Dealing with death during pandemic

What it’s really like to deal with death during the pandemic

We spoke to 1,000 people who have lost someone to coronavirus to understand more about the challenges they've faced.

At Farewill, we pride ourselves on offering services that make death easier to deal with – whether that’s planning for your own death by writing a will or arranging a simple cremation for someone you’ve lost.

Even at the best of times, bereavement can be complex, stressful and expensive, with tasks ranging from registering the death, to tracking down paperwork, to selling property for probate. So, to better understand how we can help people during the pandemic and beyond, we spoke to 1,000 people who have lost a friend or family member to the disease. Here’s what we found out.

Slow services and poor communication

94% of the people we spoke to felt that death and bereavement had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Almost half (45%) said that services and processes have been delayed or slowed down during this time.

With thousands of employees being made redundant, communication has also been difficult. 38% said they struggled to get hold of the right people during lockdown, and 33% said they had experienced difficulties with admin because of furloughed staff. A lot of frustration centres around high street providers, where services are heavily reliant on face-to-face interactions.

Everything on hold

When asked about the specific processes around death, 40% said they found it difficult to register the death due to lockdown restrictions, and 39% said that dealing with pensions, tax and probate was almost impossible.

We also asked people about their experiences arranging funerals and trying to get probate. 27% said that companies they needed to speak to were closed and 24% were told services are “on hold” for now.

To help make the processes around death and bereavement clearer, we recently published a free guide on what to do when someone dies, which includes a downloadable checklist. People can print it at home and keep track of who they need to contact.

Problems with will witnessing

As coronavirus spread, people started talking about death more and reflecting on their own lives. This led to lots deciding to make a will, with 16% saying they started theirs because they know someone who died without one during the pandemic.

For some though, the process hasn’t been easy. 29% say they’ve struggled to find technical information on things like inheritance tax, and witnessing has been a problem. In England and Wales, the law states that you need to sign your will with wet ink alongside two witnesses – meaning you need to be together in person. 72% said they were scared to do this in case they broke social distancing rules, and 39% had people refuse to witness their will for this reason.

A will isn’t legally valid until it has been signed and witnessed, so it’s really important people don’t put this off. To help find ways around it, we created this free guide on making a will and getting it witnessed during the lockdown.

Impact on religious funerals

We’re a nation of diverse faiths and many have specific rituals when it comes to death and bereavement. 70% said these were essential to them, but they’ve had to think differently about how they say goodbye recently. 33% say they have found bereavement especially hard as a result.

Christians, for example, haven’t been able to have a large ceremony in a church, Muslims have had to think about cremation over burial (their preferred choice), and Hindus have struggled to gather ashes. Members of the Jewish community have been unable to have the Shiva, and Sikhs haven’t been able to dress their loved one in the way they traditionally would.

What else can we do to help?

It’s clear that the pandemic has impacted everything from funeral rituals, to the admin around probate, to our ability to grieve.

We recently partnered with Welsh rugby star, Gareth Thomas, to talk about some of these issues with the press, and we’re keen to hear more about your own experiences. If you’d like to share yours, or see the full results of our research, please feel free to get in touch with us at [email protected].

We’re using these findings to adapt our service so that we can continue making death easier for people, even in the most difficult circumstances.