Friday, January 30, 2015

Dealing With Your Digital Death

Over 400 people die every hour.
That’s 10,273 who die every day.
Over 312,500 die every month.
We all know that planning for our eventual demise is the right thing to do. Not only does it help guide our loved ones in handling our affairs according to our wishes, it also gives us the opportunity to have a final say in the matter.

But now, we have to worry about something our ancestors never did – Our digital death! Almost all of us are part of a social media community (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+) where we share our triumphs, our tragedies, and tidbits about our daily lives. This is a part of our digital property.

Our digital assets also include photographs, videos, blogs, web sites, gaming sites, music accounts, and written material. Plus, financial accounts, stocks and bonds, medical reports, copyrights, domain names, trademarks, even trade secrets.

Our digital footprint includes not only items of financial value (In 2011, U.S. consumers valued their digital assets at around $55,000 per person.) but also sentimental value like genealogy research, special messages, videos and private emails that mean something important only to us and our families. 

So, what happens to all of this information when we die? Where does it go and who is in charge of getting it there?

WebpageFX has put together a great graphic to show what can happen to your social media assets:

On social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest, YOU are the owner of your digital data. This means that your privacy is protected after your death unless you authorize access to someone before you die.

Each social site has requirements that must be met before a page is taken down. For Facebook, you must prove you are an immediate family member. Twitter requires a death certificate, as does Google and Pinterest. LinkedIn requires general information such as the company the deceased worked for, your link to the deceased’s profile, and their email address.

But the deactivation of an account or page can take time. On Facebook and LinkedIn, a profile is not removed until the death is reported. Twitter takes up to 6 months to deactivate an account and Google takes up to 9 months to deactivate a profile. With Twitter and Google, your user name cannot be used again. With Facebook and LinkedIn, it can.

This becomes an even murkier area where account holders, service providers, courts, state legislatures, and state and federal governments become involved because of the lack of clear, defined steps on how to handle personal digital property.  Questions surface every day concerning what constitutes the violation of civil liabilities when executing the disposal of such digital property. (Not to mention what is considered to be an act of criminal liability.)

Digital Death offers three steps to help you manage your digital assets now, and make the process easier on your loved ones after your death.

1) Identify your digital property. Make a list of what you have out in cyber space and note what you would like done with these assets: maybe you want your genealogy files given to your state repository. Keep a list of your passwords, profiles, user names and account numbers to assist your loved ones in sorting through your digital footprint and tying up loose ends.  You can make sorting through your digital assets easier, and let your wishes be known specifically by writing down what you want done with your accounts, your photos, written materials and so forth. Then date the list and sign it, preferably in front of a witness before storing it in a safety box and passing a copy on to your attorney. Remember to update your inventory list once a year so that the information is correct, and tell a trusted relative or friend where the list is kept.

2) Authorize access to your accounts in writing. Who do you trust to make sure your wishes are carried out. Discuss this authorization with your attorney so that a court can make sure it's carried out to your specifications if there is a problem.

3) Communicate your wishes to your family and friends. Mention what you want to have happen with your digital assets in your will, and notify your family in writing as to what you want done.

The flip side of this coin is that family members and online sites could act too quickly and your digital assets might be deleted at a painful and emotional time without regard to, or even an understanding of what you had documented as your wishes concerning how they were to be handled.

This is not a topic that will be solved quickly or quietly. Look for more discussions and debates in the near future regarding what could happen to your digital life - now and after your death.
~ Joy

Friday, January 23, 2015

Would You Rent A Casket?

There are always new cost-cutting ideas and eco-green practices being launched in the funeral industry, many of them taken from “real life” options that we select every day. After all, we rent homes to live in, cars to travel in when we’re on vacation and vacation houses to stay in once there. We have no problem renting DVDs, CDs, and audio books. And, we really don’t give a second thought to renting more personal items like wedding gowns, tuxes, evening dresses, jewelry, even fancy dress shoes. So why do we tend to feel uncomfortable at the mention of renting a casket?

Coffins have been used for burial for thousands of years. Known by several names including sarcophagus, coffin and casket, the box, which contains the remains, has always been a difficult choice; after all, this is the “final resting place” of the deceased.

King Tut
Sarcophagi were used in ancient times and by religious orders as a  means to hold the remains of their royal and powerful. A sarcophagus was carved in stone, usually bearing the appearance of the deceased on the outside of the box. 

A coffin is a box used to hold the remains for viewing and burial, and originally had six sides, plus the top and bottom. Early Americans built coffins for family members from the wood they cut and planed from local trees.
Casket and Coffin

In the U.S., a box with only four sides, plus top and bottom, is called a casket. That change in verbiage from coffin to casket is thanks to a marketing strategy that equated the burial casket with the same name as a box that held precious jewels; a jewelry casket.

Burial Shroud
Regardless of the name, this container is where we place the remains of the deceased for visitation, during the funeral and for burial after.
But, not all societies or religions use caskets, many use shrouds; in the case of cremation, an inexpensive casket or a biodegradable paper coffin might be used.

Simple Wooden Casket
Gold Casket Lined with Velvet
Something to remember, the casket is one of the most expensive items purchased for a traditional funeral. Caskets are usually crafted from wood, fiberglass, or metal and prices for the average box can vary from $2,000 to over $10,000, depending on the material used, extra features selected and how much ornamentation is in and on the box.  

But you are not required to purchase a coffin for burial. There are several options available including rentals, shrouds and biodegradable caskets.

Today, more funeral homes are offering families the option of renting a casket for the viewing and/or funeral services. Although a rented casket may be used numerous times, the body never comes in contact with the casket; a liner which looks like a part of the box is placed inside the casket for the services and afterwards it is removed with the body enclosed for cremation or burial. (Caskets may also be rented for the visitation of someone who wished to be cremated.)

Wicker Casket
When deciding on a casket, do your homework! You might be able to purchase a biodegradable cardboard casket or wicker coffin for less than a rental fee, which averages from $400 to $1,200.  You might find a local carpenter who will build one for less. Or you might decide that renting a casket is the right choice for your situation. Either way, you know you have options.

~ Joy

Friday, January 16, 2015

100 Years Ago - First Aerial Bombing Raid On Britain

One hundred years ago World War One was gaining momentum across Europe. But on the evening of January 19, 1915 the war took a turn that made all participants realize it was not going to be like any other war.

On the night of January 19, three German Naval Zeppelins, L3, L4 and L6 were to carry out the first strategic bombing raid, but airship L6 had mechanical problems and had to turn around. Dirigibles L3 and L4 proceeded on toward the target, the town of Humberside, but strong winds forced the raid to end quickly, so the Zeppelins sought targets of opportunity on which to unload their bombs.

The towns of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn on the eastern coast of England were hit, instead. Four people were killed when bombs fell from the sky: Martha Taylor and Sam Smith died in Great Yarmouth, Alice Gazely and Percy Goate were killed in King’s Lynn that night; the first aerial bombing raid had been completed.

Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin
The first idea for a Zeppelin came about in 1874 and was built in 1893. Germany embraced and patented the balloon in 1895. (The U.S. issued a similar patented in 1899.) Named for its inventor, Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, the rigid steel-framed airship was propelled with a motor and carried a crew of about 20, along with massive amounts of hydrogen gas for fuel. The dirigible was first used to carry passengers between German cities in 1910. But the Zeppelin was temperamental and not sturdy in high winds; it could be brought down by any adverse weather and most ended their careers crashing to the ground due to high winds and bursting into flames.

Zeppelin Caught in Spotlights
Since the Zeppelin did not stand up well to being fired at (hydrogen gas was extremely flammable), the Germans decided to use the dirigibles for bombing villages and towns that did not have weapons or military stations, thereby killing or wounding civilians in an attempt to lower the morale of the English.

Instead of lowering morale, such raids only re-enforced the British sense of outrage and united English citizens against the Germans. Most Londoners would rush out into the streets when an air-raid signal was given in order to cheer on the English pilots defending their country against the Germans in the air.

Although the dirigible could travel great distances, antiaircraft fire rendered the airship practically useless in war compared to the airplanes being used in battle.  By 1915, the main use of the Zeppelin was for reconnaissance over the Baltic and North Seas. By the end of the year, the German Navy had 15 airships in commission. The air raids continued into 1916. By 1917, the Zeppelin could now fly higher with an altitude of 16,500 feet and a ceiling of 21,000 feet, but high winds and engine problems continued to plague the ships. They were soon replaced by airplanes, which could carry more bombs, resulting in more deaths, injuries and damage.

In all, 84 Zeppelins were built by Germany during the war: over 60 were lost – half to accidents, weather and mechanical problems: the other half due to repercussions from the enemy. German Zeppelins took part in over 50 bombing raids on Britain during WWI, killing 557 people and injuring 1,358.

In the Treaty of Versailles it was stated that Germany could not keep any “dirigibles … dirigible sheds or shelters, or … plants for the manufacture of hydrogen.”

It would take a few years before Germany, again, became openly involved with the production of Zeppelins, this time for the purpose of carrying passengers and mail across the ocean, and around the world.

~ Joy

Friday, January 9, 2015

Buried Standing Up - A New Tradition?

There is a “new” angle on traditional burial – burying the body standing up. Not only is it innovative, it is also a very green, saves space and is an economical alternative.

It is tradition in the U.S. to bury a person lying down with arms bent and hands folded across the chest, usually in a wooden casket, unless your religion or conscious stipulates a shroud. It has been only recently that have we started gaining an interest in biodegradable coffins and burial shrouds, green cemeteries, and other alternative funeral procedures.

Enter Upright Burials based in Camperdown, Victoria, Australia. Back in 1984 a group of friends had the idea to start a business that would bury people standing up – In 2010, the company had their first upright burial.

Upright Burials has added a step that just makes sense – in order for the body to be buried in an upright position, it must first be frozen solid. This is done instead of embalming. The body is then placed in a biodegradable shroud and buried in a vertical plot that is 10 feet deep and just over 2 feet wide. The cost for an Upright Burial is under $3,000; that’s somewhere around half the price of a traditional horizontal burial. But not every cemetery will accept such an unconventional arrangement.

Tony Duplexi
While no graveside services are held during the burial, family and friends are free to hold a memorial service at another location. According to Upright Burials managing director, Tony Dupleix, “We offer a simple respectful burial where people aren't challenged to choose between levels of guilt and love in selecting expensive coffins."

Mt. Elephant
Upright Burials has their own cemetery - Kurweeton Road Cemetery, which is located southwest of Mt. Elephant, an extinct volcano, located on the western plains of Victoria. There is enough room for 40,000 such burials here. And you will notice that there are no grave markers in the cemetery, instead the name of the deceased is placed on a memorial wall and a tree is planted on Mt Elephant for each person buried. The exact location of the burial can be found using GPS coordinates.

But, while innovate, this is a centuries-old idea. More than one thousand years ago, the Peruvians buried their royalty in an upright position, and in some ancient societies, warriors were buried standing up as a sign of respect.

While not the usually burial position in the U.S. (we seem to prefer laying in repose as we await eternity), there are some noted upright burials that have occurred across our country …

George Hancock
Hancock's Tomb
Revolutionary Colonel George Hancock was interred in the family mausoleum at Fotheringay in Botetourt County, Virginia standing up. Before Hancock died in 1820, he stated that he wished to be buried standing (some say sitting) up so he could look down into the valley below and see that his slaves were hard at work …

Brit Bailey
It was 1812 when James Britton (Brit) Bailey purchased a parcel of Texas land from the Spanish government. Calling it Bailey’s Prairie, Bailey moved his family onto it and began building a cabin. After Mexico won its independence from Spain, officials refused to recognize Baily’s rights to the land. When told to move, Bailey refused. In fact, he continued to fight with authorities in the area until he died of cholera in 1832. In his will, Bailey requested, “my remains (be) interred erect with my face fronting the West." The reason, according to Bailey, “I have never looked up to any man, so I do not want it said `here lies old Brit Bailey', but rather, `here stands Brit Bailey.” It was also said that Bailey was buried with his rifle at his side and a jug of whisky at his feet.

Burton's Stone
Old Burton Cemetery
In Indiana, Patriot soldier Pvt. John Pleasant Burton requested to be buried standing up. When he died in 1836, he was interred in an upright position in Old Burton Cemetery near Mitchell, Indiana. Burton is the only know Hoosier to be buried standing up.

A Tennessee Methodist Conference circuit preacher, Rev. Joshua Boucher, was buried standing up in Old Town Cemetery in Athens, Alabama on August 23, 1845. Boucher had arthritis and was concerned that it might prevent him from rising on the Day of Judgment.

In 1992, cowboy Jimmy Dale Struble was buried standing up at Glade Park Cemetery in Grand Junction, Colorado. Struble had been confined to a wheel chair for several years as the result of a fight. Friends said Struble had hated having to lie down for six years so he decided to be buried standing up with his boots on.

So, will the advantages of saving space and being environmentally friendly change the way we bury our dead? Only time will tell … but it does seem like a straight-up solution.

~ Joy