When a loved one dies, there’s suddenly a long to-do list to slog through: You have to make the funeral arrangements, probate the will, cancel services like cable and internet—all under the heavy cloak of grief. Death, though inevitable, can be complicated (and unexpected), and settling an estate can take up to 18 months, with lots of paperwork, calls, and questions—often with little help or support. A new company called Empathy aims to guide people through those logistics, and also provide emotional support for their loss.
“Grief is made hard by logistics, and logistics are made even harder by grief,” says CEO Ron Gura, who cofounded the company with Yonatan Bergman. (Gura and Bergman previously worked for WeWork, and first worked together at the Gifts Project, which was acquired by eBay.) Now available in the U.S. on IOS and Android, Empathy serves as a digital companion for those dealing with a loss—part “Headspace for grief” and part “TurboTax for estate settlement,” Gura says.
The app starts by asking users questions such as their location, because states have varying probate laws, and religion, in case there are traditional arrangements that the app needs to be aware of. Then, it guides them down different paths from “Immediate Arrangements” to “Searching for Documents” to “Bills and Debt.” Throughout the estate-managing process, it can feel like you need to become an expert on all different laws and procedures. “You read about the rules in Florida and the rules in New York; what to do with five kids, what to do with one; with a will, without a will. We want to take that clutter away and only show you what is relevant to you,” Gura says.
On average, it takes 540 days to manage someone’s affairs after they die. “It’s almost like a second job, and it’s painful, it’s overwhelming, and you don’t know what to do first,” Gura says, noting that the hope is that Empathy can provide a one-stop way to complete all of those tasks. The platform breaks down each into different steps, and pre-fills or even automates some for you—like closing a Comcast account, or checking eligibility for veterans benefits.
“We can, with your permission, do a lot of the heavy lifting for you,” Gura says. “That’s the difference between sympathy, flowers, and condolences to empathy, technology, and services. Not just saying the right thing but actually taking some of it off your chest.”
Users can upload documents to Empathy’s “vault,” an encrypted drive on the cloud, and reach out to the Empathy helpline to ask questions or find a therapist, lawyer, or other service. Those answering the helpline have been trained by a legal and grief team, and the founders worked with not only software developers and product designers, but also estate lawyers and grief experts to create the Empathy platform.
The app is free for the first month, and then costs a one-time fee of $65. Gura says there are no added fees or extra charges that come up for completing tasks, and articles that outline different steps are also available online for free. “We’re trying to build a trustworthy brand in this nontrivial category,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is lose the trust and support from our families.” That one-time fee also lets users go through the estate process at their own pace, without worrying about a monthly charge. (It’s also deductible from the estate.) The app launched with $13 million in funding, led by General Catalyst and Aleph.
The end-of-life industry has slowly started to become updated, with online platforms to help people write their own wills and companies focused on starting conversations about death and all the planning it needs. Gura hopes Empathy can upend it even more, challenging the traditional market that, he says, “leaves a lot of families overcharged and overwhelmed,” by democratizing estate settlement and making it an easier process to go through. After a funeral, “eventually you’re home, looking at, say, your father’s desk, piles of paperwork, tedious tasks, a lot of bureaucracy—and at that moment, you’re alone,” he says. “We don’t want you to be alone.”