Not long ago, I was delivering a speech to 4,000 life insurance agents. To make a sale, they have to get a prospect to think about and plan for a future fact: At some unknown point in time they are going to die, and they need to think about how they would want to help their family or those they care most about after they are gone. It’s not a fun subject to think about, but it’s an important one, especially if you have a family.
Have you ever stopped to think about how many unique logins you possess to access the dozens of applications, social media platforms, online bills and e-mail accounts? Have you also ever thought about how your partner would pick up the pieces should something happen to you?
We are all gathering an increasing number of digital assets through our lives that are also replacing physical possessions, considering that our favorite music playlists or movies are much more likely to be found online than on a shelf gathering dust. Our PayPal accounts, online subscriptions and even domain names and their auto renewals all require a degree of management or, at least, a password to access.
We are increasingly advised never to write down our password and to only use a secure online safe of some kind, but those we leave behind are increasingly finding that they are unable to pick up the pieces. There are also some people who live double lives, and their last wish would probably be that nobody access their digital legacy after they are gone. But chances are, most people reading this have not even thought about what will happen to the digital footprint they leave behind. Perhaps it’s time to consider preparing digital inventories to help our loved ones after we pass away? Or nominate someone to take care of our digital afterlife?
Everything about who we are as a person and what we love used to be remembered through physical objects that were passed on to family members through a will when we die. Increasingly, the very essence of our personality, thoughts, outlook and feelings are now frozen in time via a digital footprint.
In many ways, a Facebook profile can help the grieving process and provide comfort to family members to hear loved one’s voices in videos or photographs from a summer’s day. Friends posting thoughtful messages on their timelines can also help keep alive a person’s memory and everything they stood for.
However, many are unaware that when Facebook is informed that a person has passed away, the account becomes a memorial to their life and the settings are locked down to the user’s intended privacy settings. Family members who may not currently have a Facebook account will find that the account is inaccessible and will be unable to view photos and videos of their loved ones.
There are two sides to this coin. Nobody wants people rummaging through your online files and browsing history after they have passed away. But, equally, it can be incredibly difficult for those who have been left behind to sort everything out without the dozens of usernames and passwords to help them.
There is no right or wrong way of how to deal with this situation; some will want to designate someone to take care of their digital afterlife and keep their memory alive, whereas others will request that their account be deleted.
There are various tools available, such as the or , that can be used for “storing, organizing and managing your treasured photos, home videos, online accounts, household information or any other important digital file.”
Whether you would want to grant a friend or family member access to your account or would sooner it was all removed forever, not making arrangements could lead to problems. The rapid increase in between friends, family members and the platforms filled with their virtual legacy are proving how our digital assets are seldom thought about.
When 72-year-old Peggy Bush lost her husband, David, to lung cancer, she found herself unable to access his Apple account on their iPad and Apple computer they used to play games on. Upon contacting Apple for help, she was advised she would need to obtain a to access her late husband’s account.
Technology is progressing much quicker than the laws that desperately need to be modernized to ensure that digital account data is treated in the same manner as physical possessions when someone passes away. There is also an argument that we, too, need to take some personal responsibility and make our last wishes known to our loved ones.
Because our entire lives, memories and even bills are all hidden behind a unique login, it seems that maybe we should start planning what will happen to our digital afterlife sooner rather than later.