How I learned to live forever

How I learned to live forever

Say goodbye to having to die.
Say goodbye to having to die.

When my grandmother passed away this year, I was devastated. She may have been in her late 80s, but her sunny personality and boundless energy made it seem like she’d would probably just live forever.

My grandma was what you’d call a “silver surfer.” From the moment she inherited her daughter’s old laptop, she embraced the internet like a digital native. It wasn’t long before we were helping her set up a Facebook profile which she used to happily spend hours sharing cute animals videos and writing us sweet messages ALWAYS WRITTEN ENTIRELY IN CAPS. I gave up explaining to her that this amounted to constant shouting. She liked it that way.

A few months after she’d passed away, I was a bit shocked to see her picture pop up in my notifications, reminding me that it was her birthday. I hadn’t forgotten, but it saddened me to imagine other family members whose grief was still very raw receiving similar messages. I had thought—perhaps naively—that since Facebook knew enough about my life and habits to bombard me with targeted advertisements it would also know my grandmother was no longer with us. But the bots didn’t have a clue.

I looked up the procedure to report a death to Facebook, and requested that her account be “memorialized.” This means that nobody can log in to the account again, but her posts remain visible to the people they were originally shared with, and friends and family can continue to share memories on her timeline. I wanted to digitally preserve the memory of my grandmother.

After making my request I almost immediately received a response from someone in Facebook’s community operations team asking me to send them her death certificate. Their response struck me as strange and insensitive—like I was making it up for some reason. Since I didn’t have that document (my grandmother lived in Brazil and I didn’t handle the funeral arrangements), I argued that they should be able to verify her passing through the evidence available on their own platform. Facebook eventually agreed, but I can’t say it was a particularly pleasant process.

Technology is currently challenging our conceptualization of what it means to live—and die.“The tech industry is not really up on death,” says Stacey Pitsillides, a design lecturer at the University of Greenwich who is a PhD candidate in the field of data contextualization in digital death. Since starting her research several years ago, Pitsillides says she’s witnessed a remarkable shift: People are becoming increasingly eager to immortalize personal experiences online, just as I had felt after my grandmother’s passing.

This observation prompted her to set up Love After Death, a panel showcased at FutureFest in London to help people explore how technology is becoming integrated into new forms of creative expressions around death and dying. I met Pitsillides at FutureFest, a festival of ideas sponsored by innovation charity NESTA, to discuss the concept of digital legacies.

Technology is currently challenging our conceptualization of what it means to live—and die. Pitsillides believes that technology and design will play an increasingly important role in the process of morning, which she calls “creative bereavement.” “By creating a bespoke legacy agreement, it merges the concept of a design agency with funeral director,” she said.

To illustrate this, Pitsillides started by taking me through a questionnaire that asked me things ranging from the practical (which loved ones should be informed of my death, and would I like to setup a database of music, art, or poetry to be used at my funeral?) to the weird and outlandish (would my friends like to do an online vigil through live webcasting where I could be present via hologram, and how about having a memorial implant or tattoo?)

But wait—holograms? Memorial implants? Was this for real?

In the future, yes.

Death by Design

“You could have a surface-level or below-skin digital tattoo that could be matched to that of a loved one,” Pitsillides explained. Using simple technologies, you could add content to these digital mementos throughout your life and then have them activated after your death. This activation could either be triggered by the executor of your will—over 19 US states have already put forward laws to recognize the deceased’s digital legacy as part of their estate—or we could evolve AI systems to recognize cues when this should happen. At that point, certain content could become available to the people you’d predetermined, depending on the stipulations you left in your digital will.

It’s basically the futuristic, high-tech version of wearing half of your lover’s heart-shaped locket. These tattoos and implants could even be programmed to trigger only in the context of certain events. For example, when walking past the special spot where a now-passed husband proposed to his wife, his widow’s digital tattoo could change color or bloom into the pattern of her favorite flower, and “their” song could start playing on her phone. Or a father could still “be there” to deliver the speech at his daughter’s wedding via hologram, or greet the arrival of his first grandchild with a pre-recorded message.

An increasingly popular service is using 3D printing to create personalized mementos for your friends and family using human ashes.While these memorialization usages are still conceptual, the technology itself is already fairly mature. For example, we already have technology that allows for smart epidermal electronics to collect and record information about users, reacting to this data in a wide variety of programmable ways: Think of IoT devices like Dexcom that continuously monitor glucose levels for diabetes patients, allowing them to track their blood sugar via apps linked to wearables like the Apple Watch. Instead of being focused on what our minds and bodies are doing in the present moment, these tactile technologies could help us build and enhance connections with people both during life and after death.

As more people embrace the idea that death in the digital age is not just about looking back at the past, they will begin to realize that it’s just as much about the future. We’re already seeing people grapple with this concept in terms of what happens to our bodies after we die. Nowadays your ashes can be turned into building blocks for a coral reef or a beautiful fireworks display, but there’s a whole other after-world emerging courtesy of technology. For example, an increasingly popular service is using 3D printing to create personalized mementos for your friends and family using human ashes.

The Talking Dead

Since such a large percentage of our lives and interactions are now conducted online, we are constantly forced to reassess our meaning of self and identity. Is our online identity the most accurate reflection of our true selves? And, if so, can it “live” independently from our physical bodies?

The answer is potentially yes. The connections we build and share can—now quite literally—take on a life of their own. For example, websites like LifeNaut offer services that allow you to create a “mind file” that supposedly enables future scenarios around reanimation through “downloading” your memories to a robot or clone vessel of some sort. We might not yet be at the stage where robotics and AI enable the Black Mirror scenario where life-like replicants of loved ones can be created from their social media profiles. But it’s no exaggeration to say that, for better or for worse, our digital footprint already outlives our biological self.

“We are moving toward a society where the dead are not banished but remain present in our lives as sources of guidance, role models, and as an embodiment of particular values and life lessons,” Pitsillides said.

But is that what we really want? The ability to live forever through technology raises difficult questions such as whether it is our memories that make us who we are, whether our loved ones would accept this “new” version of us, and who should control consent to make these kinds of decisions after death. This kind of permanence may be appealing for some, but for others the possibility of a digital presence continuously and independently evolving is quite disturbing.

Most of us avoid thinking about our own mortality until it stares us in the face. As someone who spends most of my time online, I’m unsettled by this idea of not being in control of my online persona once I die—even if I wouldn’t be in a position to care, at that point. But having experienced the enduring joy that my grandmother’s Facebook memories have brought to our family, it makes me think that my digital legacy is something worth preserving. And now I have the first steps to know how to do just that.

You can follow Alice on Twitter at @AliceBonasio. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Digital Asset Planning: Who Will Care for Your Pokémon When You’re Gone?

Study Shows Users Don’t Read Terms of Service Agreements

Not surprisingly, a recent study shows that users don’t read Terms of Service Agreements and Privacy Policies. In a July 7, 2016, working paper, Jonathan Obar and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch reported that, in their experiment, 98% of users missed the “gotcha clauses” they planted in the Terms of Service Agreement and Privacy Policy for a fictitious social networking site they created. One of the “gotcha clauses” was that, by agreeing to the Terms of Service Agreement, the user would immediately assign their first-born child to the company!

In their experiment, the fictitious company had a 4,316-word Terms of Service Agreement for the user to read when signing up for the company’s social networking site. By comparison, Google’s Terms of Service Agreement (revised April 14, 2014) runs 1,881 words, Facebook’s Terms of Service Agreement (revised January 30, 2015) runs 3,159 words, and Yahoo!’s Terms of Service Agreement (revised March 16, 2012) runs 5,585 words. The working paper notes that an average adult should be able to read the 4,316-word Terms of Service Agreement used in the experiment in 15-17 minutes. However, in the experiment, 86% of users spent less than one minute reading the Terms of Service Agreement, and 97% of users spent less than five minutes reading the Terms of Service Agreement. Only 9 of the 527 participants in the experiment (1.7%) reported noticing the “gotcha clause” requiring the user to assign their first-born child to the company.

From an estate planning perspective, some Terms of Service Agreement provisions are important to consider, especially when planning for a user’s incapacity or death. Here are several provisions to consider in reviewing Terms of Service Agreements:

  1. May the user share the user’s password or let others access the user’s account? For estate planning, this is important to determine whether a fiduciary or family member can access the user’s account during the user’s incapacity or after the user’s death. If someone other than the user accesses the user’s account and “exceeds authorized access”—which could include violating the access rules of a company’s Terms of Service Agreement—that person could be charged with a crime under applicable state law, under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)), or under the federal Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. § 2701(a)) For example, Section 4.8 of Facebook’s Terms of Service Agreement (revised January 30, 2015) says “You will not share your password…let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.”
  2. May the user transfer the user’s account? For estate planning, this is important to determine whether the user’s account may be transferred to another individual, to the trustee of a revocable living trust, to the trustee of an irrevocable trust, to a Limited Liability Company (LLC), to a partnership, or to a corporation either during the user’s lifetime or after the user’s death. If the user breaches the account transfer restrictions in the company’s Terms of Service Agreement, it could be grounds for the company to terminate the user’s account.
  3. Does the user’s account terminate on the user’s death? For estate planning, this is important to know what planning needs to be done during the user’s lifetime to preserve and protect the user’s account contents and what planning options are available after the user’s death. For example, Section 28 of Yahoo!’s Terms of Service Agreement (revised March 16, 2012) says “You agree that your Yahoo account is non-transferable and any rights to your Yahoo ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death.”
  4. What rights to the user’s data are being assigned to the company? For estate planning, this is important to know what intellectual property rights are involved. For example, is the user granting the company a license to use original works of authorship of the user that may be protected by copyright law? If so, does that license continue after the user’s death or after the user’s account is deleted?
How to Avoid Losing Our Digital Legacy

How to Avoid Losing Our Digital Legacy

Tips: TECH,COMPUTERS TECHNOLOGY,PERSONAL TECH

 

Currently we have a lot of digital documents created by us, our family members, parents and children. Over the years we create text documents, spreadsheets, pictures, digital videos or web pages we have created over years. All these information we create is our digital legacy. Are we willing to lose it? How will your children, your grandchildren see pictures or videos of these digital objects over time? Hardly anyone uses paper photos and I think this deserves some thoughts.

Some of these documents can be found on the internet over social networks, web pages, others not. The real question is what to do with the digital documents you want to keep whether they are or not on the internet. That is a question that has an answer here, in these lines.

All electronic devices that we use to build all that stuff someday will expire, will be inaccessible or obsolete. External hard drives, mobile phones, digital video camera, USB stick, memory cards and electronic devices. Can we continue to access to these documents? May we lose this information? These two questions are some issues that you have to think about when generating too much information and quick every day.

The answer you probably think is correct. Certain things can be accessible and others will require some effort. We keep seeing these documents whether we take some easy steps. These steps will diminish the effort. I mention some of them.

  1. Back up your digital data.
  2. Try to upgrade to higher versions writings.
  3. Update your graphic formats such as video or photos to new formats.
  4. Try to retrieve information from a device before it is inaccessible.

These above four points will prevent you to have the digital information of your relatives safe.

1. Back up your digital data

Ask your relatives to give you a copy of all documents they want to save, especially photos or videos (the documentation is the most sentimental), digital or other written documents that would preserve digital objects. Once per month would be enough.

Try to have a dedicated hard disk to store digital documents that you want to keep. Use an additional one to have a backup of the first one.

Organize your external hard drive in folders, preferably dates and topics. One option is year-month-topic but there are other possibilities to organize your information. Create an organization easy for you to find the information. Once a month, take a little time to order your hard disk, your photos and documents. This hard drive, you will serve backup. And the other disk, a previous backup. It seems a bit pointless, but sometimes technology fails.

I also recommend you to use an updated antivirus on both discs, so that all your documentation is safe. At first it will be a huge job but whether everyone sends its information regularly, you will have less work. In this way information will be safe. You can always ask for help from someone in the family in this work whether you consider you have a lot of work to do.

From time to time, as an example each three or four years, you will have to change because these drives could also be inaccessible. But instead of replacing many electronic dispositives, you only have to replace two, just both hard drives.

2. Try to upgrade to higher versions writings

Your digital writings, with the passage of time and technology, need to be updated. That is, if you have a writing made on a version 2 of a software program, try to transform it to version 3. You may find some changes on the final result, such as a table organization, but you will not lose the information.

3. Update your graphic formats such as video or photos to date formats

Graphic formats also can give us problems over time. Try to transform your videos, pictures to newer digital formats so you can still enjoy your graphic material and your best moments. Pictures do not change often its digital format, but the digital video does. They have more resolution, better exposure levels. It is recommendable to update videos to a new digital format. As an example upgrade mpeg2 videos to mpeg4 format.

4. Try to retrieve information from a device before it is inaccessible

What about outdated devices? Try first attempt to retrieve the information you need by connecting the device, whenever you can to your computer. The aim is to obtain the data. If you cannot connect the device to your computer, try to assess the importance of this information and decide whether or not you want to keep it. If you want to keep it, you will need to transfer the information to your hard drive. Depending on the device you may need help from someone with knowledge of that device.

With all these small actions, you may have to save most of their digital legacy. They are preventive actions that will help you have your legacy.

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The Grim But Necessary Art Of Closing Accounts For Dead Family Members & Loved Ones

The Grim But Necessary Art Of Closing Accounts For Dead Family Members & Loved Ones

Coping with the death of a loved one is often a devastating emotional and psychological process, and for those tasked with tying up the loose ends of a late friend or family member, it probably doesn’t help when you’ve got to repeatedly explain to a seemingly endless string of customer service reps why they can’t speak to the account holder.

In situations where death is imminent, preparation — however grim a task it might be — could help to alleviate some of the stress when you eventually do have to box up your loved one’s life. But even those who think they’ve got everything planned in advance may be surprised when they hit roadblocks they hadn’t accounted for.

That’s a lesson Network World columnist Paul McNamara learned earlier this year following the death of his father, who recently documented how his difficulties with closing his father’s credit card account led him to realize it would have just been easier (but not really legal) to lie and pretend to be his deceased dad.

“I thought I was pretty well prepared,” Paul told Consumerist about the experience, noting that he had dealt with many of the same issues when his mother passed 25 years ago. “We did all the basics — got him a will, power of attorney, a health care proxy. But there were things that became tricky after the end, like bank accounts, CDs, investment accounts, and credit cards.”

PREPARATION IS KEY

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Paul’s father was ill for some time, and Paul had the forethought to obtain power of attorney, allowing him to act on behalf of his father regarding financial and legal matters for property.

However, that power doesn’t cover all aspects of a person’s financial life, and Paul was left to close his father’s accounts, namely a Visa credit card.

“We didn’t do enough to prepare for the fact that once he could no longer take care of his own affairs, it became difficult for me to do it,” he recalls.

To understand part of Paul’s issues, you have to know the difference between a co-borrower, joint account, and power of attorney.

“We didn’t do enough to prepare for the fact that once he could no longer take care of his own affairs, it became difficult for me to do it.”

Power of attorney is a document and the attorney is the person you appoint to act in your place — this can be a family member, friend, or trusted confidant.

What power of attorney does is allow someone to act on your behalf in all your property and financial matters – though it can also be limited to specific functions, such as managing your investments. The big catch with power of attorney is that it ends at the time of the person’s death.

Thus, Paul’s power of attorney expired when his father did, and that proved problematic: he was cut off from his father’s bank accounts.

“My name was on his bank account as power of attorney, but I wasn’t a co-account holder,” he tells Consumerist. “Had I been a co-account holder I would still be able to get at his account now, and pay a few remaining bills, and most importantly be able to distribute money to his heirs. Instead, it ends up in probate because power of attorney ended when he did.”

“The thing I would have done, or wish I had done, was to get my name on his accounts as a co-account holder,” he says, adding that the probate process of settling his father’s personal and financial affairs could take months or even a year.

What’s the best option for you?

While it’s true Paul would have been able to close his father’s bank account, credit cards, and pay any remaining debts had he been listed as a joint account holder or co-borrower, how would such an action affect Paul’s own financial well-being?

Several members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors tell Consumerist that while it may have been easier for Paul to act as a co-borrower, it doesn’t make the best financial sense.

“As co-borrower, you are jointly liable for the debt, and any misdeeds will impact your credit score,” James Kinney, a CFP with Financial Pathway Advisors, tells Consumerist, noting that this option has many downsides, especially if the elderly family member is forgetful and might miss bill payments while still handling their own affairs.

“Also, joint ownership of a bank or investment account often causes problems,” he says. “A child may become joint owner with an elderly parent ‘just to help manage things.’ But when the parent dies, that account will now belong 100% to the child.”

This could lead to strife between siblings and other heirs, as they wouldn’t have a legal tie to the investment or account. Additionally, joint owners may both be liable for taxes on income generated by the account.

One way around this, Kinney suggests, is to title the accounts in the parents’ name with a “Transfer on Death” beneficiary designation, meaning the account will automatically transfer to named beneficiaries instead of into one person.

Keep Documents Up-To-Date; Extra Death Certificates On Hand

Regardless of the prep work you’ve put in, there will be bureaucracy, red tape, and skeptics. To that end, advisors and estate planners say having documentation in order is key.

Financial advisor Michael Chamberlain suggests in his 10 Keys To Proper Estate Planning Guide that anyone looking to make things easier for the ones they leave behind should make clear requests for funeral arrangements, update their beneficiary forms, and make a list of their physical and digital assets.

“If you have life insurance, annuities, or retirement plans — like an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) or others — there should be a primary beneficiary, as well as contingent beneficiaries, which could be your children, a charity or good friends,” Chamberlain says. “It’s particularly important to make sure your designations are current if you’ve remarried or had other family changes. These accounts will automatically pass based on beneficiary designations and do not go into probate.”

As for surviving heirs, before contacting credit card providers, mortgage and student loan lenders, utility providers, and other companies, heirs should have plenty of copies of their loved one’s death certificate on hand, as well as personal information such as Social Security numbers and past bills.

While Paul hasn’t been able to tie up all the loose ends with father’s accounts, he was eventually able to close that Visa credit card — after several rounds of back-and-forth with the issuer.

“For the last two years of his life I was paying his credit card bills,” Paul tells Consumerist. “I was paying with checks that had me as power of attorney, but turns out I was able to do anything but close account.”

He could use the card as he wished, pay the bill when it was due, “but when I called to close the account to make sure no one else could get at it. I was told I had to send a death certificate, write and attach a cover letter, address and stamp the envelope, and trust that it will get to the right person.”

Paul says the difficulty in closing his father’s credit card account was in contrast to the fairly easy time he had in doing other things with the account while his father was alive.

“They have my phone number as the phone number of record on the account. I can answer all of their security questions about him. They say they’ll put a ‘hold’ on his account based on nothing but my word and knowledge of his identification details,” Paul wrote in his column about the experience.

Holly Thomas, a financial planner and member of NAPFA, suggests that in the case of credit card companies, loved ones should look into the requirements to close the accounts ahead of time.

“It might be a good idea to contact them and ask what form of power of attorney they will accept,” she says, adding that dealing with financial institutions often requires some up-front work.

Discover offers a special department — Deceased Account Services Specialists — to handle credit cards after death. These employees work with family members to finalized an account.

Unlike Visa, which required Paul to submit copies of his father’s death certificate, Discover says it will not ask for this information. Likewise, Capital One says the only verification it needs are the person’s name, Social Security number, date of birth, account number, and date of death.

PRO TIP: When contacting the credit card company’s customer service department to close accounts, advisors suggest you inquire into whether or not the account holder had purchased credit life insurance, which may pay off the account balance.

Paul may have been able to close the credit card out, but his father’s bank account remains in limbo.

The bank was notified of the death through the Social Security Administration, and because there was no one else listed on the account, it’s effectively been frozen since.

Had Paul been listed as a joint account holder, his father’s account would have passed to him. However, as the financial advisor pointed out earlier, this could have also left Paul in a bind had his father had excess debt or other financial constraints. Instead, it becomes property of the estate.

“The account is inactive, but it is in probate now,” Paul says of his father’s account. “So his attorney is handling his affairs and going through that process.”

Thankfully, Paul does not have to deal with selling his father’s house, as it was sold before his dad passed away. For survivors who have to not only sell a late loved one’s home but deal with the lingering mortgage issues, it’s not always easy.

A lot of what happens in this part of the process depends on whose name is on the mortgage.

For example, with a mortgage held by two parties — perhaps you and your spouse — little would change; the loan would transfer to the surviving spouse. However, you’d still want to contact the mortgage company about the death, so the mortgage can be updated to reflect sole ownership. This may require the production of a death certificate to verify.

A mortgage held by one person would be transferred to the deceased’s estate. At this point, the person appointed to handle the estate would be responsible for making payments.

My Way Forward, a blog on loss, suggests that the personal representative contact the mortgage company to notify them of the death. The company will likely have its own policies and procedures to follow.

In the case that the homeowner took out a reverse mortgage — which allows a borrower, 62 years or older, to convert the equity in their home into a lump sum or monthly payments — their heirs or surviving spouse will be responsible for repaying that equity.

The latest changes to reverse mortgage laws have attempted to shield surviving spouses from losing their homes in many cases. However, the non-borrowing spouse will still stop receiving funds from the reverse mortgage after his or her spouse dies.

If the deceased had a student loan in their name the debt may be forgiven or it may transfer to any remaining co-signers or heirs.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, if the borrower of a federal student loan dies, the loan is automatically canceled and the debt is discharged by the government.

Private student loans do not, unfortunately, always offer the same liability protections.

Liability for these loans vary depending on the lender’s policies. In many cases, the lender will attempt to collect from the deceased’s estate. If there is no estate, the loan will likely be transferred to a co-signer — the opposite can happen when a co-signer dies. If there is no co-signer, the debt will then fall to the spouse, depending on state laws.

If the deceased person has been living in their own home before their death, the survivors should contact the utility providers — water, gas, and electricity — to either have the service transferred to their name or canceled.

Again, survivors will likely be required to provide a copy of the account holder’s death certificate, their Social Security number, and even past bills in order to perform these tasks.

Canceling or transferring a cable or wireless account may be a bit more involved. Everplans, another blog that assists those after a loved one’s death, suggest calling the provider and informing them of your plans for the account.

In some cases, the provider may require the survivor pay a fee depending on the company’s policies or the contract currently in place. Additionally, the balance should be paid once the account is closed.

You may need to provide a copy of the death certificate, and other personal information about the account holder.

Of course, closing or transferring these accounts may be more difficult than it sounds. Back in 2010, a reader named Wyatt told Consumerist about the ordeal he went through with Comcast while trying to close his deceased father’s account.

Despite sending copies of his father’s death certificate, Wyatt continued received bills for the account.

“Once again, I called Comcast. This time, I was told that there was nothing they could tell me, because I wasn’t the owner of the account,” he wrote to Consumerist. “They insisted I would need to fax the death certificate to them a third time, or take it into a local service center (the nearest one for me being over 50 miles away) before they could even discuss the account with me.”

While social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter may turn into a memorial for the deceased, it’s also important to ensure no one else can get access to these profiles. You don’t want grandma to share that cute kitty picture from the other side.

For these reasons, many networks have created features that allow users to control what would happen to their account after death.

Facebook, for example, will now allow users to designate a “legacy contact” to have some control over their pages, or otherwise designate what they’d like to happen to their accounts after they’ve passed.

If that doesn’t seem like something you’re interested in, you can also tell the social site to simply shutter your account. To choose a legacy contact: Go to Settings > Security > Legacy Contact (at the bottom of the page). Choose your person, and you’ll have an option to send them a message to give them a heads up.

Google began offering a similar option in 2013, the AARP reports. The Inactive Account Manager allows individuals to designate up to 10 trusted friends or relatives as beneficiaries of their online accounts.

Each social media network spells out their rules regarding the accounts for deceased members in their Terms of Service agreement, the AARP notes.

The situation is the same for email accounts: check the terms of your provider to determine how your account can move forward.

Naomi Cahn, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., says that users who want their heirs to have access to their email accounts should draft a statement with that information.

“This document can help others carry out your wishes and can be added to your will,” Cahn says.

Purchasing and downloading a song from iTunes or a book to your Kindle doesn’t give you the legal right to pass those things on to their heirs, according to the AARP.

Again, information on your digital downloads and your ownership (or lack thereof) of them can be found in the terms of service agreement with your preferred service provider.

The same issues can be found on photo-sharing sites like Shutterfly and Flickr. To ensure that your family doesn’t lose access to your photos, the AARP suggests downloading copies to an external hard drive or directly to your computer.

In addition to knowing your online rights when it comes to preparing to pass on email, social media, and digital downloads, financial advisor Chamberlain urges consumer to make records of their digital assets.

This helps those who will manage your accounts upon your incapacity or death, he says. Keep records of both online login information and offline documentation for all bank, brokerage and credit card accounts, bill pay sites and other accounts you access online.

Store this information in a secure and known location, preferably with your other estate-planning documents. This allows the trustee, designated power of attorney or executor to access your accounts as needed. Sample forms are available for download.

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Passwords and Powers of Attorney: Your Digital Estate Planning Options

Passwords and Powers of Attorney: Your Digital Estate Planning Options

Senior woman using laptop computer
Digital planning sites encourage you to discuss end-of-life issues with your family, record your wishes and then make it easy for family members to find them when necessary.

We don’t like to talk about the end of our lives, but it’s something that is important to plan for, both for ourselves and for those we leave behind.

These days, estate planning includes not only who will inherit our worldly goods when we die, but also what will happen to our digital legacies. While the digital passwords of our lives may be needed by our heirs after our deaths, it’s not exactly practical to update our wills every time we add a new password.

New companies are springing up to help us make plans and gather all the information our heirs will need in one place. Not only do the services provide a digital value, they provide prompts to encourage us to think about issues we haven’t put in writing, such as what music we would like playing in our final hours.

“I can’t tell you how important it is to have all this information in one place,” says Abby Schneiderman, co-founder of Everplans.com, which started out as a content site and then grew into a planning platform after her brother’s death in a car crash in 2012. “It helps people get together all of the important information and documents the family needs in the event of an emergency or, even worse, a death.”

Everplans is one of several companies that allow you to create a digital repository of your wills, health care directives, funeral wishes, plans for your pet, desires for your Facebook page, what you’d like to see in your obituary, family photos and even your grandpa’s cherished spaghetti recipe. You can enter information during your life that you want your family to find when you die or share information with family now.

Steve Byrne, co-founder of FinalRoadmap.com, says many of his clients are baby boomers who are struggling to figure out what their parents want. They don’t want to put their children into the same position. The sites drill down into much more detail than you would typically include in a will or an advance health care directive, down to what interventions you want and who you want in the room while you’re dying.

If you’re in an accident, for example, who has the power to make decisions for you? If you’ve given your sister that responsibility, how will your doctors know, and does she have a copy of the document?

“People say I don’t want to be a vegetable, but what does a vegetable mean?” Byrne says. “Our mission is to encourage people to think about, to document and share end-of-life wishes.”

Everplans and Final Roadmap are two among a number of sites that provide this type of service, including The DigitalBeyond.com, PlannedDeparture.com, AfterSteps.com and PrincipledHeart.com.

All sites encourage you to discuss end-of-life issues with your family, record your wishes and then make it easy for family members to find them when they’re needed. “What we try to do is not only have a place for everything, but guide them through those questions,” Byrne says. “There are people still years after they’ve made decisions wondering if they did the right thing because it was just a guess.”

You can designate whom you wish to see specific information and whether you want to share it now or not until after you’ve passed.

“I try to make this as easy as possible for people to have this all in one place,” says Byrne, who founded the site with his wife, Kerry Shannon, a health care consultant. “We want people to do this while they’re healthy, while they still have the faculties. … We try to tell people this is not about dying, this is about planning ahead.”

The sites provide places to upload wills, trusts, health care directives, powers of attorney and even appraisals of valuable items you may own. You may also be asked to record the location of notarized and signed copies of documents and the contact information for your estate planning attorney.

Users can add all kinds of details, from records of their pets’ health, to family genealogy, to password for online accounts to instructions on how elements in the house work. “I guess you could call it a smart vault,” Schneiderman says.

Everplans charges $75 a year, while Final Roadmap charges a one-time fee of $249, with discounts for multiple users. The services also have options for sharing all the aspects of your digital life, from passwords to bank accounts to the message you want sent to your Twitter followers after you’re gone.

“I consider [digital estate planning] in this day and age traditional estate planning,” says Wendy Goffe, an estate lawyer who is a partner at Stoel Rives in Seattle. “Your digital life is a big part of your life. For some people, that’s the biggest part of your life.”

Goffe cautions that everyone’s situation is different and no online service can replace the advice of an experienced attorney who understands your situation. “You don’t know what you’re not getting,” she says. “A program only gives you what you ask for, and you’re not always asking the right things.” Your digital life may include valuable intellectual property, for example, which requires more planning than what to do with your Facebook status updates.

The other issues people need to be aware of with online repositories, she says, are security and what will happen to your documents if the company goes under. One option for customers might be to print out copies of everything they place online and let a family member know the location of those paper documents.

Here are seven factors to consider when doing your end-of-life planning:

Legal documents. Most people need a will and some would benefit from a trust. You probably also want to designate a health care surrogate and leave an advance health care directive. Exactly which documents you need may vary by state and situation, so consulting with an estate planning lawyer is advisable.

Digital legacy. What do you want to happen with your online accounts when you pass on, and how will your heirs find all the passwords? If you own intellectual property such as e-books, photos or other copyrighted material, you may want to consult an attorney.

Business future. If you own a business, what will happen to it when you die or are unable to run it? Would someone be able to find everything they need to run your business temporarily if you were in an accident? Once you die, does someone inherit the business or will it be shut down?

End-of-life wishes. A health care surrogate and an advance directive will cover your legal bases, but you may want to give your family, especially the person who will make decisions for you, more details about when you would like heroic measures taken and when you would prefer no interventions. Do you have specific ideas on who you would prefer to be with you and what you want the atmosphere to be when you’re dying?

Funeral plans. Do you want burial or cremation? Are there specific readings or songs you want at your service or people you would like to have speak? What do you want included in your obituary? How will your family know whom to contact with the information that you have passed?

Assets. If you died tomorrow, would your heirs be able to find all your assets? Is all your beneficiary information current on your retirement accounts and life insurance? Do you need to leave passwords to access accounts?

Day-to-day details. Will you heirs know how to pay the water bill, the mortgage and other home chores? If you rent, will they know how to contact your landlord? These items will need to be handled while your home is waiting to be sold or occupied by another family member.