The Autobituary

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In the past, when a loved one died a funeral service would be held followed by a burial service at the local cemetery. Family and close friends would attend both services and each year some would gather round the gravesite in remembrance. The numbers, however, would get less and less as the years passed.

Mourning practices not only vary from culture to culture but also person to person. Where there is no burial service, for example following a cremation, the mourning process is generally much shorter. With the advent of the digital era, however, a new platform is emerging for people to pay their respects.

With the increasing use of social media networks, family and friends will be able to keep the remembrance of the loved ones they have lost going in perpetuity. Facebook will now memorialise a deceased person’s account and other digital media companies are providing similar services.

And with this a new trend is emerging and is attracting a rapidly growing number of followers: Writing your own obituary in the living years.

For as long as they have been in existence newspapers have contained an obituary section that was generally edited by a staff journalist. In the majority of cases, those appearing in this section were celebrities, politicians and other well-known people.

Today, people are beginning to write their own obituaries and having these posted up online when they die. They are compiling their ‘autobituaries’ (as they have been coined) to ensure that the final words on their life are not only accurate, but also express the thanks and thoughts they want to leave behind.

One autobituary that was sent to us recently by a member struck a real chord with us. He wrote, in part, that he supported the notion that people should be able to view his body after he has died in order to pay their respects. He continued: “Unfortunately, there will be no viewing because my wife adamantly refuses my request to prop me up on the sofa with a bottle of Single Malt in my hand so I would appear to my friends in death as I did in life.”

Some of the obituaries we have received are coming from people who are terminally ill and, for them, it is an important part of coming to terms with that fact. They want to ensure they have the final say online about themselves and are remembered in the way they want to be remembered.

For us here at Planned Departure, many of these self-penned obituaries have inspired us to live our lives more fully and not to miss a moment of it.

If you would like to write your own obituary, please create an account on Planned Departure today.

What exactly are we leaving behind?

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A couple of days ago, the BBC’s legal correspondent, Clive Coleman, wrote a captivating story about Louise Palmer’s struggle with Facebook to maintain access to her daughter’s social media account. Becky sadly died in 2010 from a brain tumour.

Mother and daughter were very close and when Becky was ill and lost both speech and movement, Louise would log in with her daughter to help Becky stay in touch with her friends.

Louise said that not only was losing a child the worst loss there is, she also became very fearful that other people were going to forget Becky too. Having the ability to go onto Becky’s Facebook page and read what people have put on her wall was comforting for Louise.

However, with regard to Becky’s Facebook account, Mrs Palmer told Mr Coleman: “I’m her mum and this was her Facebook page, and its contents I felt were my legacy. Her online stuff should now be mine to be able to access.”

Facebook did not agree.

Time can be a great healer but, for some, that time can be interminable.

Louise Palmer’s story is not unique. Almost every week a story appears in the press about the difficulty parents have in accessing their deceased children’s social media accounts. Organisations such as Facebook, Twitter and others justifiably have stringent security rules. It’s a new frontier, however, and as a result it’s become something of a legal minefield.

The UK Law Society has strongly advised people to leave a digital legacy after death, and an increasing number of lawyers are becoming very vocal on the same issue.

Yet, it’s one thing to stress the need for a digital legacy, it’s quite another to know just what it is that we may be leaving behind, and exactly what we want others to do with it. Physical property is much easier than digital property to put a value on and that’s one reason we have found for people delaying their digital legacy.

However, when we have pointed out the enormous difficulties loved ones can face trying to unravel their deceased’s digital property, the need becomes much less blurry.

At Planned Departure  we believe we still have a long way to go, but the more media coverage the issue of digital legacies receive, the more aware everyone will be of the need to adequately secure their digital assets.

Charities of the future

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According to Government figures there are more than 160,000 registered charities in England and Wales. Fundraising is a key source of income generation for many and, for some, the only source of income.

In this digital era, new opportunities for income generation are opening up to charities. Online, mobile and digital legacy are three areas where charities should be concentrating their efforts.

As is well-known, the social media network is vast. But just how vast? According to recent figures from Facebook for example, the number of monthly active users (MAUs) for the social media site, 4th quarter 2014, was close to 1.4 billion, up 13.4 percent from 2013. Furthermore, the number of mobile monthly active users (MMAUs) for the same period was almost 1.2 billion, up by more than 25 percent. The average time spent on Facebook per user per day was a little over 20 minutes.

These are truly staggering figures but what does this mean for charities? Many things.

First, Facebook’s MMAU stats make interesting reading. Globally, mobile is growing and is rapidly becoming the defining point in communications. According to figures for 2014 recently released by Deloitte, more than two thirds of UK adults – about 35 million people – now have a smartphone and the number is rising. The biggest growth was 55 year olds.

Mobile devices and apps are disrupting established business models, transforming (or even destroying) old firms, creating new ones, and fundamentally changing the way people communicate, shop, bank, get news and information and entertain themselves. Mobile technology offers businesses the opportunity to engage with customers, employees and other stakeholders anytime, anywhere. This is one of the reasons why they are investing heavily in mobile and have implemented mobile platforms into their current strategies. Charities need to follow suit.

Second, we live in an era of “always connected”. Such is the ubiquitous use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital gizmos that they have become reflections of our personalities, our interests and our identities. They are as much a part of us as the clothes we wear.

Yet it would appear from some research data that charities in the UK are failing dismally to effectively use their online presence to capitalise on the opportunities presented. Research by Virgin Money Giving and Third Sector Insight, revealed that charities across the UK are not maximising the potential of online fundraising. Eight out of 10 charities say online fundraising accounts for less than 20 percent of annual donations. Only 2 percent feel they are maximising online fundraising as a donation channel. Other data suggest that text donation campaigns alone could realise more than £150 million annually.

Although some people still like to receive hard copy letters, a growing number can be reached and engaged online. By using various online strategies, charities can be more regularly in touch, sharing photos, videos, invitations and other relevant material.

Social media should be an integral component of every charity’s fundraising strategy. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others have all become vital avenues for promoting awareness and engaging with people. With the addition of Big Data, they can become a direct path into the personalised information streams of millions of consumers, and provide a unique opportunity to interact directly with potential donors.

As Facebook has shown by the number of active users, there is a lot more engagement online that makes people feel part of something unique, where they can play an active role in a project they feel part of. However, to make the most of their online presence, charity management need to ensure that their websites are mobile-friendly.

Alongside the capital generation abilities afforded by online and mobile technologies is the issue of digital legacies. With digital assets in the UK believed to be in excess of £25 billion (PwC data), there is a veritable fortune that charities could make by discussing with people how they could bequeath their digital assets to the charity when they die.

Music, photos, videos, material protected by copyright, Bitcoins, air miles; the list of digital property can be extensive. Internet accounts are like a safety deposit box in a bank; only the owner of that box knows what’s inside. Yet the Internet and the safety deposit box can be poles apart. When the owner of the box dies it belongs to his or her estate and the executor gets to open the box and controls the contents. It’s not so  straight-forward with the Internet.

Nominated executors take care of individuals’ assets when they die, complying with the individual’s requests. But with Internet accounts, few people give consideration to the assets they hold resulting in those assets often being lost forever. This is where charities can play an important role, not only ensuring that those on their mailing lists are aware of the need to protect their digital assets, but also encouraging their members to bequeath some (or all) of the digital property to the charity when they die.

Even though many people will already have made a Will clearly outlining what they want to done with their property, digital assets may not necessarily comply with the same legal characteristics as physical assets. Additionally, Wills can be an awkward vehicle for digital assets due to the often rapidly changing nature and ownership of digital assets. Furthermore, a Will is a public document which anybody can obtain, as a result, law firms advise people not to include their passwords in their Will.

If more people are made aware of the need to protect their digital property and the benefits of leaving that property to their chosen charity, the charities will receive invaluable funding from an ever growing list of donors, particularly as we expand into the digital era.

Please visit us at https://www.planneddeparture.com to find out more.