Storage services let people leave thoughts, advice for family, friends from the hereafter

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Amiram Hayardeny’s father was a robust man with a booming voice until he developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Slowly, he lost his ability to communicate and, as the disease laid waste to his body, his ability to move.

Hayardeny’s father died in 2013. A year later, Hayardeny said, a cousin his age died suddenly, leaving behind her three young children and husband.

“She never made 52,” he said. “I’ll be 53 next week.”

The events shocked Hayardeny, a technologist who lives outside Seattle, into thinking about his mortality and how he wanted to prepare a legacy for his children. He is certainly not the first man in his 50s to get his affairs in order after losing relatives or friends.

But instead of turning to the traditional estate-planning strategies — wills, trusts and beneficiary-designation forms that lawyers and financial planners help clients pull together — Hayardeny is using a new system called SafeBeyond. It keeps written and video wishes safe and private until its users are gone or until a set time. SafeBeyond, which likens itself to Dropbox for the here-after, is one of several similar cloud-based systems.

“I’m not particularly afraid of death or shy about discussing it,” Hayardeny said. “The way the site is put together, it kind of gives you some kind of comfort. It puts people at ease with the concept of you being gone.”

Because these services are relatively new, though, they could become problematic to heirs if not used correctly, lawyers and planners said. And the nature of SafeBeyond and similar services — online and private except to those explicitly given access — also raises broader issues about digital assets that are in an estate.

“With digital assets, who is entitled to have access is a big issue,” said Sharon Klein, managing director of family office services and wealth strategies at Wilmington Trust.

First, a little background about SafeBeyond. It was started by Moran Zur, whose father died when Zur was 25 and who nearly lost his wife, who was found to have advanced brain cancer in 2012.

“My father was a man of advice,” he said. “You start thinking about things that I didn’t get to ask him.”

When his wife’s health improved, Zur raised money for the site. He focused it not on conveying a last message but on being a bank of many emotions and advice for different times in a person’s life.

“I look at it as emotional life insurance,” he said. “We allow you to decide how you’ll be remembered.”

To that end, he said, people need to designate a trustee for what they record or write and store in SafeBeyond. That person will have the responsibility of tracking down family members and friends whose email addresses and phone numbers might have changed by the time they are supposed to receive the messages.

The site is free for now. It promises to update the technology so that today’s iPhone video doesn’t become tomorrow’s Super 8 home movie when someone receives it in the future. In the event the company fails, Zur said, it will work to find people to let them download what they stored there.

(Zur thinks he will make money when people need more space, and later when the site begins selling digital estate-planning tools.)

His competitors include Incubate, which was co-founded by

Michael McCluney, who lost his father when he was young and said he wishes his father could have recorded advice for important moments in his life, such as turning 16 or graduating from college.

“Something like that would have been incredible to have gotten,” McCluney said.

Last Thanksgiving, as the site was about to go online, he recorded his grandmother sending people holiday wishes. She died this year, and he said a half-dozen people will be receiving the message from her.

“People recognize that this is an emotional experience we want to give,” McCluney said.

Although the services are intended to help people stay in their loved ones’ lives after death, some people question whether such a message might disturb the recipient.

John Dadakis, a partner at the Holland & Knight law firm, said videotaping anything meant for heirs when you’re sick could have unintended consequences, particularly if not everyone is happy with their inheritance.

“If a lawyer is not part of that situation, and this person is going off half-baked, and now all of a sudden this video surfaces in a probate contest, you have a lawyer standing there with his tongue hanging out,” Dadakis said. “Here you have this evidence that this person is half-baked, and it could cause problems in any probate context.”