Get your digital afterlife sorted

Have you ever taken the time to get your digital afterlife sorted? You may have moved on, but your online presence stays intact until someone deletes it for you or you become a digital ghost. A significant and growing part of our life is now in digital format, but when I first wrote the Rest Easy Journal, the web platform Google didn’t even exist! I had to do all my research at the Australian National Library – and there wasn’t much information. Just thirteen years later, when you Google ‘dying well’ there are 227 million results. It’s likely that most of us (and certainly future generations) have more digital records (accounts, photos, web sites, song lists etc.) than we have hard copy – hence the need to get your digital afterlife sorted now.

We have to take control of our digital assets (your digital afterlife) in the same way we would our physical stuff. If you think it’s not really an issue, take Facebook as an example: 428 Facebook users die every hour and in the first 8 years of its existence, 30 million Facebook users died. It’s estimated that if no more people sign up to the social media platform, by 2051 the number of dead users could outnumber the living. The figures haven’t come in for other social media sites like Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google, and what about all those sites who insist you give them your email address before you can access their stuff?

Circle the accounts that you have from the list below to get a quick idea of just how far your digital afterlife will spread. The All Things Online section of the Rest Easy Journal provides a safe way for you to record your digital assets either in hard-copy form or in a fillable form (you type straight into it) that can have an overall security password to restrict access by anyone other than your Digital Executor.

The good news is that your privacy is protected (at the moment) even after your death. Your data cannot be accessed unless a legal order is obtained by your beneficiaries, or you authorise their access before your death. The bad news is that each social media platform has its own rules about how to delete, deactivate, download data and memorialise accounts, so you have to deal with each one separately. If left untouched, most accounts will continue to exist until reported, which can leave them open to hackers who steal your identity. Worse still, family and friends will still receive automatic and scheduled notifications from your account, which can be very distressing.

That’s where the new terms ‘Digital Executor’ and ‘Legacy Contact’ come in – they’re people you appoint to be responsible to act on your behalf regarding your digital assets when you have died. They don’t actually have any legally-binding power or authorisation, but if you understand the requirements of the web-based services and meet them, you can get them to clean up your digital legacy.

Who would make the perfect Digital Executor?
Someone you can trust to respect your privacy and deal with your personal information wisely.
Someone who is technically minded who can work their way through the mire of your digital assets without being stressed.

What will a Digital Executor do?
arrange to close down your accounts
post your last messages (if that’s what you want)
change your digital accounts to memorials
download and pass on your digital artifacts (photos, web sites, youtube stations etc) to your beneficiaries
unsubscribe you from newsletters and email lists

When should you appoint a Digital Executor?
For a Digital Executor to do their job properly, you need to appoint them before you die so you can give them authority to process everything when you are gone and provide a list of your digital assets and how to access them.

Online Digital Executors
As online digital legacy becomes more of a reality, it’s only natural that online digital executor web sites pop up to assist you with managing your digital afterlife. Check out the following sites:

DeadSocial.org and wabiesabie.org (temporarily unavailable) are sites that provide a platform for you to write and manage the posting of email and social media messages after you have died. You create the messages while you are still alive and authorise someone to ‘push’ them when you have gone.

Passpack and Lastpass allow you to store all your logins and passwords in the one place in the Cloud, which can be accessed with the correct login details after you have died.

Important note: There are some things to consider before you take the online management option. Firstly, you will be handing over all your private details to an online company that store them in The Cloud and hacking/security issues could be an issue. You would need to be confident that they have strict security measures in place; guarantee that your data won’t be sold or passed on – and find out what happens to all your private data if they go bust (e.g. it’s disconcerting that wabiesabie.com for example, is currently offline). With sites like WabieSabie, you are required to provide the email addresses in your contacts list, which could be an invasion of those contacts’ privacy. And most importantly, consider how people will feel to get messages from someone who has died. Will it make them feel better or feel worse?

Great Resources*:
All Things Online section of the Rest Easy Journal provides spaced for you to record your digital assets
Palliative Care Australia’s Social-Media-Guide provides detailed, but simple instructions on getting your Digital Afterlife sorted
Your Digital Life is a good read for everyone who lives the ‘digital lifestyle’
Digital Dying provides ‘deathproof information management’

If you’re after a more comprehensive read you can go to Death and the Internet: Consumer issues for planning and managing digital legacies by Bellamy, C., Arnold M., Gibbs, M., Nansen, B. and Kohn, T. 2013 Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Sydney

Please note: these resources are guides only. I suggest that you find the information about this topic that is the right fit for you. I receive no personal nor financial benefit from highlighting these sites, and may not endorse or support their points of view.