Many bereaved employees are managing a team outside the office

4 min read

Families take on a number of new responsibilities in the aftermath of a loved one’s passing—everything from deciding what to do with their personal belongings to settling their financial affairs through the court-supervised process of probate.

For those who are juggling these duties with a career, often there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done, Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report showed.

In addition, they may not be able to resolve certain legal, financial, and logistical challenges on their own. The answer for many employees who have suffered a loss: Get professional help.

While hiring a lawyer, a CPA, or a real estate agent may save a bereaved employee valuable time, finding the right professionals—and managing them—is a job unto itself.

It’s important for managers to understand the challenges for bereaved employees (especially those who are serving as executor for a loved one’s estate) as they carry the responsibility of hiring, managing, and paying different professionals.


Since probate law varies from state to state, each has its own requirements in terms of whether a lawyer is needed for probate and how soon the will needs to be filed with the court.

Depending on state law, a family may need to secure an attorney within weeks of their loved one’s death.

Even in states where a lawyer is not required for the probate process, a lawyer may be needed if the estate is large, if there are complex debt or tax issues, or if there is any family conflict over the will and inheritance.

The Cost of Dying Report showed that the average family spent $4,967 on all legal matters, though only $885 of this went to pay a lawyer and legal fees.

A big part of probate involves selling off assets such as the house to pay off debts and divide the estate fairly. Repairs to the house and cleaning it out to prepare it for sale cost an average of $1,461, while real estate brokers’ fees cost $918 and appraisals $1,732.

Real estate professionals

As the Cost of Dying findings show, hiring people to help sell a loved one’s home is a common expenditure for families.

While in most cases expenses like these—as well as legal fees and payments to any other professionals the estate requires—will eventually be repaid out of the estate, it can take many months or even years to settle the estate.

One of the major findings of the Cost of Dying Report is just how much time it takes to resolve financial matters: 20 hours per week for 12.5 months, on average.

And when it comes to real estate, the list of people a bereaved employee may be communicating with can get long.

Potential professionals include construction workers who make repairs, appraisers who estimate the value of the home and its valuables, estate sale professionals, and home liquidators to haul off and dispose of the contents of the home.

Financial advisors

One of the major findings of the Cost of Dying Report is just how much time it takes to resolve financial matters: 20 hours per week for 12.5 months, on average.

It’s no surprise that many families reach out for professional guidance, to save time and to avoid costly mistakes, in terms of money and time—with an average of $4,384 paid to deal with financial matters was $4,384. Of that total, $1,100 was paid to accountants to help handle financial affairs, and $1,624 went to paying bills. 

In cases where an estate’s finances are particularly complicated—particularly the tax burden—a tax attorney may also be needed.

Ways to support employees

As they seek out professionals to help them settle their loved one’s affairs, bereaved employees rely on their network of friends, family, and colleagues more than ever.

If they don’t have personal recommendations for estate attorneys, tax attorneys, financial advisors, and so on, they are forced to search for professionals with specific expertise on their own and to navigate unfamiliar terrain as best they can.

Companies that provide any support in this area are doing a substantial service for employees who may feel overwhelmed and isolated already. And it allows them to focus more on work during business hours, instead of being distracted by calls and emails from professionals who work the same schedule they do.

There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Offering short-term loans to ease the cash crunch for employees waiting to be reimbursed with funds from the estate.

  • Providing subsidies or partner discounts on professionals’ services.

  • Or simply curating a list of vetted professionals for employees.

Of course, every company is different, with its own culture and the specific needs of its employees. The important thing is to first understand the problem, since bereavement is a time that is often misunderstood, with its challenges minimized, because of lack of awareness.

But any approach that takes some of the burden off of employees who are struggling in the aftermath of loss allows them more time and space to heal.