Do you care? Probably Not. Should You? Definitely!

Ever since the evolution of email and the Internet, more of our daily interactions are ‘conducted’ via email than ever before.  Most of our online ‘contact’ is so matter of fact that we don’t even stop to think about it.  Even our language has changed.  It is not uncommon to hear someone say “I’ll email a copy to you” or “email it to me.”

The obvious use for email is to communicate with friends, family and others.  And, as the online communication has taken the lead (as opposed to ‘snail mail’), most organisations, such as your doctor, your dentist or your kids’ school, now ask for your email address so that they can contact you.  What about your bank? Telstra? Alinta Gas? Synergy?  The list is endless.  In most situations, we are happy to oblige and give our email address without question.  Why wouldn’t we?

In December 2015, I got an email from Medibank telling me that from January 2016, they will send my bills to me via email unless I instruct them otherwise.*  NO NO. NO.  I don’t want my bills sent to me by email.  Why?  Let me tell you of the scenario that went through my mind as I read Medibank’s email.  Please bear in mind that as a Wills and Estate Planning Lawyer, I have more experience in dealing with deceased estate ‘issues’ that can arise concerning a deceased’s estate.

If I die tomorrow, not only will my family have to deal with my death, my husband will have the unwanted frustration of calling a 1300 number (to India or wherever) to query why our private health cover with Medibank has lapsed.  If he ever gets through to a live person (!), he will have to argue that our bill has never been in arrears.  Ummm, really????

When I died, no one thought to contact Medibank and tell them I’m dead!  Hence, Medibank sent the bill as normal to my email.  I’m still dead and I can’t read my emails!  The bill is unpaid.  Two months pass.  In the small print of Medibank’s Ts & Cs, they state that if any premium is in arrears for more than 2 consecutive months, the cover shall lapse.  My husband is too busy trying to cope with suddenly being a single parent to our 3 year-old daughter, while maintaining  a full time job.  The last thing on his mind is our Medibank account.

The issue only comes to light 3 months later my husband takes our daughter to the GP and the Medibank card is declined.  My husband then realises that I didn’t pay the bill before ‘checking out.’  My husband looks through our study and discovers that we don’t have any printed Medibank statements in a file.  My husband realises that all the Medibank emails went to me and he doesn’t have my email password.  My husband calls “India” again to try and sort out the problem.  Before they will speak to him about our account, they first want proof of his identity and my identity.  More frustration and still no health cover.

*I am the nominated “Policy Holder” in our family. Medibank (as part of their policy) will only communicate with me about our account. Frustrating. But true.  Read the small print.

Why I am sharing my Medibank scenario with you?  I’m sharing it because I can envisage the events unfold in reality.  As more of our daily life and interactions with organisations move ‘to the online world,’ so will the likelihood of my Medibank scenario.

I’m not saying don’t get your bank accounts and other household bills sent you by email.  However, if you do receive important correspondence by email from third party authorities, do you have steps in place for a trusted person to access your email if you die or become incapacitated? Or, do you make it a habit to print your bank accounts and bills as you receive them and then file them so that your spouse/trusted person can get them?

Whatever strategy you implement, keep the following in mind.  The Executor of your estate will need copies of your bank accounts and other bills on order to submit the relevant information to the Supreme Court of WA as part of dealing with your estate.  Why I’m telling you this?  Because it comes down to the good old Aussie Dollar!

Whenever a client asks me how much it will cost to deal with a deceased estate and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries, I respond with “It depends on how well organised the deceased conducted their affairs and if all their paperwork was properly filed.”  Time is money and the more time spent to look for information, the more it costs.”

If I can leave you with a final thought it is: In this article, I’m not concerned about you. I’m concerned about your emails. I’m also concerned about your loved ones.  They do not need to deal with ‘Medibank-like issues’ (that will affect them) while they try and copy with your death. They need to focus on trying to find stability again in this world without you in it.

Take some time to implement a strategy about your emails and how to deal with the important correspondence from third parties.  Medibank, Alinta, Synergy, Water Corp, your bank, the ATO, Telstra, all won’t know about your death.  And, they won’t care.  They will continue as normal and act ‘according to policy’.

Do you have any concerns about your email account or do you need to include a particular clause in your Will about your ‘online’ presence?