issues. More than half (62%) said these issues took longer than expected.
Planning can offset the direct and indirect costs of death. Not only does it ease financial burdens if certain expenses were prepaid, but people whose loved ones planned their funerals reported missing less work and experiencing less anxiety, trouble sleeping and impaired memory. Advance planning also reduced the likelihood that people would have difficulty enjoying daily activities after losing their loved one.