Emru was indeed someone I knew. A talented writer, a good friend, and a true mensch, beloved by many. He was also dead. He had succumbed to leukemia a few years earlier at the age of 39.
Yet there he was, smiling at me just like he did in life. But it wasn’t just a social media account that survived Emru. There’s his personal blog, where he recounted in sometimes-painful detail his battle against cancer, and his professional one, featuring some of the hundreds of articles he wrote on technology and animation. There’s his Flickr account, featuring photos of him in the hospital. There’s the site his family set up in an effort to find a stem cell donor, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Today, nearly seven six years to the day of Emru’s passing, he still receives email at his pobox.com account, maintained by his widow, Vicky.
In addition to leaving a mark on everyone he met, Emru also left a footprint on the Internet, which his family struggled to deal with because they did not have access to all of his accounts.
This is a problem all of us on the Internet will encounter eventually, whether we want to think about it or not.
What can go wrong? Lots.
Your loved one may have died leaving photos and videos behind that you can’t get to. He may have locked essential financial or other information away with passwords and not left those with you. She may have online financial accounts with money or credits leftover, or social media accounts that continue to generate painful reminders of her absence.
And, each year, the personal information of more than 2.5 million dead people is abused by identity thieves, according to ID Analytics.
Data of the dead
So you want to deal with this now, before you die and leave your family a mess of locked-down digital assets. There are three key things you need to do, says Evan Carroll, co-author of Your Digital Afterlife.
- Make an inventory of all your digital assets. That includes the documents on your computer, the photos on your phone, any data stored on thumb drives or backup disks, and every online account, including the ones you no longer use. It’s a big job, but you don’t have to do it all at once, Carroll says. Start with the most important things and work your way down the list. Odds are your primary email account will be number one, since that’s typically where online accounts send password resets. Keep reading for advice on where to store this data.
- Figure out what you want to happen to all of this stuff after you’re gone. Do you want your family to have access to all your emails? How about photos? Videos and other material you’ve downloaded? There may be some things you don’t want your loved ones to see. Decide now, and make your wishes known to those you care about.
- Assign someone to be your digital executor. Be explicit in your will about what you want to happen to your assets. Don’t assume your survivors automatically have a right to it all, because the law varies greatly from state to state, Carroll says.
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