Wednesday, January 22, 2020
The majority of Americans have not planned for their ultimate end, and especially do not usually do so in their 20's. The journal Health Affairs found that in 2017 only one in three US adults have an advance directive, including a living will with end-of-life medical instructions, power of attorney naming a person responsible for last affairs, or both. The National Funeral Directors Association states that only 21% of Americans have spoken to their family or loved ones about their wishes.
Journalist Jessica Mitford wrote a book about the funeral industry in 1963, finding that consumers only interacted with the funeral industry on average every 14 years, and then only under duress. There was a veil over the business and people were not aware of the choices available until it was left up to their loved ones after they passed. Now social media, digital applications and websites started by a younger generation are changing how Americans as a whole view death.
From WeCroak, an app that spurs you to live in the moment by reminding you 5 times a day that you will perish, to Deadhappy, a pay-as-you-go life insurance company, the death industry is evolving and modernizing. Sites like Funeralocity provide comparative pricing for funeral home services by zip code so people do not have to physically enter nor call the businesses to get quotes. Patrick Schmitt, the co-founder of FreeWill, says that the number of people age 18 to 24 crafting wills is low, but shoots up among 25- to 44-year-olds.
Phil Olson, a technology ethicist at Virginia Tech specializing in death studies, says that “Millennials want their uniqueness or their quirkiness to come out in their final act." But there may be a darker, more finalistic point of view to it - “It’s a way of exercising control over death,” he says. “It’s a way of coming to grips with your own mortality — to think about it and plan for it and try to make it your own.”
See Eleanor Cummins, Why Millennials are the “Death Positive” Generation, Vox, January 22, 2019.
Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.