Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Have you given any thought to your digital afterlife?" - January 27, 2017

So much of our lives is online now, we have to plan our digital estate as carefully as we plan the distribution of our property and funds after we die.

All our family bills come to me by email it seems, and I pay all the bills online.  What is quick and routine for me now would be a new task for my wife should I pass unexpectedly. She’d have to spend time calling each vendor seeking the balances and how to pay.

For that reason I have setup my Google email account to email my wife with my Gmail password. Should I go inactive for a period of time I set, Google emails me.  Should I fail to respond to that email, they will email my wife with my account access information.

I am reminded monthly I have this setup in case I want to make any changes.

I can have a document in Google Drive that I update periodically with information that I want her to have. I can set a reminder in my task program to review and edit that document periodically. 

As for the passwords and URLs to the various bills I pay each month, I store those in Lastpass, a secure password vault.

That lets me keep my passwords in one secure digital vault. I can access all of them by remembering just one password.  It has a free level of service, and the premium is $12 a year.

Lastpass’s Emergency Access lets a loved one request access to your passwords.  You are immediately notified of the request, and can decline the request.

On the other hand, if you fail to respond in a time interval you have designated, they receive access to your vault and all the passwords.  The loved one must have a Lastpass account, but that is free.

Once they have access to your passwords they have access to your emails so they can receive online bills. And they know the passwords to sites like Dominion Power and Washington Gas so they can pay the bills and keep the utilities on.

Loved ones will also have access to your photos if they are stored online. They can easily download those and move them to their own accounts.

They will likely want to keep your Amazon account current too.  When you purchase Kindle books, music, movies and TV shows, you are not purchasing the actual content, but rather a license to consume that content.

You can’t will an ebook to someone since you don’t actually own the book.  The license to ebooks, music and video content are managed by the company you purchased the content from. Should that company disappear, so too would access to that content.

To keep Uncle Jay’s streaming music service and his collection of classic movies, you will need to keep his Amazon (or iTunes, Google Play etc.) account active. From what I can find online, Amazon accounts do not expire.  Policies can change, so loved ones should perhaps change the active email address on accounts like Amazon to their own email addresses so they will see warnings should accounts close due to inactivity.

It wouldn’t hurt to log in and then out of each of those accounts every month or two.

This is all presupposing companies like Amazon and Google will still be around when we are not. Even if they are not, we will be using someone’s online services when we go, so it is a good idea when signing up for a new service to have a plan for alerting loved ones of the existence of the service, the kind of content you have on the service and how they can access the service.

Finally, think about the social sites you regularly visit.  When you pass, they will show your failure to post and your online friends will wonder what became of you. Give loved ones the ability to log into those accounts as well, so they can let your online friends know of your passing.  A couple of years ago a friend from my 30s posted his joy at being part of a sailboat crew ferrying a boat to Bermuda.

He must have shared his login credentials with his parents, because a week later they posted to his account the sad news of his having been swept overboard and lost at sea.

Facebook even has a way to turn your page into an “In Memoriam” page.  These pages remain but can’t be added to. Nor does your birthday appear in reminders. I accidently wished a friend a happy birthday one year, forgetting he’d passed a couple years before. Had his family known about memorializing the page, this wouldn’t have happened.

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