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Getting your house in order

An idea for a service that stores all the important information you want to share with loved ones after you die.

Photo of Neil Gardiner
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

Much of the detail of the day-to-day information we access is stored in our heads or in a multitude of places. When we die or become unable to make decisions for ourselves any more all that information disappears with us leaving others to work out the puzzle. This idea helps the dying to feel prepared and in control and removes some of the stress for those left behind.

As both of my parents are getting older now, my father has told me about a folder that's kept in a room in the house that has details about this and that, my mother likes to remind me about this bank account and that savings account — and they're not that old that I feel particularly worried about it. Both plans lack any real detail and don't cover the full picture of their wishes if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. That will be left to the will I guess. But there's potentially much more that my siblings and I will need to take care of when the time comes. Much of it is mundane, pin numbers, final bills, closing down services and subscriptions etc... other areas are more heartfelt, carrying out their wishes, getting access to their digital photos and dealing with social media accounts and know what to do in these scenarios.  I'm sure there's many more things too. 

So the idea would be to design a service that helps people to capture and build a picture of what's important to them and what will be important for the people that care for them.

This service would also be of benefit to people who are faced with passing on before their time. For example it might help you plan how you'd like friends to keep in touch with your kids or store messages that could be delivered to loved ones at later significant dates.


What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Gather input and carry out some research to gain a broader view of what's important to people on both sides to build a picture of what a service like this should contain. Visualise ways of organising the content that needs to be collected and work out how to make it not feel like a chore.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Brainstorm how to make sure the experience covers areas people haven't thought of so it really ticks off everything worth recording. Try and work out how best to deal with the security of such a service, i.e. how and when should someone get access to this information?

I hadn't heard of the 'Living & Ending Notebook' before but this looks like it would be a good source of inspiration.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a director at UX design agency Every Interaction.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

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Photo of Nancy Shapiro Rapport
Team

I absolutely love this idea, Neil! There is the practical side which provides people peace of mind with regard to finances and possessions, and then there's the emotional piece of storing messages to share with loved ones at significant times in life. I know women who created videos for their kids to watch at significant times in their lives (graduation from high school, college, their wedding day, etc). It gave them a sense of peace knowing that they could still share their wisdom posthumously. 

Photo of Neil Gardiner
Team

Thanks Nancy. Yes I think there's some interesting possibilities on the softer side of this idea. It's also something someone could choose to do regardless of whether they are ill or not. When you get to a certain age, financial advisers love to remind you of the importance of making financial arrangements for your family should something happen to you but apart from making a will with a solicitor no one encourages you to make any emotional preparation because it's seen as being to morbid. I'm not suggesting that a digital service is the best way to prepare families for this sort of eventuality but it could play a part. 

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Love this conversation, Nancy and Neil! Neil, I'm glad to see that you've already built on the @Living & Ending Notebook.  When you mentioned that you're not suggesting a digital service is the best way to prepare families for this sort of eventuality, it reminded me of Pearl's post from the inspiration phase of this challenge: "Council of Friends" - A take on Bruce Feiler's "The council of Dads" Perhaps this service can have a human connection where real surrogates are a part of the moment when memories and information are finally passed on to loved ones. Just a thought:)

Photo of Nancy Shapiro Rapport
Team

Overcoming the fear of that emotional preparation seems to be key. We all know that we're going to die, and none of us knows when. How do we shift the notion of preparing from morbid to generous? I've been keeping a journal for my daughter since she left for college. In it, I share thoughts, hopes, dreams, and wisdom for her. As a 2-time cancer survivor, I'm more than aware that I don't have much control over when end of life will hit. My most treasured memories are letters from my father, so keeping a journal for my daughter seemed like a good way to go. It's my voice and my handwriting. Now...how I make sure she gets it should I not get the chance to tell her about it...!

Photo of Neil Gardiner
Team

Thanks Shane, interesting point. Involving others beyond your immediate family is is potentially a powerful strand to this. In the UK when you create a will, if you have children you are advised to appoint guardians in the case of your death. This is usually close relatives or friends and you have to decide who’s best for that role once you are gone. Again though this is a very practical requirement and doesn’t include other groups of friends of family members. Whilst my wife and I have appointed my sister and her husband in our case we also have a wider group of friends that I’d like to know were looking out for my kids if I was gone - 'The Council of Dads' is an excellent example of this, there must be strength through shared responsibility. I suppose this is similar to the role that Godparents might take but I think there’s an opportunity to open this up to a broader circle of friends. However this does highlight how the requirements of such a service would change in this respect depending on how old you and your offspring are.

Photo of Neil Gardiner
Team

That’s a lovely idea Nancy. The memories and wishes aspect of this has lots of potential, both projecting forwards in terms of thoughts for our children and looking back to share important times past. When my kids were younger I used to keep a daily diary of things they said and stuff we did, my main motivation was that I was worried I wouldn’t remember. There could also be value in this for people who are concerned about their memory and worry they might face dementia in years to come.

Storing our memories is something that you might argue is going to be mostly digitised going forward. The likes of Facebook like to remind you what you did a year ago today. I’m 44 I have around 14,000 photos and video clips in a multitude of places, how on earth does someone deal with inheriting that when they probably have the same problem themselves? The question to explore here would be, how do you capture what’s important and filter out the noise from a multitude of channels, maybe that aspect is best left to the internet giants to solve, maybe not? It’s probably an entirely separate product in itself.

I would say the main challenge with a service like this is keeping it lean, there’s so much that could be captured that it might be off-putting and too overwhelming to even begin. It needs to help and asset you and encourage you to add to it over time.

Photo of Elaine Glass
Team

I was thinking of really practical things like bank accounts and their passwords, safety deposit boxes, and cell phone and computer passwords to access phone #s and email addresses.

Photo of Neil Gardiner
Team

Yes Elaine, there seems to be both practical and emotional sides to this. Storing such sensitive information obviously requires a high level of security. One critical question is how to grant the right people access at the right time? In some cases it would be appropriate for selected people to have access while the owner is still alive which would be relatively straight forward. In the case where individuals only get access once someone has passed away poses some challenges, such as how does the system know that the owner is no longer around and grant the relevant people access? A subject that would require some collaborative thinking.

Photo of Nancy Shapiro Rapport
Team

Very good points. Yes, keeping it lean is certainly important.