Ian Fleming once wrote in one of his James Bond novels that you only live twice. Well, it now seems that you die twice as well. The first is your paper death and the second is your digital death. Digital death is quite a new phenomenon, so most of us simply aren’t prepared for it. But your digital death could be far more troublesome than the paper version.
You already know what to do about your good old-fashioned paper death. You write a Will, setting out which of your loved ones will inherit your property and other assets. Of course, half of us still don’t bother to do a Will, which is ridiculous, but that’s the topic for another day.
Unfortunately, even fewer of us are prepared for our digital death.
When we die, our body and soul aren’t the only things that stop functioning; our online persona will also stop dead in its tracks. This is a big problem, now that we live such active online lives. We have net-based bank and savings accounts, pensions and investment portfolios, and personal effects such as music, movies, photographs, blogs and social media accounts.
As banks, insurers and other financial organizations push towards paper-free statements to save money (and the planet, they claim), the trend will only grow. In the online world, you won’t leave a paper trail when you die. This makes it extremely difficult for relatives or fiduciaries to put the online pieces back together.
If you want your loved ones to know about your online activities after you die, you must assemble all the necessary data. You could call it your digital will. If not, your digital effects will effectively be buried with you. Ancient tribal societies used to do this so people could use their most precious possessions in the afterlife.
When people died in pre-digital days, they generally left plenty of paperwork, so relatives could find where the money was. That’s not so easy if their personal and financial data are buried on unnamed websites. Even worse (for some people) is if they have a massive digital music collection, but you are struggling to access it from their computer. Most likely their Will doesn’t give any clue as to who is supposed to inherit it.
Passwords are another problem. Even if you have a vague idea of where they bought their pensions, annuities and insurance, you will need their login details to access them. If your loved one has uploaded photographs and videos to social media such as Facebook and YouTube, you will need login details for them as well.
People are starting to include this sort of information in their Wills but they’re few and far between. The danger is that a Will is a public document, which anybody can view by requesting a copy from the Surrogate Court. You won’t want your login passwords publicized this way.
One way to tackle this problem is to write and print out all the account numbers for your pensions, investments, insurance policies, and so on, and hand them to a relative for safekeeping, in case of your death. Unfortunately, even if you’re smart enough to do that, you will probably fail to update the information. And don’t forget to include all of your online passwords that seem to change on a weekly basis.
Maybe a better option is to store all the information in one of the growing numbers of online digital legacy lockers. It is quite a problem, and one few of us have faced up to. Dying once is bad enough. Dying twice could be even worse.
When you die, you will leave a digital legacy behind you. You want to leave it to the right people. You also want to prevent online fraudsters (or even greedy relatives) from robbing your digital grave, or even bringing your online ID back from the dead.
Start thinking about it now. Otherwise your digital death could come back to haunt your family.