Animation by Slate. Photo by George-Morris/iStock/Getty Images Plus. One hundred thirty-two years ago, the serial killer now known as Jack the Ripper murdered five women in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields districts of East London. Today, the mortuary photos of the victims (and one crime scene photo) are strewn across […]
Dying in the digital age means leaving two worlds instead of one.
One is the physical world, where your body resides. The other is the online world, where your virtual self exists. When you die, your loved ones become responsible for both — yet they have very few tools to take proper care of the online “you.”
This is a growing problem nationally and in Oregon, as older citizens become more Internet-savvy and people of all ages conduct more of their personal and financial business online. Oregon lawmakers should be prepared to tackle this issue in 2015, with help from privacy advocates and estate attorneys: Our laws are ill-equipped to deal with the tricky reality of gaining access to others’ Facebook accounts, family photos stored in the cloud, and even password-protected phones.
Last week, a leading group of lawyers recommended that states adopt several proposals to make it easier for surviving family members and executors of estates to gain access to your digital assets when you die. This group, known as the Uniform Law Commission, says electronic documents should be treated much like paper documents in a file cabinet. In most cases, a surviving loved one or executor should get easy access without having to petition a judge or jump through months of hoops.
Same goes for photos and files that might be stored online: Unless the person specified otherwise in a will, trust or user opt-in agreement, that person’s digital assets should be as accessible as their physical property, the group says.
“Technology is creating these assets on a daily basis, and the law is woefully behind,” said former state lawmaker Lane Shetterly, an Oregon attorney who served on the workgroup that hammered out the recommendations. The group’s intent is to establish good public policy around better access, he explained, while also carving out ways for people to protect their online privacy, even in death.
“This is a balancing act,” Shetterly told The Oregonian editorial board on Tuesday.
Digital privacy is emerging as a hot topic for the 2015 legislative session, and dealing with the digital assets of a deceased person is likely to be part of the mix. Oregon lawmakers may be surprised to discover that many of the same Internet companies that seem awfully casual about users’ privacy are often the most reluctant to share account information with surviving loved ones, both because of company policies and competing federal laws.
Oregonians may find themselves debating surreal questions such as: How can we keep a virtual self out of legal purgatory? How should we define a good digital death?
This would have sounded like gibberish five years ago. Now, it’s a natural extension of living with our heads — and a good part of our souls — in the digital cloud.
Dying within the digital age means leaving two worlds as a substitute of 1.
One is the bodily world, the place your physique resides. The different is the net world, the place your digital self exists. When you die, your family members turn out to be chargeable for each – but they’ve only a few instruments to take correct care of the net “you.”
This is a rising drawback nationally and in Oregon. Last week, a number one group of legal professionals beneficial that states undertake a number of proposals to make it simpler for surviving members of the family and executors of estates to realize entry to digital belongings once you die. This group, often called the Uniform Law Commission, says digital paperwork needs to be handled very like paper paperwork in a file cupboard. In most instances, a surviving beloved one or executor ought to get easy accessibility with out having to petition a choose or leap by way of months of hoops.
Digital privateness is rising as a scorching matter for the 2015 legislative session, and coping with the digital belongings of a deceased individual is more likely to be a part of the combination. Oregonians could discover themselves debating surreal questions resembling: How can we maintain a digital self out of authorized purgatory? How ought to we outline a superb digital death?
This would have seemed like gibberish 5 years in the past. Now, it’s a pure extension of residing with our heads – and an excellent a part of our souls – within the digital cloud.
Dying within the digital age means leaving two worlds as a substitute of 1.
One is the bodily world, the place your physique resides. The different is the web world, the place your digital self exists. When you die, your family members turn into chargeable for each — but they’ve only a few instruments to take correct care of the net “you.”
This is a rising drawback nationally and in Oregon, as older residents change into extra Internet-savvy and folks of all ages conduct extra of their private and monetary enterprise on-line. Oregon lawmakers needs to be ready to deal with this subject in 2015, with assist from privateness advocates and property attorneys: Our legal guidelines are ailing-outfitted to cope with the difficult actuality of having access to others’ Facebook accounts, household pictures saved within the cloud, and even password-protected telephones.
Last week, a number one group of legal professionals beneficial that states undertake a number of proposals to make it simpler for surviving relations and executors of estates to realize entry to your digital belongings if you die. This group, often known as the Uniform Law Commission, says digital paperwork needs to be handled very similar to paper paperwork in a file cupboard. In most instances, a surviving cherished one or executor ought to get quick access with out having to petition a decide or bounce by months of hoops.
Same goes for pictures and recordsdata that is likely to be saved on-line: Unless the particular person specified in any other case in a will, belief or person decide-in settlement, that individual’s digital belongings must be as accessible as their bodily property, the group says.
“Technology is creating these belongings each day, and the regulation is woefully behind,” stated former state lawmaker Lane Shetterly, an Oregon lawyer who served on the workgroup that hammered out the suggestions. The group’s intent is to ascertain good public coverage round higher entry, he defined, whereas additionally carving out methods for folks to guard their on-line privateness, even in loss of life.
“This is a balancing act,” Shetterly instructed The Oregonian editorial board on Tuesday.
Digital privateness is rising as a sizzling subject for the 2015 legislative session, and coping with the digital belongings of a deceased individual is prone to be a part of the combo. Oregon lawmakers could also be shocked to find that lots of the similar Internet firms that appear awfully informal about customers’ privateness are sometimes probably the most reluctant to share account data with surviving family members, each due to firm insurance policies and competing federal legal guidelines.
Oregonians could discover themselves debating surreal questions corresponding to: How can we hold a digital self out of authorized purgatory? How ought to we outline a superb digital death?
This would have gave the impression of gibberish 5 years in the past. Now, it’s a pure extension of residing with our heads — and a part of our souls — within the digital cloud.
With digital privacy in the media spotlight and digital estate planning resources entering our mainstream consciousness, many of us have been inspired to think about the end of life and our online selves. And we should. Hundreds of thousands of Facebook users die each year, the average American believes that she has almost $55,000 worth of digital assets, though most of us — 70 percent — don’t even have a will, and few states have laws governing what happens to our internet accounts when we die. The sheer magnitude of our digital lives can overwhelm us into inaction, thus we need real life inspiration. What does managing a loved one’s digital legacy really look like?
Meet Courtney.* She represents the average family caregiver: 34 years old, a full-time nurse, mother to a pre-teen daughter, with a half-brother who lives several states away and a younger brother in the military. Like many Americans, she lives on-line, utilizing at least 25 password-protected sites on different computers and a smart phone, where she stores and shares the vulnerable, mundane, and whimsical in her life while connecting to family and friends. Before her mother’s illness, she had thought little of her own digital assets, let alone those of anyone else. When she joined the one-third of the US population who provides care for an ill, disabled, or aged person — two thirds of whom are women, shepherding her terminally ill mother’s online presence in life and after her death became very important. We use Courtney’s story to give us a glimpse into the questions, tasks, unexpected dilemmas, and benefits that await us in caring and grieving in the digital age.
The news that her 58-year-old mother faced terminal cancer shocked Courtney and propelled her into caregiving action. Drawing on her nursing background and love of organization, Courtney created spreadsheets to track her mother’s medications and the signs and symptoms of her disease. She and her mother searched disease progression and treatment options on-line, making lists of questions for her doctors and finding support groups. Courtney also began a private blog, tracing her mother’s stays in the hospital, and she treasures pictures stored on her phone of her mother’s last Halloween, hospitalized but still trick-or-treating at the nurses’ station.
As her mother’s condition declined, Courtney realized that her own comfort level with sharing her personal story through digital media and her mother’s were different, and her mother’s wishes took precedent over her own. For example, she considered using a caregiving site likeCaringBridge to help her mobilize support, but her mother’s wishes for a high level of privacy during her illness meant private e-mail messages and texting were best. Before her mother’s illness, Courtney shared her life’s ups and downs regularly on Facebook and Twitter, but now she tried to follow general digital etiquette advice as best she could, speaking only from her perspective as a daughter, refraining from telling her mother’s story without her permission. Most of the time, though, she found herself too exhausted to share anything and used Facebook to unwind, living vicariously through the pictures, status updates, and tweets of her friends.
Courtney soon realized that she did not know what digital accounts her mother had, let alone what she would want done with them in the future. On one of her mother’s stronger days, they sat down to begin sorting through her digital life together. Clicking through her mother’s Shutterfly, Pinterest, ITunes and Facebook accounts became an opportunity for reminiscing. Because most digital accounts are non-transferrable, they decided what material needed to be saved to her computer’s hard drive, which accounts to close, and which accounts to leave active, like her Facebook page which she still enjoyed using to keep up on her distant grandkids and childhood friends.
Because of her mother’s wishes for privacy, Courtney was surprised when her phone began buzzing non-stop soon after her mother died:
It was weird, because I’d only told a few people that she was dying. I learned that a family friend had been posting detailed updates about my mother’s last moments, and never checked with us about whether we wanted privacy and time. I was very hurt by that. I just felt like the world needed to stop.
Upset that her brothers might learn of their mom’s death on Facebook and not from their sister, she called them immediately. For several days, Courtney tried logging in to her social media accounts, but seeing her mother referred to in the past tense overwhelmed her. She wanted to scream to her well-meaning friends, “I am not ready for my mother to be a “was” yet!” Courtney turned off her phone and asked her best friend to become her family’s informal digital proxy by posting updates from the family on Courtney’s Facebook page, including logistical information about the funeral service and burial. In turn, her friend shared with Courtney the many appreciative comments about her mother’s life from social media sites and from the on-line guest book for her mother’s obituary.
Inevitably, time passed, and Courtney began the long journey of grief, incorporating the death of her mother into her own life story, gaining narrative resilience word by word, click by click. Through Facebook, she gained access to memories and stories from the geographically dispersed group of her mom’s friends, even learning from them how much her mom appreciated the sacrifices she had made to care for her. She still views her mom’s Pinterest board, savoring those unique ideas and dreams. Courtney and her brothers have committed to weekly Skype dates, where they check in and stay connected as they each grieve their mom in their own ways. They have already taken the step of memorializing their mother’s Facebook page, mostly to have closure and to ensure her privacy will be protected.
Courtney’s story reminds us that even if we personally plan for the management and bequeathal of our digital assets and story, a trusted loved one will be the one to carry out our wishes. Some families could benefit from legal counsel, but much can be done informally, as we saw with Courtney’s family. The critical first step is recognizing how digital assets can both provide support and — paradoxically — overwhelm without careful management. The next step is deciding how best to use those assets.
Like Courtney, daughters will most likely be the ones to initiate the conversation, but not all of us will have the luxury of time and ability to talk about what we wish. The time to plan for our digital legacy, both assets and story, is now. Far surpassing any monetary value, our digital narrative assets hold tremendous sentimental value for those who will find comfort and meaning from our cloud of digital witnesses.
*Courtney’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. She represents one of the Gen X interview cohort interviewed by Amy Ziettlow and Elizabeth Marquardt for a forthcoming book on 21st century caregiving and grief.