Probate is like a second job for employees who have suffered a loss

3 min read

The hours and days after a loved one dies are painful and intense as family members are stunned by the shock of their passing and lean on each other support. In the weeks and months that follow, however, grief isn’t the only challenge.

On average, families spend 12.5 months resolving financial matters, and during that time they dedicate 20 hours per week to those tasks, Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report showed. And one of the biggest tasks is the court-supervised process of probate.

Because these are legal and financial responsibilities, they must be dealt with during traditional business hours, which puts employees in the position of doing a lot of this work during work hours.

But no matter when bereaved employees are putting in the work, at 20 hours per week, it is like having a second job at precisely the time when their physical and cognitive abilities are under strain.

What happens during probate

Probate is the legal process that must be completed after someone dies, before any heir or beneficiary can receive their inheritance.

Since probate courts are ruled by state laws, each state has slightly different laws and processes.

But in general, the process involves filing the will in court, locating and appraising all assets, finding creditors and paying all debts, paying taxes, and ultimately distributing what remains to the people who inherit it.

How much time probate takes

While the average time dedicated to probate is 20 hours a week for over a year, probate can drag on much longer than that, for several reasons.

Each state has different probate laws that can affect the timeline dramatically. In addition, bigger estates generally take longer than small estates—and complexity adds time as well.

Issues with debt and taxes can prolong probate, and legal disputes between heirs over the will or inheritance can drag on for years.

Issues with debt and taxes can prolong probate, and legal disputes between heirs over the will or inheritance can drag on for years.

An employee who is serving as executor for their loved one’s estate is responsible for guiding it through the probate process, so they will carry a heavier burden throughout the process than non-executors.

Probate’s strain on employees

On top of the considerable time commitment, probate exacts a financial toll as well.

Families pay an average of $4,384 to deal with financial matters after a loss, the Cost of Dying Report showed. While those expenses are repaid with funds from the estate in most cases, they may have to wait months or years because it takes so long to settle an estate.

Someone in the family will have to front the money for these charges, and the Cost of Dying Report revealed that a majority of families (53%) are dealing with at least one debt.

For executors, the process is often more difficult than they expect: 46% of executors say probate took longer than expected and 50% say dealing with the house—a common task to pay debts or more easily split inheritances—took much longer than expected as well.

The legal, financial, and administrative responsibilities that follow loss are daunting in the best of circumstances.

Employees who are struggling to be there for their families and their coworkers will benefit from support that gives them back precious time. That can involve anything from helping them secure professionals to help with estate tasks to providing short-term loans to help ease the cash crunch many families face.