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You don't know a thing about me: "Virtual memorials" store your financial life

To some, death is the promise of a spiritual rebirth. To others, it's a never-ending void. But to Jacques Mechelany, it could be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Mechelany, the CEO of Silicon Valley startup I-Postmortem, has just launched a pair of websites called I-Memorial and I-Tomb that allows clients to ensure they're remembered after death by creating what amounts to a virtual after-life for those close to them.

"I-Tomb enables people to create virtual memorials for friends and loved ones who are already deceased," explains Mechelany. "The I-Tomb is a multimedia memorial made of photos, videos, texts, music and documents that encapsulate the life of a deceased person, telling the next generations who they were, what they believed in and what the world they lived in was like."

virtual memorialsBeyond this emotional sway, Mechelany says the I-Memorial partner site is also protection for anyone eager to guarantee that their finances, including life insurance policies and the passwords to access them, are passed on. Clients can upload copies of all insurance, bank, stock, bonds and other money-related documents, as well as instructions on when they should be dispensed and to whom, to the site's My Last Wishes section.

What if I go now?

Mechelany is an entrepreneur and the websites are clearly business ventures, but he's passionate about the peace-of-mind they can provide anyone anxious to get their affairs in order. Mechelany tells Insure.com that I-Memorial and I-Tomb were inspired more than two decades ago as he vexed over mortality and what his three children would face when he dies.

"I kept thinking, what if I go now, what happens then?" Mechelany recalls. "I wanted to leave something richly personal for my family and also make sure that what I had could be easily given to them. I think many people have these same thoughts; they want to preserve their legacy and are not always sure just how to do it."

I-Tomb accounts cost $50 a year, while access to I-Memorial is another $120 annually. Membership is currently aimed at individuals, but Mechelany hopes that insurance companies will eventually offer them as part of service packages for clients. Mechelany says he's "in negotiations" with a pair of "major insurers" to provide I-Memorial and I-Tomb, but was reluctant to name them before any contracts are finalized.

Mechelany says the company, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., is backed with about $2 million in seed money from himself, partners and friends and family. He unveiled the websites recently in a global media campaign in 16 languages and realizes there's competition. Pricelessmessages.com, Lastwishes.com, Legacylocker.com, Ifidie.org and Ancestry.com all offer similar features.

Life insurance not always claimed

Mechelany believes his ventures could help solve a large problem facing insurance companies--unclaimed life insurance benefits. He says that policy-holders sometimes don't tell beneficiaries for various reasons, from not wanting to influence their feelings about them to simple forgetfulness or procrastination.

"Perhaps they don't want to pollute a relationship or want to provide something for one person but not for another," Mechelany explains. "We try to make it easy to take care of these needs."

That could be good news to insurers, who agree that policy-holders need to protect against unclaimed benefits. Beyond using services like I-Memorial and I-Tomb, Dr. Steven Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, recommends common-sense steps that may prevent benefits from entering limbo:

  • Immediately inform your life insurer (and other financial institutions) of your new address when you move.
  • Tell beneficiaries (of both individual and group policies) that they're entitled to benefits when you die. Specify the name, city and state of the insurer and ways to contact them to make a claim. Provide your policy number.
  • Keep your insurer informed by providing identification information about every beneficiary. This should ensure that, when the time comes, they can be easily located and their identity confirmed.
  • Finally, it will be simpler for beneficiaries to make a claim if you keep a record of any notices regarding changes to the name, location or contact information for your life insurer.

Do you need a virtual memorial?

Even Mechelany concedes that giving passwords, documents and final wishes to a lawyer in a comprehensive will or to a best friend or trusted relative may be a valid option. But what if your messages or documents are private, not intended for anyone but them to see? You might want to avoid a middle-man.

"What if I have only a message for my son and nobody else?" Mechelany says. "We don't mean to replace attorneys [but only] add a human dimension to the process."

Mechelany also knows that convincing people to put their most intimate secrets in a website, not matter how secure, may be daunting to most of us. He stresses identity protection--and making good on all the websites' hyped privacy claims--is a top priority. But that, he concedes, will only be proven over time.

"Security and confidentiality is a fundamental question, we realize that," he says, "but people already store a lot of information in 'the cloud' already, so that helps. Building long-term credibility is what we're after."

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