The Best Way To Manage your Digital Legacy and Assets: Make an Online Will
Where do you keep your most important, personal and valuable assets and secrets? If you have any assets at all in the world, you have probably made a will at some point – a legally witnessed and recognised document which ensures that everything you have worked towards throughout your life goes to the people you want it to, when you no longer have need of them. You wouldn’t dream of building retirement funds or owning things like a car or a house, without giving some thought towards who should enjoy the benefit of them if something were to happen to you… but what about your digital assets? What happens to them?
Think about it for a moment, imagine the worst happened and you were abruptly wiped out in an accident tomorrow. Even if you use a password storage service like LastPass, or KeePass, all of these services are ultimately protected by a single master password that is never written down and stored solely in YOUR head – that head which just got splattered by a bus or whatever. So, what happens to your Facebook status / Paypal funds / iTunes purchase / Dropboxed files then? What would you want to happen to them? Right now I have funds in my Adsense and Elance accounts, which I don’t need immediately and have left pending in the hope of some recovery of the dollar vs the Euro… would they simply evaporate if I were never to log in and collect them?
How about your email accounts… Would you want your family to have access to your address book, so that they can spread the word of your demise and let your contacts know? Perhaps you would. Would you want them to have access to every email or IM you ever wrote? Perhaps not! Electrons are forever, and your online life will go on without you, in increasingly uncontrollable ways – unless you make some efforts and provision to plan for it, just as you would your physical legacy. I had a conversation with a friend a month ago, about Facebook – saying we really should get around to connecting, and we laughed about that, as we saw each other every few days. Three days later she suddenly and tragically passed away – yet every few days Facebook asks me if I’d like to consider connecting with her, as represented by a silly cartoon avatar she was using...
So what can you do, to put your online affairs in order and ensure your loved ones can deal with your online life if your physical one is ended?
Services like Legacy Locker offer a complete online asset management system on a subscription basis – including a free service for very limited assets, after which you can choose a $29.99 annual or $299 lifetime subscription, depending I guess on how long you expect to live..! This service allows you to register details of all your assets and accounts, assign different beneficiaries to each, and even upload farewell notes and videos to accompany each. It also acts - whilst you’re alive – as an online safety deposit box/document backup, using bank-level encryption software: handy whilst travelling and so on, if you require access to a lost document. You have nominate two ‘verifiers’ to be contacted in the event of your passing - which can be reported by anybody – and they will be required to produce evidence such as a death certificate, before your assets and messages are released to your previously-nominated beneficiaries. Your verifiers will have to go through quite a complex human-supervised process of proving who they are and the fact of your death, but this is reasonable in the circumstances and probably less arduous than typical ‘offline’ probate.
Asset Lock offers a similar service, and makes sign up easy with templates prompting you for information, which includes location of physical assets and documents, insurance policy numbers, final wishes and instructions, and so on. Their procedure for the people they term ‘recipients’ seems less arduous than with Legacy Locker, as it merely requires enough of them to log in and verify your demise, and seems to have less human intervention – to my mind this suggests it could in theory be hacked, as the recipients do not have to prove who they actually are in any substantive way: knowledge of a password would be sufficient, although the data itself is stored and encrypted to similar industry standards. The pricing models are more flexible than Legacy Locker, with a similar top price for unlimited lifetime storage. Asset Lock recently underwent a name change (from YouDeparted), and two names are used inconsistently across the site, which also has a slightly unprofessional looking design – considering the context of how it would be used, this two points are less than reassuring, to my mind.
The somewhat disturbingly-named Deathswitch operates a different model, a digital ‘dead-man’s handle’ as it were – after lodging your assets and information with them in a similar way, it then emails you at pre-determined frequencies (between daily and annually, your choice), and it’s up to you to respond to verify your aliveness. There are several layers of messages and response times you can customize, and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to allow for perhaps being in a coma for 6 months and being unresponsive to email during that time. They suggest a number of creative uses for the service, including ‘unspeakable secrets’, and having the last word in an argument! Along with the usual concerns of lodging passwords, account details and so on. Deathswitch has no lifetime subscription option, but offers a low annual cost of $19.99, as well as a freebie option for a single message to be released to a single person. Of course being totally automated in this way one can again see potential for either accidental or malicious mistakes being made, and once more the site design – home-made flash and adwords (mainly for irrelevant kinds of switching device!) does not build any sense of gravitas or reassurance.
All of these services are worth looking into however, and just as making a paper will in the presence of your legal adviser is a weird and perhaps distasteful process, you should get a similar sense of satisfaction and completeness once it is done. Knowing that your final wishes were respected - whether to have Facebook ‘memorialize’ your account, your emails to secret lovers be securely destroyed, or your Mum to pick up your various affiliate commissions – should allow you to live a light and contented existence in the real world.