A young man is staring straight into the camera. He looks late 20s or early 30s, with a suede blazer and two-toned hipster glasses, and cheerfully waves as he introduces himself. “Hi, my name’s Will,” he tells the YouTube audience. “And I’m dead.”
“While my family is a bit upset, they’re not stressed. Because when I was among the land of the living, I made the incredibly smart move of signing up for Everest.”
Will flashes a smile. His family plans his funeral in the background, using the detailed plan he left behind.
Everest is a Houston-based funeral concierge, and the firm that commissioned Will’s upbeat, millennial-friendly video last fall from Sandwich Video, a Los Angeles production company popular with the tech set in Silicon Valley. Everest published the film in February 2016 as part of a campaign to target millennials, hoping even twentysomethings can be lured into thinking about their digital afterlives.
Everest is just one of a wave of apps and digital services that are emerging to help millennials plan their own #authentic mortal passings, right down to Instagram-worthy funerals. Last fall, rival apps Cake and SafeBeyond were released within one month of each other, and both hope to streamline end-of-life planning into one simple app.
Death apps promise to help a person organize his or her entire online life into a bundle of digital living wills, funeral plans, multimedia memorial portfolios and digital estate arrangements. It could be the mother of all personal media accounts, designed to store all of a person’s online passwords in one spot, for a successor to retrieve after he or she dies.
But millennials already curate their digital lives to perfection on social media. So how much are these “death apps” adding just another layer of pressure to personalize yet another stage of their lives?
According to a 2011 McAfee survey, the average American valued their digital assets at around $55,000. In 2015, the average internet user has at least 90 online accounts. A tech pundit once estimated that 2.89 million Facebook users would die around the world in 2012 and leave their pages behind. In the US, 89% of adults age 18-29 who use the internet also use a social networking service.
Google, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook already offer options to let users pass control of their accounts to their loved ones if they die – with limitations. Facebook legacy contacts, for example, cannot edit a memorialized account’s old posts or delete the account entirely.
In contrast, death apps help people give their loved ones unconditional control of all of their online accounts by digitally transmitting their account passwords to them, post-mortem. Online banking, digital newspaper subscription and online shopping accounts are all scooped up by death apps, not just social media accounts.
Millennials aren’t exactly dying more frequently these days. In 2013, the most recent year for which official data is available, Millennials’ death rates stayed constant in the US, even dropping slightly in the youngest group. Logically, it’s the post-second world war baby boomers driving the business of death apps – and coincidentally, the death rates of people between 55 and 64 also jumped in 2013.
But end-of-life planning services see millennials as their newest drivers as they begin to have families and think about how to manage their legacies. And some are making death a part of their lifestyles. “Death salons” and “death cafés” have grown cult followings, and there are selfie tumblrs of people at funerals.
Everest claims that more than 25 million people across the US and Canada have access to the service as part of their employee benefits packages. In 2013, under pressure from its customers, Everest rolled out a cloud service, similar to Cake and SafeBeyond, that lets clients store any type of digital data on its servers.
“They’re getting used to these kinds of services in other parts of their lives. It’s just one more of those,” says Mark Duffey, Everest’s CEO. “Instead of making it harder, in many cases, it makes it simpler.”
The co-founder of another end-of-life planning company, Everplans, formed the basis for Everplans by drawing on her own experience planning her wedding with The Knot’s online wedding planning tool. Sites like The Knot and The Bump provide online checklists and weekly email reminders for wedding and family planning, spanning several months or even years ahead of an event. But planning for death? With these death apps, it could turn into a lifelong Facebook update.
“We don’t expect somebody to go through and finish an Everplan in an hour or a day. We see it as an ongoing process,” says Gene Newman, Everplans’ editorial director.
Newman says he updates his own Everplans account every week, sometimes when he hears user feedback on new data scenarios the company should include or exclude if a service shuts down. After Everplans adds and deletes fields in its service plan, Newman usually makes changes to his own account in the same places.
Some services, like Afternote, offer people templates to create multimedia tributes about themselves while they’re still living and save them to their accounts. In case you only wanted people to remember you in a photomontage, this would be the route to go.
Since millennials already love visually documenting their lives, they could make photography in the end-of-life industry take off. Melanie Parker is an independent photographer that has specialized in funeral photography for five years. Although none of the funerals she has photographed have been for millennials, she says that the average age of the clients who ask her to photograph funerals is 24 years old.
And while no one has reserved Parker’s photography services as part of a pre-meditated funeral plan, she affirms that the profile of the person seeking funeral photography services typically is a millennial.
“The people that I talk to look at the pictures again and again,” Parker says. “This is another stage in their lives, too, like any other.”