How Planning and Technology Created a Ghost

One of the primary purposes of estate planning is to make sure that your loved ones are able to manage your finances in the event of your incapacity or death in an efficient manner, free of unnecessary obstacles.  The last thing you want to do is to leave a “mess” that entangles your family or friends when trying to administer or settle your estate.  Basic estate planning includes establishing trusts, power of attorney documents, wills, and other legally recognized instruments that give trusted individuals the authority to act on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so.

Further planning could include consolidating accounts, creating online passwords that are accessible by your loved ones, leaving detailed instructions, and establishing systems in place that automatically handle routine, mundane tasks so that your loved ones can focus on more challenging tasks in the weeks and months after your incapacity or death.  Examples of such “systems” include automatic bill pay and friends or employees who manage your property. 

However, as CNN reported earlier this month, for one Michigan woman, efficient planning and technology turned her into a ghost by masking her death for at least six years.

According to the report, years after the woman died, her automatic bill pay continued to pay all of her bills, including her mortgage.  She kept to herself and often traveled to Europe for months at a time.  Because of her frequent long absences from her Michigan home, her neighbor was in the habit of mowing her lawn in order to ensure that the neighborhood maintained its curb appeal.  Because she traveled so frequently, she did not receive paper mail at her home.  These unique facts created a perfect storm whereby nobody realized that she had died. 

After several years, her automatic bill pay brought her bank account’s value to zero and the mortgage payments stopped.  After some time, the bank foreclosed upon the home and sent an employee to perform an inspection.  Upon entering the home, he found the woman’s body in her car which was parked in the garage.  Authorities believe that she had been dead for at least six years. 

Clearly this episode is an aberration.  The woman’s unique habits and arrangements are what hid her death for many years.  While this scenario is not likely to be common and this is not something that most people should be worried about, the report demonstrates how “automatic” modern conveniences such as automatic bill pay truly are.  Furthermore, the report also demonstrates the limitation of such modern conveniences.  While administrative tasks such as bill pay and home maintenance can be set to “auto pilot,” there is no substitute for having family members, friends, or acquaintances who can be relied upon to check on your welfare.  Establishing and maintaining personal relationships is just as important as creating an efficient plan. 

(Source: “Woman’s Auto-Payments Hid Her Death for Six Years,” by Jethro Mullen and Kevin Conlon, CNN Wires (, March 7, 2014, 9:23 am.) 

This article is intended for informational purposes only.  Reading this article does not establish an attorney / client relationship.  Consult with an attorney licensed to practice law in your community before acting upon any of the information presented in this article.

KRASA LAW is located at 704-D Forest Avenue, PG, and Kyle may be reached at 831-920-0205831-920-0205.