MetLife 'The Last Word' Report 2023: Discussing taboo, funerals, and silent planning

According to MetLife’s 'The Last Word, Tackling the death and funeral planning taboo' report 2023, 51% of adults in the UK weren’t aware of any wishes from loved ones that had passed away – even if those wishes were to say they didn’t have any.

Related topics:  Funeral PLanning,  Report
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
8th August 2023
"Opportunities to start these important conversations need to be created and normalised, along with initiatives that support early planning at every age to ensure both we and our loved ones are better prepared for the inevitable day."
- MetLife

MetLife’s 'The Last Word, Tackling the death and funeral planning taboo' report 2023 explores the “one thing we can be certain of in life,” and how funeral planning is a “taboo topic many of us are still uncomfortable with.”

Conducting research amongst 2,000 adults in the UK, the insurer found that people seem to “worry more about protecting belongings, and insuring against events that might never happen – like having phones stolen or homes burgled.” Yet, rarely does anyone take the time to think about the biggest certainty – what we leave behind.

When asked about their final wishes, 22% of those surveyed said they simply ‘don’t want to think about it’, while 14% said it was ‘too uncomfortable to talk about’ and that discussing plans would upset people. Likewise, 6% were concerned their wishes would cause tension and arguments amongst loved ones, 12% weren’t sure ‘where to begin’, 9% didn’t know how to bring up the subject, 8% said they didn’t want to ‘tempt fate’, and 4% were concerned their wishes wouldn’t be understood.

Unsurprisingly, MetLife found that 62% of adults were most comfortable speaking with family, followed by friends (60%), siblings (54%), work colleague (36%), spouse/partner (34%), and employer (29%). The insurer felt this demonstrated that these conversations “at a basic level are clearly being had in pockets, but it certainly isn’t the norm for everyone.”

Considering that 51% of those surveyed said they weren’t aware of any wishes from loved ones that had passed away – even if those wishes were to say they didn’t have any – MetLife believes thousands of families are facing a “stressful guessing game” everyday when all they want is to do their loved one’s justice. Of those surveyed, 31% agreed that funeral planning added stress to what was already a difficult and upsetting time, while 25% said they struggle to make decisions at the same time as trying to grieve.

Questioning whether funeral and after-life planning and talking with loved ones were separate affairs, MetLife asked whether ‘silent planning’ was taking place. Sadly, while 5% said they had already planned their funeral, over 30% admitted that they hadn’t even thought about it yet. Furthermore, only 15% had written a will outlining their wishes, leaving 85% of families vulnerable. MetLife stressed that dying intestate, at any age, risks everything you’ve built up over time not passing to those you want it to. This could lead to heartache, financial hardship, and administrative stress, especially considering most people (86%) hadn’t shared or told family members where they could find important documents. This has reportedly led to denied access to social media, bank accounts, will and deeds, and photo albums.

MetLife believes this research makes clear the difference having conversations and planning earlier could have on those we leave behind, highlighting that personal funeral preferences will undoubtedly reduce the stress and guess work for grieving loved ones.

Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK & Europe, said that "losing someone close to us is something that none of us want to think about, let alone discuss, regardless of our age [...] Yet one thing we can be certain of in life is our death and the inevitable impact this will have on our families, so it’s important that we open up the conversation, tackling it head-on so that we talk about it to help minimise the impact on those left behind."

He highlighted that people are more inclined to take out insurance on events that may never happen, but don’t talk about or plan for certainties that will, like death or funeral planning. “So why is it we often ignore the emotional protection that could support our loved ones – by having the conversation about our wishes and thoughts, so that when the time comes, they can focus on grieving for their loss, not trying to contemplate how to best say goodbye," he explained. 

“Unfortunately, nothing will ever ease the pain of losing someone we love, but planning and understanding one's wishes, can go some way to making an emotionally challenging time a little easier.”

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