Family Resource Series: Loss of Life Advocates (LOLA)
In our Family Resource Series our goal is to help connect families with resources that they may find valuable now or in the future.
Our first guest is the founder of Loss of Life Advocates, Esther Pipoly. Families whos loved one is nearing the end of life and have questions on what to do next will find her services very helpful.
You can contact Loss of Life Advocates:
Ryan: Hello everyone. I’m Ryan McGuire with Griswold Home Care and we’re going to start a series for Family Resources in the San Antonio area. And this is someone that I’ve known for a while now, a couple years but she has a really inspirational story and a great business that provides great service to families. And really the point of this series is to introduce our families to other resources. That’s one of our missions and I’m excited to have Ester Piploy with Loss of Life Advocates, also known as LOLA joining us today. So I just want to say hello to Ester.
Esther: Hi, Ryan, it’s great to be here.
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for joining us. Like I said, tremendous business and tremendous story. And maybe that’s a place that we can start. If you don’t mind sharing, just kind of the Genesis, the idea behind the business. You’re the founder, so you started it yourself. You know, kind of come up with the idea and the concept. If you don’t mind just kind of starting maybe first explain kind of what you do and then how that idea evolved.
Esther: Great. So I’ve been working on, what do I do? What do I call myself? So the new three words are concierge grief consultant. So that’s kind of been the evolution of trying to figure out where I fit, but basically in a nutshell, I work with families beforehand, getting them prepared, making sure they’ve got all their affairs in order. I have forms that I work through business owners, families, organizations to make sure they’ve got everything in one spot, so that in the transition and illness, the diagnosis COVID, you know, that people know how to run, keep running their business, their life, you know, paying bills, making sure that things don’t fall behind, who has access to banking, who has access to making decisions for them. So that, and then we help during a life transition when somebody has been diagnosed with a major illness; cancer, it could be even COVID, you know, what to do?
How do we [inaudible 02:25] process through this; heart attack stroke? And then after a loss, when somebody has passed away, we work with a family to close down the loved one’s life, so Death certificate distribution. We help some families get from the hospice or the company to the funeral home. So, we do pricing [inaudible 02:43]. So before, during, and after is what we do. And I started my company in 2017. So I’m in my fifth year officially. And so it seems like it’s been forever, but in some ways it’s been like a blink. So I started the company in 2017. My kids were strategic partners of mine. I’m starting this out, like all good family businesses. The reason I started it was because I lost my husband and my dad in 2014, 63 days apart.
And people think, wow, you know, and now in our days with COVID, I mean, I’m hearing from so many families that are losing multiple loved ones, you know, even closer together. So I know that it’s unique in itself, but that motivated me from not knowing where things were, knowing my dad was perfectly planned, had everything in order. My husband owned his own law practice here in San Antonio, and we had a home together. I’d taken a job in Denver, Colorado. We were in the middle of transitioning up to dilute to live there, but when he passed away, so suddenly after a cancer diagnosis, I realized during that period of time that there was really nobody to tell me and guide me what to do first, how to do it. There’s a lot of grief people that are around, you know, therapist and the funeral homes, and they have their own grief programs.
The hospice companies have grief services, but there’s really nobody to say, okay, we need to open the mail, because you haven’t opened the mail in six months and we need look at the mortgage, you know, like Gina, is your name on the mortgage. Do we need to take your husband’s name off? Do we need to report to [inaudible 04:17] County appraisal district to take the name off the title of the house? So it’s all those little details that kind of hit people. Unfortunately the biggest one is the bank. So walking people through all those processes. So that’s kind of was the impetus for me starting and because I was already kind of in the insurance world, prior to that, I was used to helping people. And so it just kind of was a nice way of kind of combining all of my experience from personal experience as well. You know, my career in insurance and be able to say, this is, I think this is a need. And it’s been hard to explain to people because even when we met the first time you were like, what are you doing? So people are learning about it. And now I’ve certified advocates that do what I do. They get trained to do it and they’re helping people in the universe. And that’s kind of the nutshell of what we do.
Ryan: I think you know, with any kind of new concept, you know, the first step is really the education piece on exactly what you’re doing and how you can help. And that’s part of the crossover benefit of maybe this interview series as well. So is there something that you see like commonly, like a big mistake or something, not necessarily a mistake or something that’s not planned for that you commonly see that maybe people can address or, you know, advice that you give them.
Esther: Yes, and you know, the biggest piece of advice is, obviously people are like, get your will done, get your paperwork in order. What professionals don’t tell you is that when somebody passes away, if they have a will and they own property, and there’s going to have to be transferred, deeds and titles and all kinds of stuff, they own a business, and you’re not on the banking. You have to go through probate court. Now depending on if you have less than $75,000 in assets, then you probably fall under a small estate. And that’s kind of one thing, but attorneys do a great job of walking you through this probate process, whether you have a will or you don’t have a will. But that price tag to work with an attorney can range anywhere from $1,800 to probate, if it’s a very simple probate all the way up to 3,500 and I’ve heard $20,000, depending on the extent of the state.
So, if you don’t leave the executor or whoever’s appointed to take care of your finances and close down things for you, a bank account with money set up into it, whether it’s a life insurance policy or something that in itself is kind of setting you up for failure because families will come and say, well, you know, we have the will and we have this. And I’m like, okay, now you need to go to a probate attorney. It’s that and I’m like, Oh, and it’s going to cost you about this much. And then they’re like, well, where are we supposed to get that money? And so that’s been a big hiccup, I think for families because banking, if they can’t get into bank accounts, the banks aren’t going to let them just walk in with a death certificate, unless you’re a POD, a payment on death on the account.
So that to me is tone of the biggest hiccups I encounter that families just tend to want to give up. You know, I had a family earlier this last year that the uncle died, brother-In-Law and he had $8,000 or $5,000 in his bank account. But it was going to cost them $3,000 to probate to get the 5,000. So, you know, the sister was like, you know what, we’re just going to walk away. We’re not going to do it because he didn’t have any, well, he had children, but they were all minors. You know, one day it’ll go into that state find me fun. And the kids would be over 18 and somebody can maybe claim it at that point. But they were like, you know, to go to probate, he didn’t have anything, he lived in an apartment, he had a car and we just turned it back in and social media is a big one too.
Ryan: Does that even go for like a spouse as well? You know you have one spouse has their own bank account under their own name. Is this the same?
Esther: It is. And so if you don’t have a joint account or somebody on the account with you, and I was told like elderly families, like if you’ve got mom and dad and then you should always have at least a third person. So whether it’s a child or somebody you trust on that account, because let’s just say, you know, dad goes into the hospital, mom’s going to be with dad. You know? So if mom’s like, I need you to go to the bank to do this. If you don’t have that third person on the account you know, it could, it could, you could again fall into some pretty gray areas. And I’ve heard of, you know, right now spouses that die simultaneously, especially with COVID, you know, you’ve got one person that gets it and the spouse gets it because they lived together and then the banking’s kind of a mess. But having a second or even third person on the account is really important.
Ryan: I think you’re, you’re right. I mean, talking about spouses passing away together because of COVID. I mean, it seems like definitely a high risk of that. I’m sure it’s a common occurrence this year. How have families been handling the funeral arrangements and things like that in this kind of pandemic time? I know my grandma passed away this year. Men, we haven’t been able to do any Memorial Service and that affects kind of the grieving process and the closure. Have you seen that with your own families? Have they come up, do you have a recommendation or solution?
Esther: I mean, I think it’s super important for families first out of the conversation. Like if something happens to me, right. You know, we’re not even dealing with pre COVID, you know, pre COVID times now with funeral homes you know, they’ve got so many different protocols. I’m finding that a lot of families, when they encounter this, they either kind of fall into two categories. One that’s like, we’re going to do something regardless. Like we’re going to work with the funeral home to try to have some type of service, whether it’s 10 people and then, you know, zoom or video or FaceTime, you know, into the services. Or you have the other side of it, which people are, I’m getting my loved one cremated. And then when things, open up, we’ll do a celebration of life. Because they’re so traumatized, you know, because a lot of families that go through COVID if the loved one’s been in the hospital, they’re exhausted. They have been rooting and fighting and trying to overcome the communication barriers.
The facilities have not been able to be there. So I think that all of that takes such a toll that at the end they’re grieving. And I feel like we have this new cohort of people that when we come out of this bubble of COVID and we hopefully find a solution for it and the immunizations are working and we get back into what some I semi new normal times. I think families that whole cohort that’s gone through, this is PTSD. Because even finding families now that employers that call and say, my employee won’t get on zoom. And I’m like, well, they watched their loved one pass away on zoom. So you’ve got all the new things that are happening with hospitals, FaceTime, zoom.
And so, families, the PTSD from that is definitely a little crazy. From the funeral home standpoint, I will say that I work with Dignity here in San Antonio, and Sunset Funeral Home off Austin Highway is one of my partners. And they kind of give me updates every once in a while. So they’ll say, you know, they used to do kind of an ID viewing for families to let them go in and ID their loved one. And now they’re not doing that, they’ve just stopped that type of service cremations are about 14 days out, depending on when they can get all the permits. So that’s another delay that families are having to wait. You know, the process of watching and having somebody die and then having to wait 14 days, you know. So there’s a lot of the do we have a service without the body? Do we have with? So they’re experiencing that.
The cemeteries are busy, so everybody in that industry, but they’re also encountering their own systems of COVID, you know, they’re all going through the same time. So the funeral directors have their hands full of really trying to provide the level of service that they want to provide families with that during that really crazy. So at a time but also trying to be prepared and, you know, be honoring the loved one passed away. So yes, I think there’s going to be a whole group of people coming out that’s got PTSD.
Ryan: It’s been a hard year for everybody and I’m sure that you see that kind of on a day to day. Just in the nature of your business. So it has, is there something that people, clients or potential clients, maybe prospects have a misunderstanding, common misconception, maybe about your business. What you do, anything like that you want to kind of clear up for people?
Esther: One of the things that, you know, people ask me, you know, are you a nonprofit? And I thought about it, you know, when I started the company, I was like, you know, do I go non-profit, do I go for-profit? And then I just finally had to tell myself, you know, well, my husband died. He was my for-profit money maker. He was a lawyer. So I’m a for-profit company. However, for every package of them that’s purchased from us, we donate hours to families that can’t afford us. So when somebody come through or there’s a referral, Hey, I’ve got a family that probably can’t afford this. You know, we try to give back to the community in ways that we can. I received a grant from the Bear County grants that they were handing out last year in the summer.
And I used a lot of that money to try to help families and give services as I could for free, you know, in trying to support families that were just lost. So that’s really the biggest misconception that people are like, Oh, do you, you know, are you a nonprofit? Or they’ll come to me thinking I have grant money for them to help with burial expenses. Like, you know what, I can get you to resources and do the work around on that for you. And sometimes, you know, it’s like anything you just like, you want to take out your checkbook. You know, I have my kids, like slamming it on me. No mom, you know, you can’t help everybody, but you know, there’s cases that we certainly look into, but yeah, people at the very beginning were like, Oh, you’re a nonprofit. And I’m like, no, my husband died. I’m for-profit.
Ryan: That’s great and thinking back now, so it’s been like, say five years since you started the company. Has there been a surprise for you of something, you know, maybe it’s a service that you’ve added on or just something that you didn’t anticipate kind of doing or experiencing with the nature of the business?
Esther: Yes. So, this last year I received my first [inaudible 14:59] title it property and casualty case, because I have a friend that lives in Fredericksburg and he knew my business. Everybody that knows me was like, Oh, you’re starting your own company. So what do you do? Oh, that’s so depressing. And I’m like, what have you heard of it? But, Oh, no, no, we’re supporting you. He actually called me one day. It was back in September, September 29th to be exact and he was sitting on an airplane and he said, he’s from [inaudible 15:29] Anacortes, Washington, basically his family lives in Washington state. And he said, you know, my mom and my sister, they have a home together and the house burned down and I lost one of my nephews who was a twin and our family pet. I’m on a plane. I would like to FaceTime you in with all of us or at least do a conference call. And I was in my storage unit, walked outside, you know, took the call, I was introduced. And I knew his mom and his sisters, but didn’t know this. I knew him from the wedding. You know, when they got married, and he was like, you know, I don’t want anybody talking to anybody, they all go through Ester.
So, I immediately got my contract and sent it to get DocuSign so they could all, you know, I could represent them. So I really started, I was talking to the coroner’s office, the funeral home, investigators dealing with farmers insurance and farmers had five different adjusters on the case immediately. So I was the frontline representative for the family so that the uncle just knew his mom and his sisters just didn’t need, they had a child that had been in the fire. They had a twin that was the surviving twin. So they had a lot of family things they needed to take care of me not being emotional about it. Of course it was very touching to me and it was touched. It’s still sad to me. I was able to at least represent them from the family side and on business side and walk them through, okay, here’s what we need to do and get back and forth and be that communication pipeline for them. So that I definitely didn’t see myself doing. And now we’re into the inventory of the house. Like we’re doing calls with farmers now. We’re going through what’s the cost going to be to replace the house and does it make sense to rebuild?
Esther: And then the items that are in the house, I tell people like turn around in your house and look behind you or look to the left. And if you have bookshelves, imagine every losing everything, and then having to put it into a spreadsheet, room by room for an insurance company to reimburse you for contents. So I’m helping them with all the spreadsheet and the cost on the rebuild. So it’s definitely taken me in a different direction. And it also, I really, in the beginning I could not help families outside of San Antonio. I felt like I was kind of needed to be here and needed to [inaudible 17:40] and this was the first one that I was like, you know what? I did everything 100% via phone. Having the right tools helps, you know, definitely zoom and conference calling and a DocuSign account because you’d be surprised how many people want things signed.
Yes. So definitely last year that took me to an area where I knew enough because I was in the insurance industry to be able to represent them, but also went into a different area, it was more tragic, you know? And so now something happens, it’s not just a loss through a medical condition. Now it can be a loss through a car accident or a loss through, you know, the house fire and knowing that I can come in and help them take care of that is probably the most eye awakening thing last year that I learned.
Ryan: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think that’s one of the great services that you provide. I mean, allowing the family to mourn, without having to worry about dealing with insurance, all those types of things. I mean, that’s one of the things we talk about as well that, caregivers can provide, rely on the family to stay. Your family an they’re not having to you know, do some of the personal care items that might be uncomfortable during the last stages of life. But really allow them to maintain the relationship. And remember their parents, like they have always known them. So that’s a great, great service. And I think what you do is tremendous. You really have a heart for it and the compassion that really goes along that I guess, you know, because you’ve lived it and experienced it and you know, the need that’s out there. So how can people connect with you, Ester?
Esther: Sure. I mean go to my website at lossoflifeadvocates.com or call me at 210-802-2224 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And also, we’re both partners with [inaudible 19:51], both of our services where we have a great partnership with them. We can have our services providing an education for what you do and helping families and then what we do [inaudible 20:00] provides that for our caregivers in 13 counties.
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. And we’ll put all that information in the comments, on the website. If you find it on YouTube, it’ll be on the YouTube description or on the website. So they’ll be able to connect with you. But thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great. It’s great to see you via zoom. Hopefully in the future, we’ll be able to see each other in person, but thanks again, Ester.
Esther: Thank you. I really appreciate it, Ryan.