So said Marcus Aurelius. Today’s short article is about what happens after you die. We’re all aware of the importance of making a will, particularly if you have dependants. But that’s primarily for your analogue, offline life. What about your digital life?
In a recent TechCrunch article, Jon Evans writes:
I really wish I hadn’t had cause to write this piece, but it recently came to my attention, in an especially unfortunate way, that death in the modern era can have a complex and difficult technical aftermath. You should make a will, of course. Of course you should make a will. But many wills only dictate the disposal of your assets. What will happen to the other digital aspects of your life, when you’re gone?Jon Evans
The article points to a template for a Digital Estate Planning Document which you can use to list all of the places that you’re active. Interestingly, the suggestion is to have a ‘digital executor’, which makes sense as the more technical you are the more likely that other members of your family might not be able to follow your instructions.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on digital wills has some very specific advice of which the above-mentioned document is only a part:
- Appoint someone as online executor
- State in a formal document how profiles and accounts are handled
- Understand privacy policies
- Provide online executor list of websites and logins
- State in the will that the online executor must have a copy of the death certificate
I hadn’t really thought about this, but the chances of identity theft after someone has died are as great, if not greater, as when they were alive:
An article by Magder in the newspaper The Gazette provides a reminder that identity theft can potentially continue to be a problem even after death if their information is released to the wrong people. This is why online networks and digital executors require proof of a death certificate from a family member of the deceased person in order to acquire access to accounts. There are instances when access may still be denied, because of the prevalence of false death certificates.Wikipedia
Zooming out a bit, and thinking about this from my own perspective, it’s a good idea to insist on good security practices for your nearest and dearest. Ensure they know how to use password managers and use two-factor authentication on their accounts. If they do this for themselves, they’ll understand how to do it with your accounts when you’re gone.
One thing it’s made think about is the length of time for which I renew domain names. I tend to just renew mine (I have quite a few) on a yearly basis. But what if the worst happened? Those payment details would be declined, and my sites would be offline in a year or less.
All of this makes me think that the important thing here is to keep things as simple as possible. As I’ve discussed in another article, the way people remember us after we’re gone is kind of important.
Most of us could, I think, divide our online life into three buckets:
- Really important to my legacy
- Kind of important
- Not important
So if, for example, I died tomorrow, the domain renewal for Thought Shrapnel lapsed next year, and a scammer took it over, that would be terrible. It’s part of the reason why I still renew domains I don’t use. So this would go in the ‘really important to my legacy’ bucket.
On the other hand, my experiments with various tools and platforms I’m less bothered about. They would probably go in the ‘not important’ bucket.
Ultimately, it’s a conversation to have with those close to you. For me, it’s on my mind after the death of a good friend and so something I should get to before life goes back to some version of normality. After all, figuring out someone else’s digital life admin is the last thing people want when they’re already dealing with grief.