Automatic bill pay's dark side: Man's death undiscovered for two years


Brian Dean was a private, reclusive man, one who went to and from his Lancashire, England home by the dark of night, one who paid his bills on time, and one who obviously had a quite substantial amount of money in his bank account. Because when he died in his bed about two years ago, the automatic withdrawals kept occurring to fund his utilities and other expenses, and no one thought to knock on the door.

Police officers broke the door down and discovered his body and a huge pile of unopened mail inside his door. It wasn't reported how they were inspired to check on the 70-year-old Dean.

While this is surely an extreme example of the blind efficiency of modern conveniences -- and is an argument for being connected to one's community -- it makes me wonder if setting up automatic bill pay from an account large enough to pay bills for years isn't ultimately a bad idea. Today I discovered that my Fidelity 401(k) account could be configured to pay my bills; and it seems a little too convenient to think that I could sell some stock to pay my water bill. I've always thought that keeping investments and savings less accessible and definitely separate from your checking account was the prevailing wisdom. Are we sacrificing too much for ease-of-use? [Thanks to Stacy Westbrook for the link!]

Originally published