Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, it's safe to say that once you're dead you're not able to do much in the world. There are a few exceptions, of course: you can leave an ethical will, which can pass on your values and experiences; you can leave a Last Will and Testament, which can pass on your property, assets, and belongings; and now, thanks to the power of modern technology, you can tweet from beyond the grave.

Both CNN and PSFK shared stories this week of companies that are enabling users to send messages via Twitter even after they've died. The two companies, LivesOn andDeadSocial (both launching March 2013), have very different approaches, though.

DeadSocial is a tool for setting up scheduled tweets (or Facebook or LinkedIn messages), to be sent out at a date you specify. That means you can send your niece a birthday message when she turns 10, even if she's only 3 years old now. Your words and messages will be received in the future, after you're gone.

LivesOn, on the other hand, does not tweet your words and messages. Instead, they've created an algorithm that will analyze your word choice, syntax, and interests to create tweets that are seemingly coming from you...even though they're not.

The idea of sending messages after death is nothing new. Many people leave letters or notes for friends and family to find, such as parents leaving notes for their children to receive in the future. But the idea of a Twitter feed created by artificial intelligence posing as you? Is that you at all?

As Digiday said, "Twitter could end up being full of a lot of digital ghosts."

Last month we brought you a story via BoingBoing that asked if doctors die differently than the rest of us. (The answer, in a nutshell, was yes: doctors do die differently, often with much fewer end-of-life medical treatments.) The question raises lots of issues—specifically, what do doctors know about dying that we don't?

Radiolab, the brilliant, curious, insightful radio show and podcast produced by WNYC in New York, talked to Dr. Ken Murray (who we spoke about in our previous post on this topic). Dr. Murray lays out the reasons why doctors overwhelmingly choose NOT to be resuscitated if their breathing or heart should stop, NOT to receive ventilation (machine breathing) or dialysis, NOT to receive surgery or invasive testing...in fact, why doctors overwhelmingly choose NOT to receive almost all life-support treatments at the end of life. One thing the doctors in the study overwhelmingly DO want? Pain management.

The piece offers insight into the treatments doctors want least, and why there's such a huge chasm between what doctors want and what patients want. Looking that the effects that CPR has on terminally ill patients, the show cites evidence that CPR is ineffective as a means of restoring a patient to full health. The producer of the show looks at a study that examines the success rate of CPR on TV medical dramas ("ER," "Chicago Hope," "Rescue 911") versus the reality of the efficacy of CPR on terminal patients. On television, nearly 75% of patients who receive CPR have a full recovery; in real life, the number is closer to 8%.

Though there's not yet a full transcript of the piece available online yet, I'd encourage you to take 20 minutes to listen to the podcast here. Whatever end-of-life medical decisions you choose, Radiolab offers an interesting perspective to consider. And be sure to check out the comments; there are lots of people who disagree with the piece, who have fascinating and worthwhile perspectives to offer, as well.

via Radiolab

Today's blog post is by our Editorial Intern, Ariana Dindiyal. We're so happy to have her on the Everplans team, and look forward to more blog posts from her in the coming weeks.


Hallmark, the largest distributor of greeting cards, was recently faced with a unique and compelling request from thousands of petitioners: greeting cards for the dying.

Regina Holliday, whose husband died of cancer, discovered the need for such a product after experiencing hospice while her husband was dying. She and her husband received many inappropriate cards, such as cards wishing him a speedy recovery. But Regina and her husband both knew that he was going to die. There were no cards for people in their situation.

Regina began a Twitter campaign along with a petition on Change.org, where she requested that Hallmark create hospice cards and add them to their grand selection. The petition has so far gained 3400 supporters. Regina’s story has been covered by Forbes and ABC News.

Hallmark responded to Regina’s campaign with acquiescence in a post on their website, and they have reorganized their selection to make the 100 cards for “tough times” more readily available in stores.

Thanks to Regina’s efforts, it is easier for people to send more appropriate cards to family members and friends facing death. We know that talking about and confronting death is hard, but Regina’s work here has taken a small step towards opening difficult conversations. We greatly admire her for that.

The folks over at iMortuary put together this Valentine's Day infographic, featuring some truly odd facts and stories of love and death. Happy Valentine's Day!

Loved 2 Death

In cities across the country (and the world), curious people of all ages and backgrounds are gathering regularly to share cookies, drink coffee, and talk about death. Known as "death cafes," these gatherings are intended to offer a forum for people to discuss a topic that—as we well know—most of us have trouble talking about.

According to the Death Cafe website, death cafes are usually organized and led by a person with professional (and, often, personal) experience with death, such as a social worker, hospice worker, or grief counselor. Writer and thanatologist (an expert in the study of dying, death, and grief) Lizzy Miles is the organizer of death cafes in Columbus, OH. "The goal is to raise death awareness with the view of helping people make the most of their lives," she says. "A lot of people who come are just trying to figure it out...They want to figure out what death—and life—should be all about." Conversations often cover a range of topics, from questions about the afterlife to discussions of advance directives to ideas about communicating with the dead.

To find a death cafe in your area, you can visit the Death Cafe website. The first-ever New York death cafe will be held on February 20, 2013.

via Huffington Post

A Matter of Life and Death

As an only child with a single parent, I was always scared to death of losing my mother. Life without her was terrifying and unimaginable. As a child and a young adult, I pushed this fear to the far back corners of my mind and tried to avoid ever thinking about it.

And then, three years ago, I was forced to confront my greatest fear. My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in January of 2010, leaving me a 28-year-old nuclear family of one.

Grief is a slow, strength-zapping, never-ending, emotional roller coaster that plunges you down when you least expect it and then propels you up, making you feel guilty for it. My grief, however, was nothing compared to the weight of taking on my mother’s end-of-life care.

Before my mom’s diagnosis, I knew nothing about hospice, palliative care, estate planning, wills or anything else related to death. Suddenly and without warning, I was unavoidably responsible for some really serious stuff. Insurance claims, two mortgages, at-home health care, financial planning, arranging my mother’s funeral and selling the home I grew up in (just to name a few from a very long list). To say that I was overwhelmed is a gigantic understatement.

They don’t teach you how to deal with this kind of stuff in college or in graduate school or even on the Internet, as I soon discovered. I blindly navigated my way through each intimidating task, growing more and more frustrated by the thing that no one wants to talk about but everyone has to deal with: death.

The inevitability of death—our own deaths and the deaths of those we love—is a fact of life. We can fear it, ignore it, or look the other way, but the fact remains that death touches all of us. I know this too well, and I know that just because we don’t want to talk about death, it doesn’t mean we won’t have to deal it at some point. This is why, when I learned of Everplans, I jumped at the opportunity to get involved. Yes! A place where people aren’t shy to talk about death!

As a team, we strive to deliver straightforward, valuable information about planning for the future, protecting your loved ones and assets, and managing everything life throws at you after a death.

The conversation will continue with my regular column, "A Matter of Life and Death." Every few weeks, I’ll check in to share personal stories, advice, the good, the bad, and sometimes surprisingly funny stuff related to end-of-life planning and death. The more we talk, the more we can help make death a less daunting, more controllable fact of life. I know that I for one could’ve really used that conversation three years ago.

‘Til next time,
Lauren

We're going to conclude our week-long discussion of wills by taking a little survey.

Have you created a will? Please let us know in the comments section.

If you have created a will, what motivated you to finally do it? Did you work with an attorney to write your will, or did you use an online legal service? What was your experience of creating a will like?

If you have not created a will, why not? We'd like to encourage you to write a will—for yourself, your family, and your children. Need help getting started? Use our Writing a Will Checklist.

In Huguette Clark's wills she included lots (and lots) of money, a Monet "Water Lilies" painting, her Santa Barbara, CA estate, and her doll collection. Based on this wide range of items, it would seem like a person can include nearly anything in her will. This is pretty much the case…but not entirely. There are certain types of property that you can include in your will, and certain types of property that you can't include in your will. Welcome to today's installment in our Wills Week series.

There are 5 main types of property that can be included in a will.

1. Real property. Real property, as opposed to personal property, includes property such as real estate (houses and apartments, time-shares), land, and buildings.

2. Cash. Not just the cold hard kind, the category of cash can including money in checking accounts, savings accounts, and money market accounts, in addition to the bills hidden in the mattress.

3. Intangible personal property. Intangible personal property makes the jump from things you own that you can hold in your hand or touch (a house, a doll collection) to things you own that exist pretty much as ideas, such as stocks, bonds, LLCs, and other forms of business ownership. Also included in this category is intellectual property, like royalties, patents, and copyrights.

4. Personal property. This is the stuff you own that you can hold in your hand. This category of property includes valuable objects like cars, artwork, jewelry, and furniture. Or a doll collection.

5. Residuary estate. Your residuary estate refers to any assets that you don't specifically leave to anyone. You can name a beneficiary to your residuary estate, known as the “residuary beneficiary,” and this person will inherit all your remaining assets that haven't been specifically left to other beneficiaries.

Seems to cover everything, right? Nope. There are certain things you cannot include in a will. The things you can't include in your will generally include things you don't own (well, duh) or things you don't own in their entirety (i.e., things you own jointly with someone else), and things that already have a named beneficiary. Here are some examples:

• Your will can't include property that is held in joint tenancy (meaning you own it  equally with someone else), such as a house that you own equally with your spouse. Property held in joint tenancy will automatically transfer to the surviving owner, which means you can't leave it to anyone else.

• Any trusts, retirement plans, or insurance policies that already have a beneficiary,  and any stocks or bonds for which a beneficiary has already been named can't be included in your will, since you've already named a beneficiary for those items.

And now we come to the topic of digital property. We're talking about your email account, and your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, personal blogs, and World of Warcraft accounts. While many people consider digital accounts to be property, the law has not yet caught up with this reality. According to those Terms of Service agreements most of us never read, most online companies are legally forbidden from giving the content of your account or access to your account to someone else. In some states (CT, RI IN, ID, OK) you can include login and password information in your will, and your executor will be able to access those accounts. In other states, even if you include the information in your will, your executor won't be able to access your accounts. This is a good reason to write down and store your digital accounts information somewhere safe so that your family can easily access and close your accounts.

If you are writing your will, we'd like to congratulate you. And we'd also like to suggest that if you have any complicated or tricky assets, or if there's anything you're unsure of, you consult a licensed estate attorney in your state. All of this stuff his highly legislated and laws vary from state to state. We'd hate to see you end up in a situation like Ms. Clark's.

One of the reasons that Huguette Clark's family is contesting the validity of her will is because of the stark differences in the content of the last two wills she wrote. Not only were the wills written and signed only six weeks apart, they offer wildly different visions of how Ms. Clark wanted her assets distributed. Today, we're going to talk about how assets can be distributed in a will. Yes, we'll be using pie charts.

When creating a will, you have the right to give your assets—money, real estate, art, jewelry, your car, etc.—to whomever you choose: family members, friends, organizations, or institutions. The only people you may not name as a beneficiaries in your will are the people who serve as witnesses to the signing of the will.

Many people name only one beneficiary in their will, such as a spouse. (Huguette Clark's first will named only one beneficiary: her mother.) If you name only one beneficiary, the distribution of your assets would look like this:

Many people also name multiple beneficiaries, such as all their children. (Ms. Clark's second and third wills both named multiple beneficiaries: her nurse, her extended family, her lawyer, accountant, personal assistant, Beth Israel Hospital, etc.) If you name multiple beneficiaries, you'll need to decide how your assets will be distributed among these beneficiaries. One common method of distribution is to distribute assets equally among beneficiaries, which would look like this:

Another common way of distributing assets among multiple beneficiaries is to distribute assets unequally. In this case, you'd need to specify in your will how much or what percentage of your estate should go to whom. An uneven distribution can specify how much—in a dollar amount or percentage—each party should get, such as "Huey shall receive 50% of Scrooge McDuck's estate, and Dewey and Louis shall each receive 25%," which would look like this:

You can also leave a portion of your estate to be divided equally or specifically among a group of people, and also specify that the remainder be distributed equally or specifically to other people or organizations. An example of this type of distribution arrangement would be "Scrooge McDuck's estate is valued at $1,000,000.00. One quarter of the estate will be divided equally between the Phooey Foundation and McDuck College. Of the remaining assets, Huey shall receive $100,000.00, Dewey shall receive $200,000.00, and Louie shall receive $450,000.00," which would look like this:

In addition, you can specify that all your assets be sold and the profits from those sales be distributed equally or unequally among beneficiaries. Or you can decide that certain people should get certain items (Ms. Clark left her nurse, Ms. Peri, her valuable doll collection).

However you choose to distribute your assets in your will, it's important to remember that, even if you don't have $306,489,687.23 like Ms. Clark, you are communicating a legacy. Though you're under no obligation to inform your beneficiaries of how you've divvied up your assets, communicating your plans can save your family the stress and anxiety of not-knowing, confusion, and even (as in the case of Ms. Clark) doubt.

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Today we're focusing on one of the foundational elements of the Huguette Clark story: contesting a will. The contentious case surrounding Ms. Clark's estate lies in the dispute over which of the three wills she wrote is the valid will. As we laid out yesterday, Ms. Clark wrote three wills: one in 1929, one in March 2005, and one in April 2005. Though the second and third wills were written within only 6 weeks of each other, and their contents varied greatly, it is clear that Ms. Clark did re-write her will in April 2005. So where's the argument?

When a will is submitted to probate, the court is charged with determining whether or not the will is a valid legal document—that is, whether or not the will is legally binding and was in fact created by the person who it represents (known as the "testator"). This is usually done by a judge simply looking at the document and determining whether or not it meets the state's requirements for a legal will.

But a will can be contested. Even if the judge says that the will looks good, the validity of the will can be challenged.

There are two types of people who can contest a will: people who are named as beneficiaries in the will and people who would be beneficiaries if the will was invalid.

And there are four reasons a will may be argued (and found) to be invalid:

1. The will was incorrectly executed. In other words, the will was not signed according to the legal standards in the state in which it was created. Though each state has its own specific laws detailing the execution (signing) of a will, what this generally means is that the will was either not signed in the presence of two witnesses or was not properly notarized.

2. The will was fraudulently signed. The testator must be aware that she is signing her will when she signs the document. If the testator thought she was signing a check or a new car lease, but was actually signing her will, this would be a case of fraud. Unfortunately, at this point, the testator cannot confirm or deny whether or not she knew she was signing her will, and not some other document. The witnesses to the signing of the will must offer their opinion, and the court will decide based on their testimony.

3. The testator lacked the "testamentary capacity" to sign the will. In order for a will to be valid, the testator must understand the meaning and effect of signing a will. This breaks down into three main understandings: an understanding of the types and amount of assets she has, an understanding of the people who will receive those assets (the beneficiaries), and an understanding of the way that the will distributes those assets to beneficiaries. If the testator did not have the mental capacity to understand these three things, the will may be deemed invalid. The catch here is that simply because someone suffers from mental illness or deterioration (such as dementia), she is not necessarily lacking in testamentary capacity. The court will have to look at the testator's medical records and the testimony of those people who witnessed the signing of the will, and will decide on the testator's mental capacity based on that information.

4. The will was signed under "undue influence." If someone—a friend, caretaker, family member, professional advisor, or beneficiary named in the will—pressured the testator into changing the will, it can be argued that the testator did not freely sign the will. This pressure can take the form of physical intimidation or abuse, or emotional manipulation or abuse. In order to prove this abuse of power, however, the person contesting the will must show evidence of this pressure, such as the presence of the beneficiary influencer at the signing of the will, any role the influencer had in drafting the will, and if the influencer paid for or stored the will for the testator.

Aside from incorrect execution, none of these scenarios are simple to prove in court—given the fact that the testator cannot speak for herself, it is up to the living to speculate and provide supporting evidence. In the case of Ms. Clark's will, her extended family is likely arguing that her attorney, accountant, and nurse exerted undue influence over her, and forced her to sign a will that would benefit them. As the attorney, accountant, and nurse fiercely deny this claim, it will be interesting to see how the family attempts to prove the invalidity of Ms. Clark's will.