A recent tragedy reminded me of the fragility of life, but also its ability to endure after someone's passing. Anyone that has dealt with the death of a family member will be all too familiar with the fact that someone's passing starts a whole new chapter for those left behind. Dealing with the inevitable paperwork can be challenging.
To add to that challenge is our new digital life. The vast majority of us now have significant portions of our lives living in bits here and there. Some of it on the computers and devices we own. Some of it on the Internet. What happens to it all when we die?
Please bear in mind that I am not a lawyer and am not giving legal advice. My advice is that you get proper legal advice.
If you haven't made a plan, then the answer is very muddy. In theory power of attorney over your estate includes your online life, but since many pieces of information are kept on systems outside of Canada, for example, even that may be a little fuzzy at times.
There are still very few laws that speak directly to post-life digital laws, but most of the usual laws, such as privacy and ownership still apply.
Aside from getting good legal advice, there are a few things that you can do to help with the management of your affairs upon your passing. They are mostly comprised of what information you should collect and share.
The first and best piece of advice is to collect all of your usernames, passwords, and PINs and store them in a secure fashion. Then decide who is going to be responsible for dealing with your digital affairs and ensure that they will have access to this file.
Think for a brief moment of all the things you have sitting on your computer. Pictures, videos, emails, bank statements, etc. Something as trite as not having your windows login can become a huge burden for your family in trying to access those.
You may be in the position where you have information that doesn't belong to you. Most of us work with or for businesses and organizations. Much of the correspondence and files associated with those may be owned by them. Hopefully, they have policies regarding that data that you will simply follow, but maybe not.
I use an application call KeyPass. It's available for Windows, Macs, phones, etc. It securely stores usernames, passwords and other data. I store all my information in there. It has extremely secure encryption. Now I only need provide my executor with one password – the one to my KeyPass file – and they have access to everything. KeyPass even allows for notes with each entry so I can make specific requests for each item if I want.
You don't have to use KeyPass. Even a simple spreadsheet file will work. Excel lets you put a password on a spreadsheet. So, you can use that for storage.
Of course your executor needs to have access to it to make use of it.
A simple way is to email your executor your KeyPass file every month and include the password for the file with your will and other documents. Be sure to clearly explain who is to receive it. This way the person with your KeyPass file won't be able to use it until needed, but they will always have a current copy.
It is also a good idea to make sure that you are not the sole possessor of information needed by organizations you work with. Several times over the past few years I've been called after someone's passing, asking if I can retrieve important information that the person possessed, now needed by the organization, and no one else has a copy nor access. A burden I'm sure the person never intended to foist on them.
Social media accounts, online shopping accounts, email accounts, etc. All of these need to be thought of. Do you have reoccurring online purchasing, such as for domains you own? Credit cards stored on eBay or Amazon? Do want your social media accounts closed? An announcement made on them?
As with all estate planning, sitting down with pen and paper and making a list, discussing it with your family, and collecting the information in advance are the keys to easing your digital passing.
p.s. If you have any specific questions for the Answer Guy send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Chances are good that if you want to know others do too.