Earlier this year I was at the annual conference for the National Association of Professional Organizers. I was sitting in the audience for a talk by Heather Ahern from The Functional Home entitled Advance Planning for Your Virtual Afterlife. Out of all the excellent presentations I attended at that conference, this one has stuck with me the most.
Have you ever thought about what will happen to your digital accounts and assets if you get hit by a bus tomorrow? Will someone be able to get to your email? What will happen to your online presence?
Most importantly from a going paperless perspective, does someone know how to get at your files and do they have the rights to do so?
The Questions To Ask Yourself
In her talk, Heather recommended taking stock of all your accounts and places that you store digital information and asking yourself the following the questions for each:
- What is its value?
- To whom is it valuable?
- What do you want to have happen to it?
Don’t forget that you might feel that your Twitter history is worthless, but I guarantee that your family will not.
Companies Will Likely Be No Help
You might think that your loved ones can just go to companies like Apple, Google, or Yahoo and request access to your account after you die.
Every company has different requirements (here is a good infographic with an example), and the laws around this vary by jurisdiction.
It’s safe to say that in most cases even if they are able to finally get access to your information, it will be a massive pain in the ass to do so.
The Best Thing To Do
The best thing to do is to keep a collection of your accounts, usernames, and passwords and store them in an accessible place with instructions for whoever is handling your affairs.
Whatever you use and however you do it, have that list organized and updated on some sort of regular basis.
By the way: even though it sounds convenient, don’t put your passwords in your will. It may become public record.
What About Companies That Do This?
There are software companies out there that have recognized a market for digital legacy protection. I don’t have experience with any of them, and my personal opinion is that this is an area that you should be in control of yourself. However, using one of them is certainly better than doing nothing.
Google Inactive Account Manager
Did you know that Google has a built in feature for notifying and passing on access to your account if you stop using it for a period of time? Neither did I.
It takes less than five minutes to set up, and if you are a Google user (especially if you store your documents on Google Drive), I highly recommend you set it up.
Learn More About Protecting Your Digital Assets
Technology Law Source has an excellent writeup on the topic and I recommend you take a read through it.
I have also had the book Your Digital Afterlife recommended to me, but I have not read it yet myself.
Whatever you do, this is not an area where you want to get into analysis paralysis – start making your list of where to access your paperless documents now.
This is one area that you want to have control over before you don’t.
(Photo by Ervins Strauhmanis)