[Note: this article written by Emily Baxter was originally posted on Away For a Bit]
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
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
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
“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
Another recent digital afterlife
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
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
Important legal and practical considerations
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
- 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
- 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.”