After I Go

somewhere that's green
Ester and I were talking about retirement yesterday, and she asked me if I had named any beneficiaries on my accounts.

Yes, I said. My mother is one, and my younger brother is another. In general, if you don’t designate primary beneficiaries on your accounts, the default beneficiary is your spouse if you are married, or goes to your estate if you’re not. Since my parents rely on me financially, it made sense for me to name them as beneficiaries in the event that I were to die unexpectedly.

I apologize for talking about death so early in the day, but as Jon Mooallem writes in a terrific piece for California Sunday, most of us spend our entire lives avoiding thinking about death, so “when it finally comes into view, there’s a thicket of panic, denial, or disbelief to cut through before people can focus, more mindfully, on the experience and begin to make decisions to improve their last days.”

Mooallem follows a team at global design firm Ideo as they try to “redesign death,” or make the idea of thinking about death more palatable for people via an app dreamed up by a guy named Paul Gaffney called After I Go.

Gaffney described After I Go as TurboTax for death: a straightforward app that would allow people to write wills or advance directives and, in general, preemptively smooth out the many ancillary miseries that can ripple through a family when someone dies. Bank accounts, life-insurance policy numbers, user names and passwords, what night the garbage goes out — all of it could be seamlessly passed on. Whatever fear or despair people feel about death is only heightened by the fear that, because they never got around to making the necessary preparations, their death might burden the people they love. Gaffney assumed there’d be a big market for an app that eliminated that risk. “Simply providing people with that sense of organization would be a huge emotional payoff,” he said. But he was spectacularly wrong. Bouncing his ideas off potential investors, he quickly understood that no one welcomed a chance to prepare for death. It’s thankless drudgery — plus, it reminds you you’re going to die.

I mean, I would be all over an app like this, but then again I’m probably not representative of the larger app-using public. Spoiler: The app eventually evolves into an idea for a private social network for families where they can store important documents and memories, but never really gets off the ground from there.

In the meantime, I’m naming beneficiaries and keeping important documents in a box I picked up from The Container Store. Gaffney is doing something similar: he files all of his important docs in an orange folder and periodically reminds his wife about its existence.

Photo: Derek T

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