Afterlife: How To Protect Your Digital Legacy

Death isn’t something many people are comfortable talking about, but it’s become more and more evident that planning for it is a wise move. You work hard to be able to live the life you want, and planning for contingencies in this case isn’t daring death to ‘come for you.’ It’s taking the time to pragmatically think things out, and then take control of how your personal, professional, and digital assets can be taken care of. Just in case.

Related article:  Disaster Recovery and Your Business

For a quick background context, here are four articles highlighting the issues people have encountered when they lost loved ones:

  • Don’t Let Your Husband Take His Passwords to the Grave (Leslie Milk , Washingtonian)
    “I told my email provider my husband died. Then they locked me out of our account. “
  • What Happens After A Hacker Dies (Patricia Hernandez, Kotaku)
    “On December 2014, Michael Hamelin, a hacker and physicist, died in an unfortunate car crash. He is survived by his wife, a scientist named Beth Hamelin—who not only has to deal with the grief that comes with a loved one passing on, but also has to manage the intense security measures that Hamelin left behind.”
  • Here is another viewpoint on the same family: Dealing With The Digital Afterlife Of A Hacker (Patrick Howell O’Neill, DailyDot.com)
  • Death leaves online lives in limbo (Peter Svensson, USAToday.com)
    “When Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father’s gaming friends know that he hadn’t just decided to desert them.”

You have an on-line life as well as an offline life — don’t leave your family or business twisting in the wind by ignoring one in favor of the other, or by sticking your head in the sand. It’s neither good business practice nor well-thought out to do so.With the way we live, things are too  interconnected to “just leave it to God” and “hope for the best.”   And hope alone has never been a strategy.

The original inspiration for this article, Legacy Locker: Dealing With The Other Side of Your Online Identity, was originally published online in 2008. Since then, Legacy Locker was absorbed into Passwordbox, which is now TrueKey. Another service mentioned, Deathswitch, shut down, and in its wake, other services like SecretValet and Emailfromdeath.com sprouted up.

Even with online services, you won’t be able to predict the longevity of some companies, but that’s okay. Planning to take care of your digital estate is only one side of the equation, so you have room to move. Don’t go into the rabbit hole of what-if. This is a guide to help you develop clarity about what you have, and how you want that taken care of in case the worst happens.

Look at it this way: Just because you know how things work in your life does not mean even the people closest to you know how you do things, or are aware of exactly what you do, or what you want done with your assets if you die. This sort of estate planning helps you figure out what you want to happen in case the worst happens. By making advance directives, your ‘stuff’ gets taken care of properly and according to your wishes, with the least amount of fuss and stress possible.

 

Now the links mentioned above are mostly based on making personal preparations, but you also have to consider your responsibilities as a business owner. ‘Death and taxes,’  after all. There are contingencies you need to think of and legalities to consider. This is the last way you’ll ever be able to take care of those you leave behind. Dropping the ball here can mean so many things for them, none of it good, and it will mean leaving problems on top of the loss.

Make sure you have trustworthy experts in business, tax, and estate law to help you design  and put a legal structure in place (wills, power of attorney — by the way, there are different kinds of POA for business and medical reasons) that will help protect your assets (financial, physical,  business and personal, online and offline.)

 

As for online assets, you have to consider what happens “when an account owner dies.” Just look at the following examples.
Google Services
Plan your digital afterlife with Inactive Account Manager  (Official  Google Public Policy Blog )
Google Death: A Tool to Take Care of Your Gmail When You’re Gone (Rebecca Rosen, The Atlantic)
About inactive account manager (Official Google Support)
Submit a request regarding a deceased user’s account (Official Google Support)

Facebook
How to Delete a Deceased Loved One’s Facebook Page (NBC)
Here’s What Happens to Your Facebook Account After You Die (Jack Linshi, TIME)
What is a legacy contact on Facebook? (Official Facebook.com Help Center)

Twitter
Contacting Twitter about a deceased or incapacitated user (Official Twitter Help)
How To Close A Twitter Account When Someone Dies (Everplan)

How To Close Online Accounts And Services When Someone Dies (Everplan).  This huge list (180 digital and some non-digital services) provides step-by-step instructions on how to close your accounts.

What happens to Facebook, Twitter, Google accounts and data when you die? (Mike Bedford,TechAdvisor)

Thinking about our eventual, inescapable mortality can put things in a very stark perspective. Planning and preparing for it is a lot of work, but it is necessary, and the work you put into it now, while you’re stable and healthy, will pay off not for  only you, but for what you leave behind for those important to you.

One last resource.
The all-in-one solution provider, Everplans, has been around since 2012, and the company has made a name for itself providing planning services for individuals and businesses. An Everplan “is a complete archive of everything your loved ones will need should something happen to you.”

You can find numerous helpful articles and various topics (from motivation to digital estate handling) and important documents on their website, and you can even get a free state planning checklist by signing up here.

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