What happens to someone’s mobile phone account when they die? (AU)

mobile_phone_account_close_someone_dies_death

Credit: Lizerixt

Away For a Bit asked major Australian mobile operators about their policies on how next of kin can close accounts on behalf of someone who has died. Read what mobile operator policies are in the UK. No operators were able to state categorically what costs a family member or friend would need to cover from the deceased’s estate when finalising bills or if they required a handset to be returned in the event that one was included in the account plan. Vodafone did however state that the company does not generally expect the return of the handset or settlement of bills.

Telstra perhaps offered the most comprehensive overview of how their account closure worked in these circumstances, followed by Vodafone. Optus was pretty vague in offering details but did provide a customer number for the bereaved to call in such circumstances.

Here’s a line up of the major Australian mobile operators and what they outlined as their account closing policies for someone who has died.


Optus

According to Optus:

The Optus customer care team can assist with completing the necessary steps to cancel any contracts held by the deceased.

Optus makes every effort to waive standard charges made by the account holder before their death.

Those who wish to cancel a contract of a deceased customer should call 133 937.

The next of kin or executor of the estate will need to provide a death certificate.


Telstra

Telstra suggests multiple ways for the bereaved to contact and sort out account closure or transfer. Customers can:

  • Phone 13 2200 and say “Deceased Estate”
  • Fax 1300 556 737
  • Email thetelstrateam@online.telstra.com with “Bereavement Support” in the subject line
  • Visit a Telstra store
  • Write to:
    Telstra Bereavement Support
    Locked Bag 20026
    Melbourne Vic 3001
Who can do this:
  • The Executor, Trustee, or Administrator of the estate;
  • Next of Kin (such as an immediate family member eg Parent, Son/Daughter, Sister/Brother, Grand Child, Surviving spouse or Guardian over the age of 18);
  • Power of Attorney (General/Medical/Financial);
  • A lawyer or solicitor administering the customer’s will; or
  • An authorised representative listed on the account.

Death Certificate Requirements?

No need. Customers who are authorised to act on the deceased’s behalf need to fill out a bereavement support form.

Does the family/next of kin need to pay the remainder of the contract?

Unclear. Telstra states that mobile plans can be transferred and there may be charges to do so. In the event of this happening, some people qualify for concessions i.e. pensioners or those with medical priority assistance.


Vodafone

According to a Vodafone spokesperson:

Vodafone’s policy if someone passes away is fairly straightforward.

A family member or person managing the estate simply needs to contact Vodafone on 1300 650 410 with the account holder’s details and notify us that he/she has passed away.

The family member then has the option to either close other account or transfer it into their name (some people wish to keep the deceased person’s phone number). Vodafone generally doesn’t require the return of the handset or settlement of bills.

5 minute guide: What to think about when planning afterlife messages

planning_digital_afterlife_messages_estate

SOURCED FROM:

Messages from the beyond: how planned messages can be a comfort for those grieving

Planning messages from the beyond: using digital services

How to limit emotional fall out when planning digital afterlife messages

How to avoid legal issues for beneficiaries when planning digital afterlife messages

How to avoid legal issues for beneficiaries when planning digital afterlife messages

legal_contest_digital_afterlife_messagesWith courts recognising informal documents such as notes, emails, letters, video as having legal standing, another key aspect to think about carefully is what to include in post-mortem messages intended for next of kin, family or friends. Even if your intent is good, by leaving a personal message you may raise a recipient’s expectations or sense of entitlement relating to an inheritance and risk the potential of your estate instructions being questioned after death.

Darryl Browne, Solicitor at Browne-Linkenbagh explains that there has been a 60 per cent increase in claims over the last decade in Australia largely initiated by people who have been acknowledged within informal documentation by a deceased party which has later been used to contest the deceased person’s will.

In the UK also, claims for mis-handling a deceased person’s estate has tripled in a year, the result of inadequate safe guards put in place as people rely more and more on DIY wills and informal estate planning measures.

“When you make declarations that are wrong, that overly inflate a person’s worth to you or are inflammatory when recording last wishes, it can be counterproductive,” says Browne. “If a will is contested, claims will take two or more years to be resolved and can have significant emotional, legal and financial implications for the intended beneficiaries of your estate.”

If a person is thinking about planning post-mortem messages to leave words of comfort or communicate last thoughts to friends and family, it’s important to think about how these might be read and interpreted by the recipients. Legal complications may follow and the awarding of a deceased’s estate may be contested if:

  • Messages are inflammatory in nature
  • They include explanation as to why someone received or didn’t receive an inheritance from their estate
  • They imply in some way that the recipient is or should be a beneficiary – whether directly or indirectly

Legal advisers recommend that messages of an inflammatory nature are not included in wills or documents relating to how inheritance is to be awarded. Browne highlights the recent example of a man who stated that no provisions were to be made to his wife in his will giving reasons such as the marriage had broken down irretrievably and that they had been living separately for twenty years. However, it was his added description “and she is a compulsive and addicted gambler” that his wife took objection to inciting her to bring a case to the Supreme Court of South Australia to have these words removed. She lost but the intended beneficiaries were impacted by the emotional and financial fall out while the case was reviewed and the awarding of the estate was held back.

Kay Lam-McLeod, IT Lawyer from IdeaLaw would counsel against leaving a message that would stir up anger or resentment. “That’s only going to make it more likely that your will would be challenged,” she points out. “Remember that if your will is challenged, the estate will get hit with legal fees and it holds up distribution. So the people you want to leave your inheritance to are the ones who will suffer as a result.”

Similarly, when someone points out in a message, will, informal document or message that a friend, relative or partner is significant in their life, that person may later have a reasonable expectation of inheritance. In the case of Skarica v. Toska, a partner of a deceased woman was awarded a share of her estate even though she had specified he shouldn’t because she had simultaneously indicated in her will that he was someone important in her life.

So what steps are recommended to avoid raising legal issues down the track?

Browne suggests the following:

  • Think about digital afterlife message leaving as part of an overall estate planning program. Leaving aside the legal ramifications, casual, unconsidered messages can have negative emotional consequences, even if not intended.
  • When making a will and considering estate planning, meet with a legal representative to discuss who could bring a claim against your estate after you’ve died. Plan your communications to take into account these future scenarios, even if you don’t like to think in this way.
  • While short messages to beneficiaries can be included in a will, if you wanted to leave a more lengthy message that acknowledged someone in particular or offer clarification/explanation for a decision or award that you are making, make sure that this is drafted with a legal representative or a Justice of Peace as part of carefully prepared statement.
    • This kind of representative will ask for supporting evidence and instances to back up any statements you make, which will make your statement more likely to stand up to scrutiny in the event of any legal contestation.
  • Avoid inflammatory or inaccurate remarks that may bring about legal action that beneficiaries will have to deal with.
  • Ensure any messages are accurate and supported by facts; avoid overly inflating a person’s importance in your life. If you feel a person is so important to you, why not recognise them in your will?

Lam-McLeod offers some final words. “Have a will drafted up properly by a lawyer. The messages you leave will not be a replacement for a proper will.” She adds, “Then talk to your loved ones before you die. The most important messages are ones that should be said in person, not left for someone to find later.”

Any additional thoughts on how to leave post-mortem messages for loved ones? As ever, drop your comments below.

READ: What digital afterlife services exist to help with planning messages from the beyond?

How to limit emotional fall out when planning digital afterlife messages

There’s a plethora of digital services now available for consumers where they can share messages and information with their next of kin, friends and family after they die. For instance, Facebook based offerings such as Dead Social and If I Die allow users to share pre-recorded and approved goodbye messages to their social networks on Facebook and Twitter. Other digital estate planning services also offer the option to send final notes or messages as part of their portfolio.

While there’s no research that I’m aware of to show how this form of communication impacts the way in which we grieve, anecdotal evidence often shows that people are shocked when seeing images or reminders concerning their dead friends within social media communities.

For those considering a post-mortem social media strategy, consider your audience – the friends, family, colleagues, lovers left behind who will analysis and ponder over your messages as they come to terms with their loss.

Read more about different types of digital messaging and estate management services.

Three things to think about when planning digital afterlife messages

  • When people are grieving, everything has the potential to be a sharp reminder of a memory, thought, experience or regret about someone they will never see, hear, touch or talk with again. What is the impact to your community if you schedule a series of messages over a period of time? Are the messages comforting or are there people for whom this might be distressing? Understanding the likely reaction of your audience will help you determine how you deliver your messages and on what platform.
  • Be clear in what you want to say. Ambiguous, unconsidered messages could be misinterpreted or cause unintended responses such as hurt or confusion. There’s no opportunity for recipients to later clarify your meaning.
  • If you’re planning a series of messages on an ongoing basis, how will they relate and be relevant to the experiences your friends and family are going through?

***

What are your thoughts on post-mortem message leaving? Drop your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.

Find out how ‘messages from the beyond’ can be comforting.

Who owns your digital history in a future far, far away?

digital_data_digital_afterlife_digital_historyI’ve been speaking with a variety of researchers on the legal aspects around our digital accounts and what happens to them after we die. Often the discussion focuses on who is entitled to access a deceased person’s online account data – such as email, photos or documents – and the consensus is that it’s complicated.

Some platforms such as Google have started to allow users to nominate next of kin, family or friends to receive their personal information once their account becomes inactive. With the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act approved in the US (July 2014), we may see a system where a personal representative of a deceased person’s estate has as much right to manage the digital assets of the deceased in the same way they would their tangible assets. Currently ownership of digital assets often remain with online services such as Facebook and Yahoo unless contested through the legal system by a next of kin.

While laws are catching up with digital and social technologies, Damian McCallig, a PhD candidate from the School of Law at National University of Ireland in Galway is curious to know what will happen to our data a generation or more after we die.

As he points out, current copyright laws in countries like the UK and Australia allow someone’s personal information to become available in the public domain several years after that individual has died. Records around births, deaths and marriages are accessible by researchers or family members interested in their genealogy or a previous generation’s history. Unpublished works such as diaries or letters can be published without the permission of their estate, as long as a certain period of time has passed since the author died. In the UK, this is seventy years, although there are specific exemptions.

“Currently a lot of today’s information that is relevant for the researchers and historians of the future is behind walls and owned by companies,” says McCallig. “For instance, Barack Obama has a Twitter account which will hold public tweets but also private messages which are gated. This information will be relevant from a historical and research point of view. Previously these kinds of notes would have become available after a set period of time. What copyright laws apply to this digital data managed by private organisations?”

McCallig believes that Facebook would have been alerted to the opportunity around its memorialised accounts (what is Facebook memorialisation?) when a father campaigned for a ‘look back’ video to be made for his son who died in 2012, attracting widespread support. He wonders if Facebook is assessing the commercial potential for its deceased accounts in the long term. Facebook’s main revenue stream comes from advertising, based on driving eyeballs to ad creative and sponsored posts. Memorialised Facebook accounts offer no value to marketers or monetisation options for the company in its current model.

While he’s not certain on how Facebook would commercialise these accounts, likely scenarios could include charging researchers, educational institutions, public information bodies and even individuals for access to archival information.

“Facebook is able to provide insights on how communities reacted to news and events within specific contexts or a particular point in time. It can detail emotional responses as well as online behaviour across timelines and networks,” says McCallig. “That’s of tremendous value to future historians.”

If this is the case, should these historical insights and archives be available freely to the public or remain in the hands of commercial companies? And if Facebook fails to survive, should there be a contingency plan to protect and share our histories with future generations?

What do you think?

Read more about Damian McCallig’s perspectives on Digital Remains or connect with him on Twitter.

 

 

Planning messages from the beyond

Including messages as part of estate planning for next of kin and/or other family and friends can provide tremendous comfort for those mourning the loss of someone they love. It’s important however that these personal messages are not executed casually.

Leaving behind a carelessly written note or one that has been recorded in haste can result in emotional fall out for relatives or friends already dealing with loss. It can also have legal ramifications for how the estate is later administered, leaving a will vulnerable to contestation which in turn results in considerable delays and potential costs for named beneficiaries.

This two-part feature will cover the offline and digital options in planning post mortem communications as well as considerations to avoid legal pitfalls.

What digital services exist to incorporate message giving as part of estate planning?

With the emergence and increasing reliance on the internet and digital services, it’s not surprising that there are many new online offerings catering for the digital afterlife.

There are several which help users do an audit of and manage their digital accounts and many of these already offer additional service components which enable someone to add personal messages for their next of kin or intended estate recipients.

Fred Schebesta, co-founder of finder.com.au, an online financial services comparison website points out that the choice of online apps and services is wide ranging.

“Facebook apps like IfIDie.net allow you to leave a personal message on your Facebook if you were to die. When signing up for the app you designate three participating friends who will let the app know when you pass away, which then prompts it to release your pre-recorded message,” says Schebesta. “There’s even a startup called Eterni.me that’s developing a service where you can create an online avatar that your loved ones can interact with.”

New services such as Eterniam provide access to digital assets to next of kin, family or friends as designated by the account owner. Parvez Anandam CEO for Eterniam says, “these digital assets can be photos, videos and important documents including both important legal ones as well as deeply personal ones such as letters to loved ones.”

Another recent digital afterlife start up, Passing Bye, offers users the option of assigning private messages and journal sharing to their nominated kin. With the Last Private Message feature, account holders can convey thoughts and notes that are sent to recipients as simple written messages. If a member is looking to include more, they can set up a journal entry or series of entries that can include photos and videos with text.

All these digital services will work using a fee structure, generally requiring an account holder to pay monthly or annual tariffs although in some cases they may include an option for the user to pay a one time lifetime fee.

For someone doesn’t want to pay for a service, the Facebook afterlife app ifIdie.net and many of these aforementioned companies also offer basic free services to accompany their premium offerings. They are often provided as a sample to entice subscribers to upgrade.

Another option for regular or avid Google users is Google Inactive Manager, a free service for account holders. Its objective is to encourage users to plan what happens to their Google data after death and includes a private written message option as part of the nomination or destroy process. This feature is available even if the user decides that all data is to be destroyed by the service provider. The downside to using this service is that Google will send messages and follow afterlife instructions only after a timeframe of at least three months. As a result, Google Inactive Manager will not be of benefit for messages that are time sensitive or include information that next of kin require immediately. How to sign up to Google Inactive Manager.

Important legal and practical considerations

digital_afterlife_estate_planning_messages

Credit: Shho

 

As I’ve previously emphasised, it’s very important with any digital offering supporting your estate management efforts, that you understand their terms and conditions. This article gives a good summary on things to consider when signing up to a digital afterlife service but some questions to ask and think about when doing your assessment include:

 

  • How are they managing your data and what are your privacy or legal rights?
  • Under what conditions will the provider share your data with third parties?
  • What will happen to your information if the service expires before you do? Will they make good on delivering your messages or refund your membership fee if they fail to action?
  • How do nominated next of kin, friends and family receive instructions after your death? Does it suit your online lifestyle?

With courts recognising informal documents such as notes, emails, letters, video as having legal standing, another key aspect to think about carefully is what to include in post-mortem messages intended for next of kin, family or friends. Even if your intent is good, by leaving a personal message you may raise a recipient’s expectations or sense of entitlement relating to an inheritance and risk the potential of your estate instructions being questioned after death.

Darryl Browne, Solicitor at Browne-Linkenbagh explains that there has been a 60 per cent increase in claims over the last decade in Australia largely initiated by people who have been acknowledged within informal documentation by a deceased party which has later been used to contest the deceased person’s will.

“When you make declarations that are wrong, that overly inflate a person’s worth to you or are inflammatory when recording last wishes, it can be counterproductive,” says Browne. “If a will is contested, claims will take two or more years to be resolved and can have significant emotional, legal and financial implications for the intended beneficiaries of your estate.”

Kay Lam-McLeod, IT Lawyer from IdeaLaw agrees. “Remember that if your will is challenged, the estate will get hit with legal fees and it holds up distribution. So the people you want to leave your inheritance to are the ones who will suffer as a result.”

NEXT: What to think about when planning digital and offline post-mortem messages to avoid legal complications for beneficiaries.

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