Before the pandemic, entrepreneurs Liz Eddy and Alyssa Ruderman struggled to convince venture capitalists to invest in their end-of-life planning app Lantern. Potential business partners were also skeptical.
“We would hear, ‘Oh, this is really a niche issue,’ which I think is pretty hilarious,” Eddy says. “Death is literally the only thing on the planet that affects every person.”
The last two years have highlighted the importance of such preparation, even for the youngest. Abigail Henson, a 31-year-old college professor in Phoenix, says she started using Lantern about 18 months ago to plan her funeral, tell her executor where to find her passwords, and explain what she wanted to do with her social media accounts.
“I’m a planner and I have control issues, so the idea of being able to have a say in what happens after I’m gone was appealing,” Henson said.
Planning for death and navigating life after loss can be difficult, complex and sometimes expensive. However, several apps, including Lantern, Cake, Empathy, and Everplans, among others, promise to help.
HOW DEATH PLANNING APPS WORK
Death planning apps typically have free tools for consumers, and most have additional premium services available for a fee.
For example, Empathy’s free offerings include checklists, articles, and collaboration tools for family members coping with a death. Those who pay a subscription of $8.99 per month or $64.99 per year can access a vault and automated tools to close accounts. Subscribers also get round-the-clock access to “care specialists” who can answer questions and help users find specialist advisers, such as lawyers or tax specialists.
Everplans, a document storage site and app, offers a free trial followed by a $75 annual subscription.
Lantern’s free offerings include basic pre-planning tools, a disaster checklist, document storage and collaboration tools. A one-time fee of $149 provides access to more resources and the ability to create additional plans.
Cake’s free features include end-of-life planning, online memorials, a disaster checklist, and document storage. A $96 annual subscription buys unlimited storage, an online legal will, and one-on-one consultations with the app’s support team, says Cake co-founder Suelin Chen.
Some apps partner with employers, insurers, banks, and other businesses that provide app functionality to employees or customers as benefits. Apps can also earn referral fees for connecting users with service providers. Lantern has a “Funeralocity” tool to search for funeral homes, for example, and Cake partners with Etereva, which turns cremated remains into diamonds.
PLAN AT YOUR PACE
Henson says she chose Lantern because she wanted a digital solution that would allow her to complete pre-planning tasks at her own pace and share them online with trusted people. It seemed more manageable than tackling estate planning all at once and stashing the paperwork in a locked filing cabinet, which her mother did, Henson says.
“It can be really overwhelming to think about it in one sitting, but the idea that every once in a while you can step in and add more is helpful,” says Henson.
People shouldn’t rely on apps to do all their estate planning, says certified financial planner and physician Carolyn McClanahan of Jacksonville, Florida. Wills and trusts, for example, are difficult to draft and best done by experienced lawyers, she says.
But McClanahan loves apps that help with things like funeral instructions, advanced care guidelines, pet care plans and obituary drafts.
“Anything that can get people to start thinking about end-of-life planning is good,” McClanahan says.
THINK ABOUT YOUR LEGACY
Planning for your death can be a great gift for the people you leave behind, sparing them confusion and stress. But coping with the aftermath of death can still be a heavy burden, made even more complicated by grief.
Families often spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on afterlife tasks, says Ron Gura, co-founder and CEO of Empathy. These duties may include arranging funerals, probating estates, closing accounts, canceling services, and dealing with various government agencies, including Social Security and the IRS. The apps allow people to answer a few questions and get personalized advice.
“We can only show you the things you need to do now and also tell you what can wait,” says Gura.
Death planning apps mainly focus on practicalities, such as completing tasks and downloading important documents. But many also encourage users to reflect on their heritage.
Everplans, for example, has a worksheet to help people create an ethical will, a document that communicates their most important values, life lessons, and experiences. Everplans also offers templates and tips for writing letters and creating videos with a legacy message.
Cake’s Chen says people often ask him if running a death planning app is depressing. On the contrary, she says. Thinking about what we value and how we want to be remembered is an essential part, not just of the planning process for death, but for life, Chen says.
“It really gets to the heart of what gives meaning to life,” she says. “I’m reminded every day to make the most of the time I have.”
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Liz Weston is a NerdWallet columnist, certified financial planner, and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: [email protected] Twitter: @lizweston.