Most of us live two lives: our daily lives and our cyber lives. We awake, check our phone, make our coffee, turn on the computer, login to email and Facebook, check financial accounts (trying not to spew coffee at the dip in the market), blog our thoughts, twitter our opinion of the quality of our breakfast, peruse our online calendar, and upload photos to Flickr from last night’s party. Then we get in our car, try not to text, and arrive at work. This could be an outline of our last day on earth. What happens the next day when we aren’t there to login?
Our digital post-mortem has you own that your cyberlife and become a focus in the news and in books (Your Digital Afterlife by Evan Carroll and John Romano) but few clients ask me what to do about their cyberlife. Most conclude our cyberlife ends when we do. You can do nothing and let the bytes fall as they may or you can craft a plan to preserve parts of your cyberlife, give parts of it to others, and delete parts of it forever.
To address the issue, you must determine what information should be conveyed and to whom. Your best recipient may be the Executor of your will though it could be someone else trustworthy. Let’s refer to this person as your Digital Executor or DE. To convey this information to your DE, you could maintain your cyberlife inventory on your computer, which you prudently back up. A good template is provided at www.yourdigitalafterlife.com/resources. Instead you may use a web service, such as www.Entrustet.com, that will store your inventory. You can then update your inventory (or look up forgotten passwords) with ease. The services provide a master password, which you leave with your estate documents for your DE or which is released upon receipt of a death certificate. What constitutes your inventory?
It should include the devices you own that created your cyberlife and passwords to access them. Examples are your mobile phone, iPad, laptop, and home computer.
Next are your email addresses. You must decide whether to release to your DE the password for each account. You may decide some email accounts can go unaccessed and some need attention. Remember too financial accounts: online banking, brokerage, credit card, and payment services, such as PayPal. This knowledge will help the legal Executor collect those assets to be distributed according to your estate plan.
Don’t forget your online social life. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, a blog you write: all have a username and password. Your DE can delete these but services, such as www.Entrustet.com that offers the Account Incinerator, can delete accounts without human action if you prefer they remain private.
Upon notice of your death, Facebook will change your status to “memorialized.” Your account can followers often say that they lose that sense of fogginess, and are able to think more clearly during a detox than when not on it. no longer be accessed. Prior to giving notice to Facebook, your DE could archive the contents for your family.
Gmail has a policy for gaining access to your accounts after you die (should you fail to leave the password with your DE) and so does Twitter, which uniquely offers an archive of your Tweets. Yahoo is much harsher. Yahoo accounts are nontransferable and will be deleted upon notice of your death. Your DE could archive your Yahoo account if he has the password prior to notifying Yahoo (the non-transferability term makes this not quite legal). Youtube does not state what happens to your account but offers guidelines for accessing the account if the owner has died.
You can create your own online memorial. Through www.bcelebrated.com, and www.mywonderfullife.com, you establish an initial profile that others enhance after you die. Some require notification and some will send out three emails to you and if you do not respond, your pre-prepared emails will be delivered. This service could be used by those who are isolated and it could be the trigger for giving your DE the master password to access your inventory document.
The complexities of our cyber afterlife continue to evolve. For now you should in some form make an inventory lest your online “you” be lost forever.
Originally published in Southern Neighbor, January 2012