I’ve had a wake-up call. Things have happened this week which have prompted me to take a look at the future – the one without me in it. And how my digital life is not very future proofed, and how many records of our life will be lost unless I start to do some digital estate planning. It’s something none of us want to talk about, but the alternative is unthinkable.
I learned via Facebook that an old school friend had passed away having only reached 40, and his page is covered with tributes from friends he has made throughout his life. It struck me that it is a wonderful way to send thoughts to a family when you have no idea where they are in the world, but want to express your sympathy. But then I realized that they have no way of curating that page or contacting people on it directly, or even choosing how it will continue in the future. And that worried me.
I have religiously followed my own guidelines. I have a will that is valid both in the UK and the US, and details clearly what should happen to my assets when I die. I have an Advanced Directive of Health Care, which states who should make decisions about my care if I am no longer able to make them myself. I can’t remember if I mentioned this to my sister (she of the Sausage Splait, orange trousers and ScottEVest fame) but it’s her.. Ah well, she knows now, and I will be home in November to discuss wardrobe choices, hair colour, and just when she gets to do a semi ‘accidental’ trip over the cable and pull out the plug. I am even in the process of setting up a Living Trust, so that my beneficiaries avoid the lengthy and painful probate process. So on paper, I look like I have it covered.
But what struck me this week was that my online life has not been accounted for, and there is a great deal of it. On the financial front, there are the online bank accounts, which, if undiscovered, would join the hundreds of billions languishing in idle bank accounts worldwide and eventually turned over to the state or government until (if ever) reclaimed by my executors. As we move around a great deal, all our accounts, including savings, checking and credit cards, are managed online, and the Other Half has no idea of most of the passwords. Yes, he has a checkbook and a debit card, but when you need access to more than that and the nearest branch is 5000 miles away, things become tricky. Any fraud on the accounts would go unnoticed, online payments could not be made, and day-to-day financial management would be hugely disrupted. Other potential accounts that need to be addressed include ones that would continue to have access to your accounts if not dealt with, such as accounting tools (e.g. Mint, Quicken, TurboTax etc), Paypal, and automatic checkout features on sites such as Amazon and iTunes.
But more importantly, in personal terms, all the records of family life are now stored on various hard drives and servers around the world. My computer has all our recent family photos stored on it, but is password protected, my Photobucket account has all the photos since 2003, but is password protected and my emails, my iTunes account, Facebook and Twitter feeds, this website – you’ve guessed it, it’s all password protected. And there is nobody nominated to take care of it once I’m gone, or even able to get access to it at all. I have backed up all our important documents (medical records, bank statements, tax returns) on Dropbox and Evernote, but the Other Half doesn’t even know these exist, and as he has also never read a single page of my website, you now have more information about my online activities than he does.. Whereas once we could pass on our CD or DVD collection just by handing over the boxes, increasingly valuable media collections are stored online or on hard drives and are invisible to those who aren’t aware of their existence. Diaries, blogs, photographic collections, family videos, computer games, software – the list goes on, and will have taken considerable time, effort and expense to accumulate, only to be lost in the shuffle.
So this is my plan this week – I’m doing a digital audit. I am going to spring clean my digital life so that anyone who does happen to be lumbered with the task after I’m gone won’t require therapy for the rest of their life. I’m going to delete everything that isn’t important, back up the essential stuff onto an external hard drive to be kept somewhere safe, and keep a list of just what digital accounts I have (and their passwords) with a copy of my will. I’m going to back up all our photographs and circulate them to various family members, hoping for safety in numbers. And then I’m going to write a message to be put out on Facebook, Twitter etc. in the event of my death, so that someone else doesn’t have to try and come up with the words, and you find out straight from the horse’s mouth. Which just goes to prove that you never will be able to shut me up..