Omagh couple develop free app to help fulfil wishes of departed loved ones

  • Omagh couple John and Louise Magee have developed a free app to help families and friends fulfil the wishes of loved ones who have passed away, and also save them time and money in doing so.

    Listpals allows the user to input personal data at any time, in regards to financial information, funeral wishes and even medical wishes - one can enter as much or as little information as they please.

    The idea for the mobile app came about through two personal tragedies the pair faced within a close timeframe. 

    “We lost both our fathers over a nine-month period,” John told Sync NI. “My wife’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

    “He was able to prepare for his death and was always a very meticulous man anyway. He was able to detail exactly the funeral home he wanted, the hymns, readings, who was to read the eulogy - every detail was specified. Although that didn’t diminish the grief for his family, it helped them greatly because nine months later, my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. 

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    “We had basically the sharp contrast then between the two - from a well-planned, detailed death in which the person was able to indicate their wishes to the family and then a complete contrast where the family basically didn’t know any wishes.

    “My father and I were incredibly close and spoke every day, but we spoke about fun things, never death! We’re not unique in that respect. When the phone call came, I couldn’t even think about whether my father wanted burial or cremation. 

    “He had a will but it deals with the distribution of assets, not the basic things that you need to decide at the time of someone’s death. My wife and I thought, there must be a way to improve this for your loved ones.”

    ‘Not a replacement for a will’

    John added that many people may have relevant information in the event of their death on their computers, but such data is often locked behind passwords and isn’t as easy to readily update.

    He reckons that “over 66% of adults never make a will and of those that do, it’s often very outdated by the time they pass.”

    “When you’re talking about death, it’s a very emotive subject,” he continued. “People find it incredibly difficult to approach... The app provides a tool to share [wishes] with your loved ones without having a conversation you maybe don’t want to have.

    "It’s counter-intuitive, when you’re thinking about your own mortality you think it has to be a depressing thing, but it’s actually quite uplifting.”

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    Since its inception, the app has evolved and John maintains it is to ensure the simplest of things are taken care of for a loved one.

    “Because of our own experiences it initially focused purely on funeral wishes. Very quickly we received feedback from people asking about medical wishes, so we’ve updated the app now to accommodate that.

    “The app is not trying to replace a living will,” he insisted. “The app is trying to keep things simple for people so for example with medical wishes, people automatically think of euthanasia or something complex or legalistic. 

    “What we mean by medical wishes is, if you find yourself ill in hospital and incapacitated, instead of listening to the constant beep of a machine, would you prefer to listen to your favourite artist? Would you prefer the light on or light off? Would you prefer a particular fragrance to be in the room? 

    “As human beings, simple things in life give us pleasure. Death has become very complicated and legal-based. We think that in order to prepare for death, it has to involve a solicitor, money or both. The reality is, that it doesn’t. We can help ourselves and our loved ones by sharing simple things that might not seem big but make a huge difference.”

    Keeping finances in your family

    Since 2011, all major high street banks have transferred unclaimed accounts into the UK government’s Dormant Assets Scheme to use for various charitable causes. 

    £600m has been claimed to date and the government’s intention is to expand this scheme to include forgotten insurance and share accounts.

    It is thus estimated that families will be losing forgotten assets with a value in excess of £2bn.

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    John noted that while donating to charity is a good idea, many people would much prefer their money to be in the hands of their loved ones that quite often need the financial support, and added that this is a large part of why the app is free. 

    “We didn’t want someone to not be able to access it because of financial reasons,” John explained. “What gives us comfort, is the fact that we know that every single person that uses the app will benefit from it.”

    In December, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned that “serious concerns” about the clarity of funeral costs remained, but added that the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed legislation to set out price controls. 

    The competition watchdog wants the government to set up an independent inspection and registration regime for funeral director services, and a report in 2020 by insurer SunLife suggested the average cost of a basic funeral has risen by more than 9% in a year in some regions, with the cost typically amounting to £4,417. 

    John noted that this is something he and Louise also took into consideration and they have even received support from SAIF - the national Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, who want families to ‘shop around’ and feel the Listpals app can help them do that.

    “They want people to think about their funeral and understand the variation in price is enormous,” added John. “You don’t want your loved ones - as I did - finding themselves having to pick a funeral director within a few hours’ notice.”

    Younger people are appreciating mortality more

    According to research from the fintech company Farewill, in 2020 the biggest generational increase in will writing was from Gen Z, with 465% more people writing a will than the previous year, followed by millennials, who saw an increase of 298%. 

    Echoing these statistics, John said, “I think there’s a younger generation now that appreciates how important it is that their own personality is reflected in day-to-day-life and beyond that; younger people because of Covid, are now thinking about their mortality, when in previous generations the only other time they would have done that would be during wartime.”

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    With the coronavirus crisis and the impact it is having on the public’s mental health, with many expressing feelings of helplessness, John even hopes that through Listpals people can feel they have some sense of control over their lives - and eventual deaths. 

    He mused that “although we can’t cheat death, we can make it work in our favour in a way” and bring immense comfort to loved ones through making post-mortem wishes known so that it isn’t an extra worry on top of their grieving process. 

    The Magee couple hope that their Listpals ‘project’ as they call it will help people “start seeing things differently in terms of what’s important, who’s important and what you should be prioritising.”

    John added that for Louise and himself, that was a “learning exercise”. 

    For more info on the Listpals app, and help with approaching the matter of discussing death with family and loved ones, visit the Listpals website here.

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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