Byte the dust: how to plan for a digital death

By Adam Westbrook 12 May 2017
What to do before you die. Pic: Getty/Victor_Tongdee

No-one wants to talk about death but this one's important.

At the risk of sounding like one of those adverts that only air on daytime TV, have you made plans for what happens when you die?

Maybe you have the obvious stuff sorted: a will and insurance to cover the costs of your funeral.

But have you thought about your digital assets?

With more of our lives – including our money, mortgage plans and most personal messages – now stored in the cloud, we all need a plan for handling it when we pass away.

Let’s say, for example, you want your partner to cancel a car insurance policy once you’ve died but all the important details are saved in an email.

Without your password it would be very difficult to cancel.

And that’s just the half of it.

Some of our most important memories are stored by social media platforms and it’s a mixed bag in terms of how easy different companies make it to access and close the accounts of people who have died.

The answer: a digital will

The simplest way to make sorting your digital affairs is to plan ahead and create a digital will.

Yes, this is a thing – well, kind of. It’s a list of all of your digital assets – including how to access them – plus instructions for what you want to happen to them.

In the eyes of the law this is recognised as a Personal Assets Log, which can accompany a legal will.

You could store this as a file on your computer (if it’s encrypted) or play it safe and use pen and paper.

Start by listing all of your online accounts and locations of any digital assets into a document that puts all of this information in one place. Don’t forget to include web addresses, login names and, of course, passwords.

This should also include easy-to-overlook things like the password for each of your devices, your wifi router, PINs for bank cards and even the number to access your phone’s voicemail.

You’ll then need to name a “digital heir”: someone you trust who will receive all this information.

Finally, leave instructions about what to do with each of these accounts. You may want to keep your Instagram photos online, for example, but prefer your Facebook account is deactivated.

Use a password manager

We’re usually advised to avoid putting all of our details in one document that could easily be hacked or stolen.

This is why a password manager is a great idea.

Services like LastPass and Dashlane are great for managing your passwords securely and many have really useful features to manage your digital life after death.

Image: LastPass

LassPass, for example, allows users to designate Emergency Access to people they trust.

What’s nice is that it does not need to be notified of your death.

Instead, you predetermine a period of time of inactivity – say, for example, 3 months – and if LastPass doesn’t see you login to any of your online services in that time, it will notify your heir for you.

As they say, nothing can quieten the heartache of losing a loved one. The least we can all do is make sure we don’t add to the suffering.