SDN Team
Author - SDN Team

Unfortunate circumstances could occur at any given instance — we will never know when we might lose a loved one. At that point of time, many would be at a loss of what to do.

Service Design Award 2019 Finalist Project

Journey: A Post Death Settlements Service - By Carina Lim, Mireille Lee, and Zhang Hanwen

Category: Student / National University of Singapore (NUS)

Client: Government / Ministry

Location: Singapore

Introduction

Unfortunate circumstances could occur at any given instance — we will never know when we might lose a loved one. At that point of time, many would be at a loss of what to do. On top of enduring emotional grief, executors and administrators have the additional responsibility of settling the deceased’s estate.

This typically includes matters such as closing or transferring ownership of properties, bank accounts, and other services such as telco and utility accounts. Hence, in Singapore, post death settlements is a complicated process that involves multiple service providers in both government and private sectors.

In order to find out what to do, one has to go through a tedious process: getting information on where to find the will; contacting legal services to get rights of the deceased’s accounts; browsing through wordy, unclear and fragmented sources of information; and calling service providers to clarify vague or unavailable administrative processes.

Furthermore, as most of the actual regulatory work is done manually in Singapore, extra time has to be allocated for visits to the bank or relevant government agencies.

Besides the sheer number of tasks, executors usually have no guidance or point of reference when it comes to estimating how long these processes will usually take, or how to properly plan for such scenarios. To make matters even worse, they would have to do this while navigating their own grief, and the sensitive nature of talking to family members about the financial matters or practical concerns after losing a loved one.

Therefore, our challenge was to create an efficient and seamless service of post-death settlements for citizens in Singapore, which would ultimately provide guidance and assurance for this responsibility during critical moments.

Stakeholder Map
Stakeholder Map

Journey informs and simplifies the post death settlement process for executors and administrators. Designing for an ecosystem of online and offline touchpoints to suit real life contexts, Journey serves as a companion for executors to understand the overall scope of their tasks, and how to complete them.

It comprises of a pocket-sized information booklet, a physical file, and an online portal that provides step-by-step guidance, stakeholder coordination between family members and service providers, as well as financial management.

After having many conversations surrounding death and grief, we strongly believe that such a service would aid the emotional wellbeing of executors in fulfilling the remaining wishes of their loved one.

Process

We began the process with desk research and personal walkthroughs as we wanted to experience first-hand what it was like being in the position of our target user. As online resources was one of the most accessible tools to individuals, we looked at the information provided by the different service providers online.

For service providers that did not provide comprehensive information on how to terminate or transfer accounts, we called their respective hotlines to enquire more. From this process, we identified pain points and mapped out each service provider’s procedure on an information architecture diagram.

After diverging and exploring all potential tasks, we conducted 4 in-depth interviews with previous executors and administrators to dive deep into their stories and real-life experiences. Here, we asked questions in 4 main domains: administrative processes, financial inflows and outflows, communication with family and friends, and emotional well being.

As conversations about the loss of loved ones may be sensitive and emotional, we had to be delicate in our use of methods — to be comforting and less intrusive.

We used design aids to prompt and remind users of the different aspects in their post death settlement journey, as we assumed not everyone would recall its entirety. In addition, we also conducted several expert interviews with our client and other stakeholders to better understand their needs and concerns. Particularly, we sought a lawyer’s opinion on how this service would fit into the legal space, since they typically begin the executor’s journey as they retrieve the will.

We then gathered the information we had consolidated thus far and developed insights through affinity mapping. This was an efficient way to group and organise the findings from our desk research and interviews, and allowed us to quickly discern patterns. We also created a user journey map that reflected some of the common mentalities faced by executors.

Next, we began ideating concepts for this service, and made dirty prototypes of some features we believed would be useful. We then conducted 2 co-design workshops to get feedback on the key features and functions necessary for our solution. Keeping in mind the emotional heaviness of this topic, we had to provide an environment where participants felt comfortable sharing with us their own experiences and thoughts.

The first workshop consisted of 5 participants with some prior knowledge on post-death settlements. Here, we were more focused on what digital features were necessary as part of the online platform, and how emotionally intrusive the service should be.

As most of them were vaguely familiar with the general process, we wanted to find out more about what they would use, and how they would categorise the different features into an all-in-one platform. As such, we provided wireframe templates and conducted exercises to see how users would design their own online platform.

We also gave participants different screen options with different degrees of emotional intrusiveness and asked about their preferences. This ranged from a simple encouraging quote, to an emotional assessment quiz that gave participants customised grieving advice.

Meanwhile, the second workshop consisted of 4 participants with no prior knowledge on post death settlements. This workshop focused more on what was the best way to introduce such a service to individuals during critical moments, and was more exploratory in terms of developing solutions beyond digital screens.

Here, we paid more attention to creating a sober atmosphere to mimic the loss of losing a loved one. We gave participants time to think about someone they might have lost in the past, or to imagine a scenario where someone they loved passed away. A melancholic tune was also subtly played in the background.

For this workshop, we asked participants what they believed would be most helpful for them as a first touchpoint by card sorting and prioritising what information was most necessary. We then explored how these tasks could be seamlessly accomplished through any kind of means or method, allowing them to be more exploratory and experimental with potential solutions.

Hence, we gained perspectives from 2 different kinds of participants - one group that was more well-informed about the post death settlement process, and one group with no prior knowledge.. We then consolidated our findings from both co-design workshops, and developed more insights.

From here, we were clear that we wanted to create a service that would allow executors to collaborate with family members to manage their time, tasks and financials effectively, while keeping in mind emotional well being. This service would have both offline and online touchpoints, so as to match real-life moments when executors needed guidance without the hassle of signing in to a platform.

Next, we brainstormed on the design language, tone, and style of the service, and begun designing clickable prototypes. Similar to the co-design workshops, we conducted user testing with 5 participants who were familiar with post death settlements, and 5 participants who were not.

For the former, we asked them to explore the platform’s features to see if they would use them. For the latter, we asked them to perform specific tasks on the platform to see if the experience was intuitive, seamless, and understandable. At this point, we also presented our findings and progress with our client to make sure we were headed towards the right direction and addressed their concerns. Finally, after multiple rounds of iteration, we landed on the final version of Journey.

Insights

Here are some of the insights that informed our design decisions.
01 Lack of Guidance

  • Executors are generally unclear of what they have to do, and how to do it.
  • Information online is fragmented, extremely wordy, and sometimes unavailable. As a result, they have to call various service providers and constantly repeat themselves to figure out next steps, which adds to their emotional burden.
  • “ I didn’t know what to do so I had to hire a lawyer”.
  • “ It was kind of frustrating that I had to keep repeating myself… about how I had just lost someone”.

02 Lack of Clarity

  • Executors are not aware of the entire scope of the process, making it hard to plan or prepare for.
  • “ It was like a year in limbo, just having surprise mail at your doorstep telling you what you had to do”.
  • “ I couldn’t use the CPF money to pay for the funeral because I didn’t know it would take 3 months to come”.

03 Ease of Communication is Subjective

  • Details about the deceased’s estate is a sensitive topic, and some families may not feel as comfortable sharing such information.
  • However, coordination between the involved parties is necessary for certain tasks.
  • “ Until now, I don’t really know the total value of my brother’s estate, but it’s too sensitive for me to ask his wife”.

04 Not Just What, But Why

  • Instructions and to-do-lists were not enough for most users. In fact, this may open up even more questions. Instead, they wanted to know the reasons why certain tasks had to be performed in a certain way.
  • “ Why do I have to go to the bank with a co-executor?”

05 Subtle Care and Support

  • However, care and emotional grieving support should be kept subtle, as executors tend to keep administrative tasks separate from emotional griefing.
  • Correspondingly, the language and words used should also be concise and straightforward.
  • “If I went online to settle these tasks, it might be more painful to receive sympathetic emotional support as I was not ready to reflect on the loss.”

Outcome and Solution

01 Pocket-Sized Information Booklet:

This book outlines the basics of estate settlement, and gives a suggested timeline to guide executors through the lengthy process. It enables individuals to better estimate and plan for the different tasks, and how to begin. Blank pages in the booklet allow for note-taking on the go, and the booklet can also be kept easily in their wallet as an offline reference.

02 Journey File:

As many post-death settlement procedures are still offline and manual, the file serves as a convenient tool to organise and carry around necessary hardcopy documents such as death certificates.

03 Online Platform:

For Users

The online platform provides executors with customisable step-by-step guidance, allows for coordination between involved family members, and has a financial calculator tool that lets users record down expenses incurred by each family member.

While signing up, executors connect their family unit. The homepage will then depict a recommended timeline based on their goal, which allows for adjustments based on their schedule and preferences. Each task will occupy its own tab on the platform for easy access, and Journey breaks them down into actionable steps.

For Service Providers

Journey also acts as an official platform for service providers to provide updated information on administrative procedures. This provides users a credible source of information that is connected to their accounts.

04 Landing Page

Without creating an account, individuals can also access Journey’s Landing Page, which provides a general overview of the post death settlements process. This provides other users who may not be going through the process at that point of time to potentially prepare for critical moments.

05 Video

A video to explain the service was also created.
(Journey)

Benefit and Impact

Journey is an all-in-one platform that enables the different stakeholders of post death settlements a seamless way to communicate and manage tasks in an emotionally difficult time. Currently, we believe that there is no such all-in-one service provided by a government institution in the world. Hence, Journey provides a new use-case of how service design can help to create a post death settlement process in a citizen-centric manner, bridging the gap between public and private sector collaboration.

For Executors or Administrators

  • Able to take each task according to their own pace, which can complement each individual’s personal grieving process
  • Cognitive burden of sourcing for what to do and having to constantly repeat themselves about the loss of a loved one is removed
  • Sense of assurance after completing each task
  • Able to connect with involved family members
  • Keep track of financial inflow and outflows

For Involved Family Members

  • Able to stay updated on the post death settlement progress without being intrusive
  • Receive reminders on when to accompany executor for certain procedures via text messaging

For Service Providers

  • Able to update procedural information easily, which means that changes in procedures will have a more seamless transition
  • Can provide detailed information without having to talk about death explicitly on their own platforms

For Society

  • Journey acts as an integrated platform that combines both government and private sectors for a seamless process, enabling collaboration networks between both sectors

Conclusion

In conclusion, this project was an eye-opening experience that opened up conversations around death and grief. It was challenging to dip our toes into a topic that is traditionally seen as taboo and sensitive, but being able to talk to individuals and hear their challenges made this project even more rewarding.

As there have not been many products or services created around and for death, we sincerely hope that Journey will be able to ease executors and administrators with the confidence to fulfill the last wishes of their loved ones. While this service was designed for Singapore, we believe that the design concept is scalable and can be applied to other countries as well.

Special Thanks
We are extremely grateful to our professor for her guidance and encouragement throughout this entire process. Next, we would also like to thank the collaborators from our client’s agency for providing us with insider knowledge and an extremely meaningful challenge.

We would also like to send thanks to all the interviewees and co-design participants for sharing with us their personal stories and traumas to better understand this topic.

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