Making death easier -- on the survivors

No one wants to deal with filling out insurance claim forms, filing for survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration, or the other necessary paperwork when a relative dies. That's what lawyers are for.

But what if you can't find the insurance policy or various investment accounts that your dad never told you about? Or maybe he did, but you don't know where they are?

Enter, a Web site that went live earlier this week that acts as a centralized database where people can put their preparations into place so that their designated beneficiaries can find the policies to make claims and get the insurance money, among other things.
Family members are notified from a week to a month after their relative dies that they used WeRemember, and are mailed any instructions that the deceased wanted them to have.

The free service stores information about the location of insurance policies and financial documents in a secure online site that the user sets up before their death. No online passwords to financial institutions, for example, or Social Security numbers or insurance policy account numbers or amounts are required, although they're optional. The beneficiary's name and telephone number are required.

WeRemember was started by Joe Palmer and Tej Shah after they found while working in the life insurance business that relatives too often couldn't inherit a family member's wealth or carry out their wishes because they didn't know where the important documents were.

Billions of dollars worth of insurance policies go unclaimed each year, mainly because beneficiaries don't know they exist, Palmer said in a telephone interview. Insurance companies don't actively seek out beneficiaries, but assume that the insured stopped making payments, he said.

Palmer's father is a lawyer and he often told his son that in executing a will, he often relied on family members to contact him, or he would read the obituaries in the newspaper.

"In the U.S., it's kind of taboo. People don't talk about death," Palmer said from his office in Chicago.

Some people have multiple life insurance policies, and relying on someone to remember all of them is a risk, he said.

"It's something people don't speak about, because it's never a good time to speak about your death," he said.

The site's notification system works pretty simply. After getting a deceased member's name from the weekly updates from the Social Security Administration's death index, the death is also verified with other public and government databases. WeRemember workers also verify the death by calling a third person verifier -- someone the member stipulated would be called to verify their death. It's "somebody who wouldn't be shocked" by the death, Palmer said.

A WeRemember employee will next call the designated relatives, telling them about the service that their dead family member provided. An automated call will never be made, and the information won't be revealed before the person has died, Palmer stressed. The family won't find out first from WeRemember that a loved one died, he said.

For $29.95, members can have insurance claim forms and any other documentation that survivors will need mailed to the beneficiaries. Financial service referrals are also made on the site, giving it another way to make money.

Saving time and possibly money from the heartache of having to search for important documents after a loved one has died may be the best gift to leave someone.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at
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