If you think the cost of living in the United States health care system is high, wait until you see the cost of dying.
A new report details the direct financial impact of the death of a loved one, as well as the tangible costs of the loss.
The 2023 Cost of Death report was released today by Empathy, a company that helps people manage the material and emotional burdens of death. The report includes the results of a survey of nearly 1,500 people who had lost a close family member in the past five years.
In total, the average direct costs associated with the death of a loved one can reach $20,000. That’s before accounting for lost income from taking time off or the cost of health care needed to manage mental health symptoms.
On average, survey respondents reported paying $3,584 to a funeral home (below the 2021 national cost of $7,848 reported by the National Funeral Directors Association). Burial plots cost respondents an average of $1,841. Small expenses, such as food, 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 cost does not end with the funeral. Survey respondents reported paying an average of $4,384 to deal with financial issues, such as hiring refugees and paying bills.
Respondents spent approximately $5,000 on legal matters, including attorney’s fees and expenses related to selling assets. Real estate disposals can add another $4,000.
Many respondents reported using their financial resources to pay death-related bills; 42% used their own credit cards or checking accounts and 36% used their savings. Only 14% have access to funds designed for these purposes, such as life insurance or end-of-life insurance.
Rinal Patel, founder of Pennsylvania-based Subuurbrealtor, has seen firsthand the costs associated with the death of a loved one.
In February 2022, his 35-year-old brother died of a heart attack while on duty in Dubai. Patel spent more than $4,000 to fly his body back from Dubai and paid for his entire funeral, about $10,000.
He says: “He was my only brother, and I could not allow him to be buried in another country.
In addition to the direct costs, the death of Patel’s brother also cost him his salary. As a business owner, Patel missed deals while he was away mourning his brother.
“His death took a toll on me financially, emotionally and mentally,” said Patel.
Death-related expenses come at a time when most people cannot afford them.
Almost all (92%) employed respondents reported taking time off or adjusting their work commitments to manage information. For many workers, that costs them money indirectly.
About one-quarter (23%) of respondents reported taking unpaid time off, while nearly half (51%) took paid time off. Women are more likely to take unpaid leave than men, and half as likely as men (9% vs. 19%) to report being satisfied with their employer’s bereavement leave policy.
The Empathy report states that most American companies offer one to five days of bereavement leave. But most people need more time than that to deal with death, let alone properly grieve.
Jasmine Cobb, a grief and trauma doctor from Texas, was fortunate enough to take paid time off when her mother died in 2020 of complications from metastatic breast cancer.
Although his employer at the time was supportive, Cobb noticed a conflict between many of the employer’s bereavement policies and the needs of employees.
“Bereavement is an oxymoron and it usually doesn’t exist,” she said. “What I’ve heard a lot about companies are stretching for about two to three days, which is often inconsistent when they’re getting big and big losses.”
Health costs of death
In addition to the significant financial impact, 93% of survey respondents reported experiencing at least one health symptom as a result of their loss. Most respondents had at least two symptoms and 34% had four or more symptoms for more than a few months.
Persistent symptoms include anxiety, which was reported by almost half (46%) of respondents. Other symptoms included disturbed sleep (38%), weight loss or gain (33%), irritability or anger (30%), and memory impairment (30%).
Women were more likely to have symptoms for a year or more than men. 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 chronic sleep disturbances (16% vs. 8%) and weight gain or loss (14% vs. 7%). One in ten women (11%) reported ongoing panic attacks compared to 6% of men.
Tennessee-based Brittany Nicole Mendez, 27, a marketing executive at FloridaPanhandle.com, still has symptoms related to the loss, seven years after her brother’s death.
Mendez, who was 20 at the time, was visiting his family in San Francisco over Christmas when he heard that his 22-year-old brother had been hit by a car while walking on a pedestrian crossing. He died the next day.
Although the direct financial burden fell on his parents, who started a GoFundMe to help with unexpected funeral expenses, Mendez was not paid for the extra weeks he spent in California with his family.
The real cost to Mendez came in the form of persistent mental health challenges.
“I never had any real anxiety, panic, or depression until after he died,” she said.
After his brother’s death, Mendez had difficulty eating and sleeping. He still suffers from intense fear caused by the fear that he or a loved one will suddenly lose their life.
Danielle Jones, 38, of Tampa, Florida, is also experiencing the lingering health effects of her mother’s death from heart failure in 2021. Jones’ mother died at the age of 57.th birthday.
Jones paid for everything out of pocket, including travel and the eviction process for his mother. He cut costs by changing the funeral by visiting some friends and family. Her cousin, who worked for an undertaker, was the one who helped pay for her mother’s cremation.
But the non-monetary costs have had a big impact on Jones.
“His death rocked my world,” she said. “It was difficult to return to work. I cried between work calls.”
Jones began seeing a therapist, but the therapist was not organized because he had also recently died in his family.
“I stopped seeing him,” Jones said. “I couldn’t deal with missed appointments.”
Jones said there were many nights where he did not sleep through the night. He said he only eats when someone reminds him. Cooking, grocery shopping, and walking all reminded Jones of her mother. They talked every day during these routine activities.
“I couldn’t go into my kitchen because it made me think of him,” she said. “It was difficult to return to my life as I knew it.”
Although Jones is a certified nutritionist and health strategist who writes about her experiences with grief, she said she has gained 20 pounds since her mother’s death. He blames emotional stress for his grief.
It may not be surprising that the effects of death can last so long. The death control process can take longer than expected. Resolving all financial issues related to the death of a loved one took respondents about a year on average. They spend an average of 20 hours a week dealing with these problems. More than half (62%) said the issues took longer to resolve than they expected.
Planning can reduce the direct and indirect costs of death. Not only does it relieve financial burdens when other expenses are paid in advance, but loved ones who preplan their funerals report missing less work and experiencing less anxiety, sleep disturbances, and memory impairment. Planning ahead also reduces the likelihood that people will have trouble enjoying everyday activities after the death of a loved one.