Will your information disappear from the online world shortly after you also disappear? Or will your last pictures and text remain online forever, leaving a haunting message behind? You might not want to leave a Facebook page online forever that says, "Having a great time here in Cancun. I wish I could stay here forever!"
Five states - Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island - have passed laws that grant a designated personal representative control over the deceased person's "digital assets." Other states are considering similar legislation. There's one hitch: either the deceased must have designated the personal representative in writing prior to death or else the courts will designate one many months or perhaps even years after the death. Courts also typically will only designate the "digital assets executor" if requested to do so. Your family members might not recognize the importance of a final update to your web pages.
Yet another problem is posed by the fact that contracts with service providers most often are automatically terminated (by the terms of service) as soon as the customer ceases to exist. That means there is no right for the heirs to access the deceased person's data.
Some experts suggest creating a digital estate plan, similar to plans you might make for your financial estate. At the minimum, you need to provide a list of user accounts and passwords to family members, somewhat like having an executor of your estate. If nothing else, family members can post a notice of your demise to your online friends. They also can continue to pay hosting fees, if any, to keep your data online.
One company, SecureSafe, provides a service that will transfer your files and passwords to your associates, friends and relatives that you designate, should something happen to you. You can determine exactly who should receive your data. I find it interesting that SecureSafe is based in Switzerland, a country that knows something about security, secrecy, and financial affairs. Operation is conducted in accordance with Swiss laws.
For each file and password stored in your SecureSafe account, you can assign a beneficiary who will have access to this data in an emergency situation or upon your death. You do not need a lawyer, and the data inheritance is simple and easy to setup. You do, however, have to designate one or more "Authorized Activators" in advance. These are persons you trust, who are authorized to activate the process; they are those persons to whom you have handed an activation code. These Authorized Activators will then activate the data inheritance on your SecureSafe account according to your wishes. In most cases, you will instruct them to activate the data inheritance only in case of your death or total disability.
SecureSafe will store passwords and any files that you wish to pass on. You could even save a "digital last will and testament" on the site as well as an electronic copy of your standard will and any other documents you want to make sure become available to your associates, friends, and relatives after your demise. Not everyone will receive everything. Each file and each password will be given only to the individuals you designate. If you store multiple passwords or multiple files, you could designate to have different files and passwords given to different people. Prices range from free to $12.90 (U.S.) per month, depending upon the number of passwords and the amount of file space you use.
Details are available at http://www.securesafe.com/en/features/inheritance.html.
As sad as it sounds, your final posting on your web sites probably should be your obituary. Who will post that online for you?
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