Most adults should have a legal will that provides instructions on what should happen to your assets in the event of your death. A will is not just for old people - anyone can suffer an illness or be involved in an accident that leads to their death. And while wills were principally focussed with physical goods, many of us hold valuable digital assets that might become inaccessible when you die. What happens to those?
#1 User names and passwords
In a sense, these are the easy ones. Most of us probably have more user accounts on different services than we can count. But there are some key ones - things like online banking, share trading accounts and cryptocurrency wallets.
My suggestion is to write the account details down (like, on actual paper!) and seal them in an envelope that sits in another envelope that has a foreboding “Only to be opened in the event of my death” message on the front.
Then, stash that letter in a secure location such as a solicitor’s office or some other stronghold. Or give it to a trusted party like the executor of your will.
#2 Multi-factor authentication
You should be using two-factor or multi-factor authentication on every service that offers it. You’ll need to look at how each authentication service works but many have an option for having the second factor accessible from more than one place. For example, if you use Google Authenticator you could set it up on a second device.
#3 Digital assets
This is where it can get tricky. If you’re like me, you’ll have accumulated lots of music, movies and TV shows in the days before streaming services became mainstream. Unless you have physical copies of those assets, then accessing them from cloud services can become tricky.
When you buy a song or movie from a digital service, you aren’t actually buying a copy of the asset. In the majority of cases, you’re buying the right to access the content and that right is not transferable.
I’ve got a bunch of apps, movies and music that I’ve purchased through Google Play and the Apple iTunes and App Stores. The majority of that is from Apple so I;ve set up Family Sharing so my wife and kids can get access to the content I’ve purchased. So, even if I suddenly depart this existence, they can still watch my movies and listen to my tunes.
So, while the rights aren’t transferable, it may be possible for access to your digital assets to continue. But don’t forget the user accounts associated with that content as it might be needed if the content is protected with DRM.
#4 Powers of attorney
While not strictly about your digital life, providing someone you trust with financial and medical powers of attorney is pretty important. These are legal documents that allow someone to make decisions on your behalf.
For example, when my parents were ageing, financial and medical powers of attorney were distributed between me and my siblings so we could make decisions on our parents’ behalf should they become unable.
Those documents can assist with getting banks and other bodies to provide access to accounts that might otherwise be locked down.
#5 Social media
Access to social media accounts might seem trivial but it can be important. One of the hardest things to do when someone dies is notify all the affected people promptly. When death is expected, families often create a communications plan so that family and friends are informed in a timely and respectful way.
Different social networks can do this. For example, Facebook allows you to define a “legacy contact” in your personal settings. This is someone who can manage your account in case of your death or if you’re incapacitated. Choose someone you can trust and let them know they have this responsibility.
Some personal experience
My father was a very organised person.
Before he died, he prepared a folder on his computer that he told us all about. In it were copies of important documents and a point-form bio with key dates and places and other information that made the logistics of planning his funeral far less stressful.
While that was a really hard time, having that information ready was a great blessing to us. While you might not care what happens after you die, there will be people grieving and being a little organised can help them at that time.