By Thomas A. Parmalee

Whether a death is expected or unexpected, the very last thing that most families want to do is think about closing bank accounts, reaching out to credit bureaus and paying their loved one’s outstanding bills – some of which they may not have even known about.

After all, they have more important things to do: looking at old photographs, remembering the day they met that person who they had no way of knowing they’d marry and have children with and thinking about what charity would be the best one for friends and family to donate to in honor of their loved one’s memory.

Fortunately, there are companies that can help the families that funeral homes serve with all the ornery details that they don’t want to fret about during an emotional time. One of them that is taking away that burden is Sunset Software, which offers an estate app that funeral homes can offer to families – one that gives them the chance to earn commissions, so they can provide even better service to families.

We recently caught up with Stephen Walter, the company’s CEO, who is helping funeral homes give families the tools they need, so they can stay laser-focused on what matters most.

Stephen Walter

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you founded Sunset Software.

While I was at college, I learned to program software, and my first job out of college was at a software company. Then I went to law school and practiced for a few years, before going back to software.

My co-founder, Kaela Worthen, is the real software genius of the team, but having a legal background in the estate/probate space is incredibly helpful as you can imagine.

After both Kaela’s family and my family dealt with the estate settlement process, we realized there was an opportunity to help people streamline and speed up the process.

What does your software do? Where can people find it?

Our software is designed for estate executors, it automatically finds all the assets of an estate, then closes them out as it makes sense with a single click.

The app is not a tool for funeral professionals, but we’ve found that funeral professionals are a trusted point of connection with the executor as they begin the aftercare journey.

The app is available on both iPhone and Android.

When did you start Sunset Software and how did you realize that teaming up with funeral homes might be a good idea?

We started Sunset Software after we built a company called Paintbrush, which is in the small business lending area. While we were building that company, my mother was dealing with the estate settlement process after her mother passed away, and my co-founder Kaela’s family was dealing with the same thing. After talking to each other about it, we realized that a lot of families go through this overwhelming process alone.

Teaming up with funeral homes is an obvious fit for us, and I wish we’d thought of it earlier. Unfortunately, we had to wait until a funeral home here in Salt Lake City reached out to us.

Funeral professionals are trusted partners for the families handling a death, however, they are not in a position to deal with the complicated legal and financial process of settling out an estate. We can help with that, and they can help families take off another stressful aspect of a passing as a partner.

Other than funeral homes, what other businesses are you seeking to partner with? (i.e. hospice care organizations, etc.?)

We also work with life insurance companies, funeral insurance companies, and software companies that help funeral homes manage their day-to-day tasks.

You charge a flat fee of $9,999 to settle an individual’s estate. That is a sizeable expense for most people, so I’m wondering how you go about that sale. Are people able to speak with you or one of your customer service representatives before moving forward and using your services?

Pricing this software product was a challenge for us. Traditionally, estate executors have to deal with a number of billable hour partners, like lawyers and accountants, where the total bill is unknown. In addition, a lot of the online tools offered currently are little more than a guide, or a to-do list, which require the estate executor to personally handle all the hundreds of tasks, big and small on their own, between their own job, family, and personal responsibilities.

What we’ve learned, and our customers appreciate, is that we handle everything for them, without the looming threat of an unknown number of billable hours, or a requirement that they personally engage with financial institutions or complicated transactions.

Put simply, the time saved, the stress saved, and the legal/accounting bills that we save for an estate more than make up for our flat fee. We bill the estate directly, not the executor personally.

What are the main tasks you take care of as part of that service, and how does your price compare to what someone would typically pay for what you provide?

We aim to handle everything for an estate executor, using software to vastly speed up the process. First is everything financial. Instead of multiple meetings, and letters back and forth with an estate’s bank, investment fund, retirement fund, etc., we simply integrate with their backend software to identify an estate’s assets and close them out when the executor is ready. We can do this whether or not the executor has the username and password.

We also handle all of the notification tasks, including the government and financial entities like the credit bureaus, the DMV, the Social Security Administration, the State Department, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc. But that also includes the simpler process of shutting down all the recurring bills like utilities, cell phone, Netflix and other easy partners.

Finally, we handle the bills of the estate, close out any obligations including state and federal taxes, then we distribute the estate based on the guiding documents (probate, wills, trusts, etc.) to the beneficiaries.

By building direct software integrations with all of these services and organizations, we cut the settlement process from years to weeks.

Can the services you provide replace or eliminate the need for someone to use an estate attorney – or will they typically still need an attorney to take care of certain tasks?

Sunset cannot replace a great estate attorney to help a family plan and prepare or represent a family in probate court. However, after the death has occurred and the executor is properly empowered, we can take over the settlement process, including discovery of all bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, property titles, etc. These are tasks that estate attorneys don’t typically work on anyway.

What if someone died without a will? Can you help?

Yes absolutely, intestate estates can use our software just the same as an estate with a complicated will, trust, or some combination thereof.

You recently started a partnership program for funeral homes … what research did you conduct before rolling out the program?

We are excited to start helping funeral homes offer Sunset to their customers. In our experience, families aren’t ready to start the estate settlement process until after they have finished with the funeral, but it’s in the back of their mind much earlier. Letting the family know there is an easy tool to take care of the process is another wonderful way a funeral home can help take stress off of a family.

Did you test it out with a funeral home or two before rolling it out on a larger scale? If so, what did you learn?

Yes, and we learned a lot. The biggest takeaway was the distinction between hands-on and hands-off services. Funeral directors, and the staff at a funeral home, are experts at the sensitive and important hands-on process of taking care of the deceased and providing funeral or memorial services. They provide an incredible value to their communities. We fit better into the hands-off process of the sensitive financial and asset management process of estate settlement, after the deceased has been mourned and celebrated.

How does the partnership program work? Do funeral homes earn a commission for referring business to you, and how is that tracked, etc.?

We provide funeral homes with whatever setup that makes the most sense for them, to fit smoothly in their process. Whether that’s printed material, email links, text messages, or even a phone call or Zoom conference to hand off. We track and attribute all of our customers, even those that don’t use a tracking system and work with our partners to make sure every connection is accounted for.

Our commissions are paid out monthly, as a thank you honorarium to our valued partners. The referral structure is also tiered, allowing top-performing partners to generate more revenue through the model. On top of the financial connection, we love the feedback and open communication with our partners, and we hope that the additive revenue is helpful as they navigate their own operations.

How many funeral homes are you currently working with, and what’s the potential for growth?

We work directly with only a dozen funeral homes today, but we work indirectly with hundreds through our software partnerships. Our growth comes from customers with great experiences, and if we keep that up, I think we could work with every funeral home.

What are some of the main pain points you can ease for funeral homes?

Outside of the financial component for the referral program, I think our biggest help for funeral homes is we are another tool in their toolbag to help their families. Estate financials are a huge stress point after a death. With our Sunset partnership program, funeral homes can communicate to stressed out families that there is a simple, software approach to estate discovery and settlement.

If funeral homes want to learn more, who can they reach out to get more information about your partnership program?

Please schedule a time to chat with us by filling out this short form. I personally handle all of our partnership discussions, so you can also just email me Stephen@SunsetApp.com, and I’m happy to answer any questions.

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