It has been said that no one escapes from this world alive as death is the great equalizer. As adults we are aware of the importance of taking care of our physical estate by preparing wills or living trusts and then designating people in whom we trust to take care of our affairs once we shuffle off this mortal coil. That is all fine and good, but have you considered what happens to your digital data once you have taken your last breath?
Email accounts, social networks, and even your phone may contain data that you do not wish to be shared with your friends and family. Here are five steps that you can take now to make sure that your digital affairs are in order before the grim reaper comes knocking.
- Create A List: Make a list of all the websites that you frequent and the passwords that are used to access them. Don't forget about the sites that you use for online banking or in which to make payments such as your phone bill. Take the time during this process to also do some digital housekeeping by using this as an opportunity to delete accounts on sites you no longer use. Haven't updated that MySpace page since college? Get rid of it now! Once the list is put together consider keeping it on an encrypted USB thumb drive or in the cloud and update it every time you change passwords or start using new websites.
- Know the policies of the sites you visit: In order to know what options are available for your data after death you need to know what the policies are for the sites you visit frequently. For example, Facebook allows one of three actions to be applied to your profile once you pass. Your page can become a memorial site, it may be completely removed, or it may be left open. Under no circumstance will Facebook give out your log in information. Google, however, will allow others to retrieve your login information but requires several lengthy and detailed steps before access is granted.
- Designate a Digital Executor: Designating a Digital Executor of your online ‘estate' is not quite as easy as it may seem at first glance. There may be things in your accounts or on your devices that you would prefer that your immediate family not see. Your executor needs to be someone you trust but is also technologically savvy enough to understand the instructions you leave behind. You may choose to have several individuals perform different tasks but you need to have one individual coordinate the process.
- Create a Digital Will: Just like a traditional will, your digital will spells out what you want done with your data after you have died. Not only should your digital will contain specific instructions on what to do with your online accounts and data devices, it should also contain information on any photos and writings that you have created over the years. Even if you were not a professional writer or photographer you should designate who will take ownership of these files after your death because in most cases your personal creations and intellectual property will maintain copyright for 50 years.
- Consider Using a Paid Service: Many online services have been created specifically to address the issue of your digital life after death. Most require a nominal fee and will automate many if not all of the tasks that have been outlined in this article. While somewhat creepy, some of the newer entrants into this niche also use automated algorithms to determine if you are dead or alive. Three of the more popular websites dedicated to preserving your afterlife privacy are:
Although it will be many years before estate laws catch up with the digital revolution, you can take these steps now to ensure that your data is treated in the manner in which you like after you are gone. Although digital wills, digital executors, and online digital will services are not legally binding on their own, your estate planner or attorney can have these documents incorporated into your legal will.
Do you have any questions on preparing for your digital afterlife? Ask away on our Facebook page!
C Robert Dillon is the digital developer at WISH-TV in Indianapolis and serves as a technology consultant and on-air contributor to WISH as well as the technology expert and host of the Taming Technology segment on Indy Style. Opinions presented are those of the author and not necessarily of LIN Media, WISH-TV, or Indy Style. You can keep up with Rob on Twitter , Facebook , or Google+ .
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