MetLife ‘The Last Word’ Report 2023: Shining a light on financial risk, wills, and bereavement

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.”

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Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
26th October 2023
"At a time when you’re trying to come to terms with losing a loved one, the last thing you want to be worrying about is the cost of the funeral."
- Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK & Europe

In the first chapter, MetLife 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.

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

The next chapter explores how families are financially exposed through a lack of planning, which areas of support would have the biggest impact, and the solutions employers should provide employees, beyond time off to grieve and make arrangements.

Of those surveyed (2,000), 51% said they weren’t aware of any funeral wishes from the deceased at all, while 13% said planning the funeral caused arguments amongst friends and family. 21% didn’t know what songs, readings, poems or prayers their loved ones wanted and 28% weren’t even aware if their loved ones wanted to be buried or cremated.

While discussing significant challenges faced by the recently bereaved, decision-making under pressure, lack of knowledge, and not knowing where to turn for support were the most popular. 25% said that making decisions at the same time as trying to grieve was challenging; this was felt twice as strongly among women (33%) compared to men (17%).

“People don’t know where to turn, with decision-making often made harder by [loved ones] not sharing their funeral preferences in life.”

As a result, 12% of those recently bereaved let someone else take the lead on planning and 8% said they were told by someone what to do.

At a time when they should be left to grieve, those left behind are required to make decisions, often without prior experience, to find the right undertaker, request death certificates, stop payments, and deal with the coroner. 14% said they had no idea what was involved after the passing of a loved one which led to 19% requiring assistance from professional services.

MetLife found that alongside the stress of bereavement, a large sum had to be found, often unexpectedly. This caused thousands to experience anxiety, especially given the current socio-economic climate. 32% estimated that a funeral cost between £4,001-£6,000, 16% thought £6,001-£8,000, and 9% suggested over £8,000 – these costs varied regionally and were dependent on the cost of the undertaker.

One in four (23%) found that the cost of the funeral was more than they had ever anticipated, 13% said they were unsure how they would pay for the funeral and 11% had to alter some of the funeral arrangements to keep costs down.

“The conversation about where the money will come from to pay for funerals clearly needs to be had earlier […] Money can be set aside [which] will reduce the anxiety for loved ones and give them time to grieve.”

Unfortunately, only 15% of those surveyed had taken out a financial plan to help with funeral costs and less than 10% were covered by a workplace benefits policy. As a result, just one in five paid for the funeral themselves, 11% turned to their children, 8% to their siblings, 8% to their parents and 16% turned to other family members to take on the financial burden.

Meanwhile, 85% of adults in the UK haven’t made a will. Without a will, savings, home(s), and possessions may not go to whom they were intended, leaving families at risk of costly and complex legal proceedings. A further number of wills have been made, but are out-of-date, meaning redundant wishes remain legally in place.

Solicitors, charities, and specialist providers can help guide individuals through this process as well as provide certainty and peace of mind. For both unmarried partners and children of ageing parents, setting up Powers of Attorney will often enable access to information and funds at a time of need.

MetLife also identified password access and ‘paying over the odds’ as challenges faced by the bereaved. Critical information such as wills, financial information and policy documents are often secured online with passwords as the sole means of access. Yet, too often passwords aren’t shared with loved ones, resulting in frustration and drawn-out discussions with third parties who won’t share information until probate has been granted. Likewise, various funeral directors charge considerably more for the same services as others nearby. When costs range from £5k-£10k, families could easily be paying over the odds.

Exploring which areas of support would have the biggest impact, 23% felt that knowing their final wishes would have helped the most, followed by a better understanding of funeral arrangements (21%), and support with the steps involved in planning a funeral (18%).

“While HR departments will not pretend to be experts in this area, there’s an opportunity for them to build on their existing offering through greater practical support, either directly or through an external provider.”

17% said free 24/7 support to help answer their questions would have made the process easier - twice as many men (21%) thought this was valuable compared to women (11%).

Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK & Europe, said that “at a time when you’re trying to come to terms with losing a loved one, the last thing you want to be worrying about is the cost of the funeral, particularly given the financial pressures of the Cost-of-Living Crisis." He believes it’s a conversation that really should happen as early as possible. 

“By opening up these conversations, we could protect loved ones from additional stress and allow them more time to grieve.”

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