Is Your Digital Life Ready for Your Death?

Your cyberfootprint

Neil Armstrong may have been imprinting the moon with a famous step, but you are creating everyday a series of footsteps that may live forever — or at least long enough to bother you. You know, your cyber footprint.

The websites that you browse, the emails you sent, receive and forward, the status updates on social networks, the movies you mention having appreciated, even the points your are collecting on online games, .. the list would be long enough.

When speaking of legacy, this footprint often becomes a problem to manage for those who remain. What will become of it? Who can benefit from the online revenue generating you have been generating? Who will pursue the work you had started? What will become of those embarrassing mails you had sent previously?

Previously, people had wills written for their earthly possessions. Your books, photos, all the small souvenirs that you shared with loved ones could be shared with the ones you wanted. But what about your cyber footprint? All of your assets, or most of them, are locked with a password, and services providers don’t usually pass your digital belongings to any other than you.

The traditional things we have done for estate planning—proof of death, changing titles, all those sorts of things—may need to change in this new context of digital assets,” says Dennis Kennedy, a St. Louis, Missouri, technology attorney who is also a recognized expert on how technology intersects with the law. “One of the last questions you tend to ask is, ‘What happens when somebody dies?’ Nobody is planning to die. Very few people want to think about that and what is going to happen to their stuff, but it has to be done, and it has gotten more complicated with the addition of digital assets.

That’s why it’s always interesting to have a guide to help you through your issues.

Texts from the dead: Post-mortem digital communication has arrived

The different types of digital assets

Why do you need to consider the becoming of your digital assets upon your passing? Just because there are more than what you actually think. If you can’t list them all, chances are that they will not be listed by someone else, and precious heritage can finally be lost for everyone. Or, if there are things that you wish were deleted, but were not, your last message may not be the one you wished for.  Inside the different assets type, you have:

Business accounts: let’s say you own an account for any business. It’s full of your clients information,  invoices and different bills. These information are critical for your business partners, colleagues or the whole team. For a doctor, it may contain the life history of your patients, with full, potentially life-saving, information.

Social media accounts: obviously, you won’t be able to communicate with your network, but the social networks do have a treasure inside: old exchanges, pictures, videos and other assets. And they can be the base of an online memorial.

Financial assets: this one is quite self-explanatory. Banks are more and more accessible via web interfaces, and may have services storing online currency, like bitcoins. And we’re not speaking about the Amazon, eBay, Paypal websites..

and last but not least:

Personal assets: can you list the totality of your services? I guess not.. Pictures, videos, emails, texts, mms, smartphone apps, … And why not computers, locked by passwords, or medical records, legal files, …

What are digital assets?

Digital assets have been defined as anything that is stored on an electronic device — regardless of the owner of the physical device.
There’s indeed a difference in the location of the assets. On the one hand, there are the ones based in your computer, hard drive, or thumbdrives. On the other hand, there are some which you don’t control, the ones in the cloud. In the two cases, digital asset are anything with an owner that is in a digital file.
Caroll defines five categories : devices and data, emails, online accounts, financial accounts, and online businesses.

These items are more and more interconnected, as for example emails serving as a common keyring to store accounts information, and as a mean to control and regulate your different accounts. Emails are the safety net in the case of loosing a password. Devices are also becoming more and more common, used as a masterkey, and they have their share of keys through the different applications, browsers, identification cookies, ..