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, one key aspect to think about carefully when planning post-mortem messages intended for next of kin, family or friends is what you should include in them. 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.

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.

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.”

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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?

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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.

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.

How to record a voice mail message from a mobile phone

I received this note recently…

My sister died two months ago and her husband is looking into the various tasks which relate to her estate and closing her accounts. He is considering closing down her mobile phone account, something that I’ve been reluctant to entertain because we spent a lot of time talking on the phone (we used to speak daily). I miss her voice so much and I like to phone and listen to her voice mail message which will disappear when the account is cancelled. Any suggestions on how I can record and keep this message? Is this something that the mobile operator can do for me? I’m not particularly tech savvy.” S.A., NSW.

It’s very tough to close down accounts in this type of situation because the act itself is so final. Another reminder that someone’s time with us is over. My heart goes out to anyone going through this process.

When it comes to voice mail, there are many options for recording a message, ranging from ‘do-it-yourself’ options through to outsourcing the task to companies who will do the job for you.

Speaking to various businesses, I asked what they did when they needed to capture high quality recordings in a relatively straightforward way.

Simon Crunden, Director of TravelProcure, a company providing travel management consultancy to government, academia and corporates suggested using Pamela Skype (www.pamela.biz).

To use it, you simply download the app on your mobile or desktop, and make a call using your Skype account. When the call connects, you have the option to start to record the conversation using Pamela. When you finish the conversation, the call is automatically saved as an MP3 file into a folder on your computer.

He offers a word of caution for users planning or thinking of recording a conversation. Users need to be aware that before they record a conversation, they should seek the persons consent, as it may be illegal to do it in some jurisdictions.

Mark Rennie, Sales Director for Phonenomena, a company that service large mobile customers of Telstra in Australia told me that he experienced this type of request a number of years ago. At the time, the company had to use a sensitive microphone to make the recording from the phone’s speaker phone. Today though, it is much easier using other technologies.

Mark suggests using a Skype service such as Skype Call Recorder or if you have a mac, you can use the audio recording tools contained in Garage Band. He also recommends looking at solutions that are available via an apps search, for instance this call recorder app on iTunes. This example is a pay-per-call solution that calls over the internet to capture the message.

Finally, if you’d like to get someone else to do this for you, there are companies that will do this for a fee. Voicemailsforever.com is one such example, helping people to save their voice mails in an mp3 format.

Here’s wishing you the best of luck in capturing that voice mail message.

Got a question about managing a digital afterlife or estate issue? Drop a line to emily@awayforabit.com.

Digital services for managing passwords and other important information

A legal representative such as a solicitor or lawyer can act as a third party confidant in helping you plan a digital afterlife and privately keep your passwords on file for next of kin. There are also many, many different digital legacy and afterlife services that are emerging and you can compare their approach. Here are some digital services that store and help you organise your confidential information including passwords and offer the option to transfer relevant information to beneficiaries when the time comes.

These are ones that I’ve been made aware of recently but not necessarily trialled. I’d recommend that you do research services thoroughly before committing to make sure that you find one that suits your requirements.  Many digital offerings provide the option of a free trial as well.

Are there others you’d suggest? If so, please drop details in the comments section below.

 

Cirrus Legacy

This service (UK based) allows clients to manage their online accounts on a day to day basis as well as upload and store critical documents appertaining to their life. Account information and documents or files can be assigned to an executor or a guardian after death to carry out their last wishes. Cirrus does not give ownership to any financial, sentimental, intellectual or social data but offers are a series of signposts if you will to the accounts for executors and family to deal with on a one to one basis.

According to Paul Golding who owes Cirrus Legacy, if the firm was acquired the data would move to the new owners, who would have to adhere to our clients wishes in regards to sharing and the usage of their personal information as specified by the client at sign-up. If the firm were to close down, a process is in place granting time for the individual client to retrieve their stored information. The company also runs an affiliate program across a UK solicitor network.

Passing Bye

Passing Bye focuses on providing a file vault for documents and a secure central password management system but also offers a journal type facility where you can store favourite personal items such as stories, memories, recipes, photos or videos. Another feature highlighted is the option to store last final messages which are sent to intended recipients when you’re gone. Sharing options and rights are built into the service and subscribers pay on an annual basis with a free 30 day trial available.

Planned Departure

Another service (UK based) that acts like an electronic vault, holding your important documents, account details and passwords. It was designed and built specifically for digital afterlife planning and requires you to give contact details for next of kin or nominated representatives to speak to when the time comes. The company offers a 14 day trial and offers payment plans on a monthly, yearly or lifetime basis.

SafelyFiled

SafelyFiled offers a platform for users to organise, store, and retrieve important documents and account details. It then allows the account owner to share information with family members or professional advisor. Different types of information can be shared with different beneficiaries and prompts are sent when it’s time to update or renew important documents. SafelyFiled offers a free account for medical information and a 30 day money back guarantee on other services if not fulfilling your needs. It also offers very useful checklist resources.

Your Digital File

Your Digital File is a newly launched service based in Australia specialising in the digital storage,sharing and signing of confidential documents. It positions itself as a hyper secure service both for personal and corporate use..

It securely protects confidential files from others (even Your Digital File can’t see them) and provides a secure means to share and manage documents. Nominated documents (ie wills), are released to beneficiaries when the account holder dies once verified by Your Digital File. The company has a tiered level of account offerings based on how much storage a subscriber needs.

 

How to hide Facebook account activity of friends who have died

It’s common to hear people mentioning that they find it difficult when they continue to see the presence of their deceased friends on Facebook – on friend lists, by tagged activity others in a shared community have posted, or via automated suggestions in news feeds.

No mainstream social network currently allows people to separate profiles of deceased friends or acquaintances from their living present-day active ones, although there are some features that users can take advantage of to manage a friend or connection’s activity. Relatives and next of kin of those who have died have the option of closing their accounts or – in the case of Facebook – continuing the account but memorialising it.

Often, these same relatives are unaware that memorialisation options exist but even if they activate this process, they have no control over Facebook settings, such as those for privacy or notifications.

For people who are uncomfortable seeing profiles or activity of deceased friends on their Facebook account but who do not want to ‘unfriend’ them, here are some suggestions to minimise these kind of reminders.

Hide a Facebook friend’s news feed. If you have a friend who has died and you don’t wish to see updates in your news feed relating to them – either when people post on their wall, or when updates are posted by someone who has password access to their account – you can change your settings to avoid these. Or, if you don’t want to hide all activity, you can specifically outline what type of activity you would like to see appearing on your news feed.

Hide Facebook Page updates. You may also follow a Facebook page set up to commemorate someone but may not want to hear news from family and friends when updates are posted but instead prefer to check in from time to time. To stop seeing these updates, go to the page you no longer want to see updates from, and at the top right hand corner of the page, there’s a notifications button. Set this notifications button to “off”. This same process works for friends, people or pages that you follow.

Manage several accounts at once by creating a Facebook list. If you have a group of friends that you want to manage in the same way in one location, you can create a list to control what information and status updates you see. Once you create a list, you can select or uncheck the options that show up in your newsfeed by going to ‘manage list’ > ‘update status types’.

Here’s a good all round article on managing friends and doing a general news feed spring clean. As ever, do post any additional tips, comments or suggestions below.

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