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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2001
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    What do you do when a client dies?

    This is a somber subject, but one that we've had to deal with probably a 1/2 dozen times over the past few years. As you know, there are a lot of clients that you talk with about more than just hosting and get to "know" on more than a client/host basis. When a client dies, I couldn't care less about the financial loss - but I want to do the right thing for everyone involved.

    When a customer dies, who is a reseller, their customers almost always contact us for help. They need access to their logins, tech support, billing information, etc. in order to keep things online. What I've been doing is Googling the relevant information on our client (finding the obituary in their local online news source) to confirm their passing. I then check the WHOIS and, if its not in our client's name, I will create a billing account for whoever is listed and separate the account from the resold account. I then consider that person to be the account owner.

    So far, this has always worked out and allowed our deceased customer's clients to continue with their hosting account. Since most of the clients are grieving, I try to make this as painless as possible for them.

    Now, here comes the sticky part. As I said, I don't care if we gain a new client (or several) in this manner...we don't really need a few extra clients and benefitting from someone's death just doesn't sit right with me. Also, and this has never happened, what if our client has a contingency in place for in the event of his death? What if he has a will that says "If I die, this is what needs to happen with my clients." As you know, clients are definitely considered an asset in this industry. I've suddenly found myself in the position of trying to determine how to distribute those assets.

    Anyway, just curious on other opinions, policies and suggestions. Thanks!

    --Tina
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2006
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    Florida, USA
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    Tina,

    I would say that if your client is running a legitimate business (Inc, LLC, etc) then the clients remain the property of that company. Will or no will.

    If there's a will in place, then there will be an "executor of will" who will be in charge of distributing assets (in this case the business/clients) to the family estate.

    This is how we would handle it:

    1) Contact the Executor of the will and see what direction they are heading in.
    2) If they don't have a will but there's a legitimate business, contact the next in charge for that company and let him/her know how sorry you are for their loss and then slip in there what they want to do with the clients/billing.
    3) If there's no will, no family, and no company then I would say the clients that want to stay would be yours as long as they agree to your service and prices.

    Interesting dilemma though.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2001
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    West Michigan, USA
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    Quote Originally Posted by TCP/IP Warrior
    Tina,

    I would say that if your client is running a legitimate business (Inc, LLC, etc) then the clients remain the property of that company. Will or no will.

    If there's a will in place, then there will be an "executor of will" who will be in charge of distributing assets (in this case the business/clients) to the family estate.

    This is how we would handle it:

    1) Contact the Executor of the will and see what direction they are heading in.
    2) If they don't have a will, contact the next in charge for that company and let him know how sorry you are for their loss and then slip in there what they want to do with the clients/billing.
    3) If there's no will, no family, and no company then I would say the clients that want to stay would be yours as long as they agree to your service and prices.

    Interesting dilemma though.
    I can see that making sense if we're talking about a dedicated server client with 100s of accounts (which has happened - and we did what you suggested). However, all but one time, its been a reseller with a few accounts and hardly worth going through all of that. It just always makes me wonder what everyone else does in this situation. Its a position I never like to be in, especially when dealing with people who are emotionally upset/grieving and in a somewhat desperate situation (trying to get control of their account).

    --Tina
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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
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    I guess it depends on the customer's will, and if they have one.

    Alot of this depends on the legal system of the country of the customer.
    In the event of no will, in my country the assets of the desceased normally pass to the spouse or the children (im not sure which). I guess really what you need to do i contact the executer of will (or who ever is now incharge of the deceased estate before it is distributed) and i guess you could either offer take over the running of the deceased business in return for a monthly management charge or to buy the clients off them for a sum you would agree, if they didnt want to either and the clients came to you treat them as a new customer for yourself.

    Disclaimer: some of this may be completly wrong - im not a lawyer

  5. #5
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    Well, here's another thing to throw into the mix. Wills, estates and probate takes FOREVER to be processed. You could literally be waiting for a year before everything is all sorted out. In the meantime, what do you do? As a host, I feel a sense of responsibility to the clients that are stuck in limbo - but on the other hand, I can't afford to host a reseller at no charge indefinitely.

    --Tina
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  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Florida, USA
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    Tina,
    with a few accounts and hardly worth going through all of that
    I would think that an asset is an asset no matter how small it seems to the host.
    What we think is small might not be in the eyes of a court. For example:
    1 small reseller with who is only reselling 5 websites at $10/month each. Over the course of 1 year that's $600 which in the US would be grand larceny (their attorney would have to prove other things in conjunction with this in order for the charge to stick but to me it's not worth the hassle). Not something to just brush aside.

    Due to possible legal exposure both civil and criminal, our organization would try to exhaust all means before grabbing the clients.

    [EDIT]
    Wills, estates and probate takes FOREVER to be processed
    Good point. I see where you are coming from now.
    [END EDIT]
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  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Location
    The Stars!
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    This certainly is a touchy subject however, it is a good question!

    I would say it should be handled similar to when a reseller just disappears for no reason, this seems to happen often enough these days. If the the resellers customer has contacted you directly, they made the first move to get their account details and seek other options. It would be no different than if they went to another hosting company and moved during this same time of deceased reseller or mia reseller. If you make the first contact to the clients, than I can see how the courts or you may be legally in trouble, as of course your TOS and other agreements probably forbid you from doing so. But if they make first contact than you aren't really distributing their assets, as they are the ones initiating the change to your hosting company or even to another if they choose to do so. Especially if they have the login details to their hosting account, than it really would be no different than moving from one hosting company to another, simply that billing is changing hands if they are staying with the parent company.

    In the case of a one man or women business, taking 1 year for the will and estate to be processed would render all hosting customers in a position to either move to another hosting company or take up hosting with the parent company, especially if the main reseller account gets suspended. If it is a company with employees able to assist customers with their choices and information, than the resellers customers probably will not contact you, unless it becomes necessary.
    Sarah :c)

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  8. #8
    Hello,

    Yes there should be will in case of the sudden demise of clients stating that "On my death, this should happen to my clients". And also there should be some governing body to take the control in such cases.

    Thank you.

    Regards,

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
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    Goleta, CA
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    That reminds me. I should actually make a will.
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  10. #10
    Join Date
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    West Michigan, USA
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    Quote Originally Posted by hostechsupport
    Hello,

    Yes there should be will in case of the sudden demise of clients stating that "On my death, this should happen to my clients". And also there should be some governing body to take the control in such cases.

    Thank you.

    Regards,

    There should, but there never is.

    --Tina
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  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
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    London, United Kingdom
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    Quote Originally Posted by TCP/IP Warrior
    I would think that an asset is an asset no matter how small it seems to the host.
    What we think is small might not be in the eyes of a court. For example:
    1 small reseller with who is only reselling 5 websites at $10/month each. Over the course of 1 year that's $600 which in the US would be grand larceny
    Depends on your ToS, as non-payment of service (which sometimes happens in these events) is usually cause for contract termination. At which point its no longer their asset.

    We've had it a couple of times, one client with a number of servers just didnt pay one month, emails unanswered, phonecalls to the number we had not picked up, the end-users ringing for support, complain or move. Eventually we were called by their son asking what all these payments to us on their bank statements were - the family had no idea what a web host even was, let alone that they effectively "owned" one by inheritance - we bought the remaining clientbase from them, which added to the estates value a little.

    With a reseller account we leave it a month or so and then try and contact the end-clients to offer assitance with a move to another host or integration into our existing services in the event of the resellers vanishing for whatever reason. many of our resellers we know quite well, even getting informed when they're away on holiday etc, so become aware when communication lapses.
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  12. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
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    I think this is a great question! Speaking to the responses about a will and an executor, sure, that would be ideal, however I doubt a will is something a host would have access too easily and how would one know who the executor is? I wouldn't think these are questions many people ask during sign ups. We might know our clients very well as far as our business relationship goes but that's usually the extent of it and this type of info isn't something listed in the obit.
    Hosting isn't the only industry that could face a dilemma like this so maybe a simple call to a lawyer friend or even a local probate court would at least get us some sort of answer. Unless a family member/executor/partner knows about and contacts you I don't know how anyone would know what to do. Great question and answers so far, I hope if anyone comes up with something good and definitive they post it here.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by othellotech
    Depends on your ToS, as non-payment of service (which sometimes happens in these events) is usually cause for contract termination. At which point its no longer their asset.

    We've had it a couple of times, one client with a number of servers just didnt pay one month, emails unanswered, phonecalls to the number we had not picked up, the end-users ringing for support, complain or move. Eventually we were called by their son asking what all these payments to us on their bank statements were - the family had no idea what a web host even was, let alone that they effectively "owned" one by inheritance - we bought the remaining clientbase from them, which added to the estates value a little.

    With a reseller account we leave it a month or so and then try and contact the end-clients to offer assitance with a move to another host or integration into our existing services in the event of the resellers vanishing for whatever reason. many of our resellers we know quite well, even getting informed when they're away on holiday etc, so become aware when communication lapses.
    The problem with that is, our client owns the hosting account and all of the files contained within it. If a client doesn't pay, we can't/don't turn over the account to someone else - we simply delete it in its entirety.

    --Tina
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  14. #14
    If the reseller client doesn't pay, for any reason (ie: they are dead), then our TOS states we have the right to contact their clients and ask how they want to proceed.

    (ie: After a month or so of non-payment, the reseller account is considered abondoned. We then will contact the end-users and ask if they want to host with us directly.)

    It's in our TOS, which the reseller agrees to before signing up.
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