Startup hopes to ease burden of US mourners with a ‘GPS’ for grief

Israeli firm Empathy’s smartphone app takes the bereaved ‘step by step’ through the necessary procedures after the death of a loved one

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustration of how the Empathy app works to manage accounts (Courtesy)
An illustration of how the Empathy app works to manage accounts (Courtesy)

When people lose a loved one, there are a plethora of ceremonies and rituals devoted to offering spiritual solace for the devastating loss.

There is, however, no roadmap to help navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy that come with a death. In the midst of deepest sorrow, the bereaved must organize a funeral and handle a myriad of bureaucratic and financial tasks.

That process of arranging a funeral, validating a will, closing bank accounts, dealing with an estate, claiming benefits, etc., can take families in the United States over 500 hours on average — “a second job,” said entrepreneur Ron Gura, co-founder and CEO of the Israeli startup Empathy, which is seeking to be a Waze-like “GPS for loss.”

Empathy, which came out of stealth mode last month, has developed a smartphone app that hopes to take mourners in the US “step by step” through what needs to be done immediately and what can wait, Gura said in an interview.

The app is designed for the American market not only because it is huge but because bureaucracy after death in the US is very burdensome, Gura said.

Ron Gura, left, and Yonatan Bergman, the co-founders of the Israeli-US startup Empathy (Courtesy)

Launched in April in the US, the app aims to assist families in completing action items, make informed decisions and avoiding common mistakes, the company said.

In-person human support from estate lawyers and grief experts is also available by phone or chat, creating what the firm says is a “hybrid experience” to help the bereaved.

The app can perform technical procedures like closing accounts and deactivating vendors, if the user takes snapshots of the executor approval, death certificates and bank statements, which get saved in an encrypted digital vault, Gura said. Then, with the permission of the bereaved person, “we will handle the bureaucracy and tedious tasks” for them, he said. “It will be as easy as one click.”

The app also provides audio episodes to help users cope with grief.

“Grief is a very different state of being,” a male voice says calmly in an audio chapter. “And we can’t be expected to live like things are normal. Going through grief takes so much out of us… remember to be patient with yourself, take deep breaths and let yourself be wherever you are in your grief.”

Another session deals with probates, which should be “best avoided,” a woman’s voice says. “But if you do need to go through the full process of probate, it is completely manageable.”

“As humans we forgot how to grieve. We are not giving it enough space in modern society,” said Gura. “Employers should do a better job in understanding people coming back from bereavement leave. Friends should not make you feel all the time that you should be over it, as if grief has a timeline. It doesn’t have a timeline. Sometimes it is a month, sometimes a year, sometimes forever.”

An illustration of how the Empathy app works: the helpline chat (Courtesy)

The company said last month it raised $13 million in seed funding, co-led by US fund General Catalyst and Israel’s Aleph VC.

Empathy has a complex mission ahead of it, said Gura — mapping out all the different touchpoints to customize interactions by jurisdiction, family situation, income level and tax position. But it is no more complex than automating financials or self-driving cars, he said. Navigating grief “is something tech should be able to do and can do.”

Technology can help structure all the information, keep the documents secure and personalize the bureaucratic process, said Gura. “These are things we use tech for, day in and day out, for other sectors, but for some reason technology is not applied to this massive problem domain that none of us can elude.”

Just as Americans go to TurboTax for help in filing their taxes, so Empathy hopes they will start using the app to handle bureaucracy after death. “We are building the TurboTax for estate settlement,” he said.

The firm has worked with US experts “to make sure we are giving families in the US the best possible service with the tech we have developed here in Tel Aviv.”

“The end-of-life industry is a large sector that has been untouched by the wave of digital transformation occurring in every other industry,” said Joel Cutler, co-founder and managing director at General Catalyst, in a statement issued by the firm last month. “Empathy is unique in that it addresses both the emotional and logistical anguish of loss. We believe this is the technology and experience that can greatly benefit every family.”

Empathy was founded in 2020 by Gura and his longtime friend Yonatan Bergman, entrepreneurs from the fintech and consumer sectors. The two began their work together at The Gifts Project, acquired by eBay in 2011, and over the last decade have held various positions including at PayPal, eBay and WeWork.

The startup employs 23 people in Tel Aviv and New York, and the team includes professionals from the legal, accounting, product design, engineering, and cybersecurity sectors, as well as grief experts, the company said.

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