People get a lot their information about death from TV, and that can create major financial problems

It kills some people to talk about death.

Some 60% of people say they know very little about death, and they’re almost as likely to get their information about the end of life from movies and TV dramas as they are from medical professionals, according to a new poll by the U.K.-based Academy of Medical Sciences and market research company Ipsos MORI.

Unfortunately, fictionalized versions of death can be misleading, said Lesley Fallowfield, a professor of psychooncology at the University of Sussex. “TV and films rarely ever depict ‘normal’ deaths. For many individuals, death is a gentle, peaceful and pain-free event. We need to demystify death and talk about it more.”

There was a time when Hollywood may have gone too far in the other direction, specializing in its own version of “beautiful death” from movies like “Dark Victory” (1939) starring Bette Davis to “Love Story,” (1970), starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. But as the U.K. Guardian recently noted, movies like “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015) and “The Fault in Our Stars” (2012) have taken a more unflinching look at a difficult subject.

But even convincing the poll participants to talk about death was an uphill battle. A third — 33% — of those polled opted out of answering death-related questions, suggesting perhaps that the conversation remains taboo. The biggest concern (62%) was that a person would be in pain. And 52% of people said they were afraid that the person dying would be scared; 40% were worried that the person would be panicking in their last moments.

Americans are more likely to avoid talking about death in day-to-day life (69%) than people in countries like Japan, Italy and Brazil, according to a separate study from 2017 by The Economist and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, private foundation based in Menlo Park, Calif. And people in the U.S. are more likely to want family members and patients to make end-of-life decisions, according to the same study.

Avoiding conversations about death can create a financial burden on the loved ones left behind. If someone dies without a will, their assets are distributed based on each state’s “intestate” laws. Some states give all the assets to the surviving spouse, while others distribute money and assets to the spouse and kids. A lawyer will typically charge between $500 to $1,000, however, you can get one for as little as $75 or make your own online for even less.

Most people (73%) have outstanding debt when they die, according to data from credit bureau Experian EXPGY, +0.35% They die with average unpaid balances of $4,531 on credit cards; $17,11 on auto loans; $14,793 on personal loans; and student loan debt at $25,391 (federal student-loan debt is eligible for cancellation after the borrower dies, but private student-loan companies don’t typically offer that).

Not all debt goes away when a person dies. If your friend or loved one does not have enough assets to cover the cost of some debts, creditors can continue to get paid.

Financial advisers and lawyers are also urging doctors in the U.S. to talk to their patients about death. Medicare started reimbursing health-care professionals for talking about end-of-life wishes with their patients in 2016, MarketWatch reported.

Still, it’s a painful conversation for doctors to have: Just 14% of physicians have billed Medicare for an end-of-life conversation with a patient under the advance-care planning program, which lets patients plan ahead in case something fatal occurs, a poll sponsored by the John A. Hartford Foundation, the California Health Care Foundation and Cambia Health Foundation reported.

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