With the coronavirus death toll still mounting, Santa Fe startup Legacy Concierge LLC hopes to ease the pain a bit for victims’ families with free electronic estate resolution services.
The company, which developed a proprietary software platform to rapidly identify all electronic records of deceased people, works with attorneys, fiduciaries and families to recover online assets and erase the extensive electronic footprint most people leave behind after passing away.
“We want to help families going through the unexpected loss of loved ones,” said Legacy Concierge founder and CEO Betsy Ehrenberg. “Death by the pandemic can happen so quickly, and while medical folks at first said the victims would be mostly older people and those with pre-existing conditions, we’re seeing people 45 or 50 years old in the prime of their lives passing away. The losses are horrific, and if we can help families in their time of mourning, we’re happy to do it.”
The company usually charges fixed fees to use its “auto-grab” software technology to search the Internet for all electronic records of the deceased, compile it into a full report for the family, and then notify all companies that manage online assets or records of the person who passed away to retrieve those assets and erase the electronic records.
Those fees are usually paid by the attorney managing estate resolution, the estate of the deceased person through a fiduciary or the families themselves.
“We want to provide those services now at no cost to families with loved ones who passed away from the coronavirus,” Ehrenberg said. “… We’ll do it as a courtesy to families, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Ehrenberg built the cloud-based, software-as-a-service company with a team of engineers and software specialists over five years. She launched the service in July 2019, managing more than 100 different accounts since then while working with about 300 companies that maintain online files and services to get electronic records erased. That includes everything from financial institutions, brokerage houses, credit unions and credit reporting companies to government agencies, insurance firms and even shopping sites, social media and email services.
Resolving the electronic legacy of deceased people is critical in today’s hyperconnected world. Most individuals have more than 160 places in the cloud where their electronic footprint resides when they die, and those unmanaged records and assets can cause a lot of heartache and problems for people left behind, Ehrenberg said.
That includes the pain of constant reminders about loved ones, be it through email or online messages about everything from a magazine subscription that a lost relative or friend maintained to a request for a deceased person to donate to a charitable institution they regularly contributed to.
The problem becomes much more insidious when it comes to financial assets and online identities. Hackers and thieves are constantly raking the Internet to steal personal information and commit fraud, including opening bank accounts and credit cards in the name of deceased people, filing false tax returns and more.
“Fraudsters use information of deceased people to create a new persona,” Ehrenberg said. “There was one who created a fund-me site to collect money from donors for families and then took all the donations. It’s horrible.”
An estimated $58 billion in assets go unclaimed annually because successors don’t know how to locate digital assets and electronic records of the deceased, and more than 13% of all deaths result in identity theft, Ehrenberg said. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 320,000 reports about identity theft of deceased people in 2017.
Legacy Concierge has helped locate and retrieve a lot of unknown assets for families since launching last summer, many of them checks cut by insurance companies for people over the years who never cashed them before passing away. Over time, that money gets turned over to state treasuries as “escheated,” or abandoned, money that families often don’t know about.
“Sometimes it’s just $2, or $24 being held,” Ehrenberg said. “But we found one with $177,000.”
Legacy Concierge’s automated online service saves a lot of money for families, because attorneys can spend more than 100 hours searching for all electronic records manually, often at $300 an hour or more.
Estate planning attorney David Slonim of Slonim & Lemieux LLP said Legacy Concierge is providing a critical service in the modern online world.
“I used to advise the families coming into my office for a probate administration of their loved one that they should check their postal mailboxes for information about the deceased’s various accounts,” Slonim wrote in an email. “Now we regularly advise the clients that they need to access email accounts, social media accounts, digital asset banking accounts (think PayPal or Bitcoin), and even home appliance accounts.”
Online thieves can find ways to access all those things, Slonim said.
“Imagine losing the password to a connected home’s A/C, oven, fridge or even washing machine,” he said. “If these are not secured, a nefarious individual could not only have access to a person’s home and other secured information, but also turn the home into a digital poltergeist.”
For more information, visit legacy-concierge.com, write Ehrenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 650-380-0688.