Digital life after death

Last updated: 19 March 2014

Most of us have more than one life. If this sounds strange, I’m referring of course to the digital life that more and more of us subscribe to every day. But when our time comes to an end, the question of what happens to our digital assets is an increasingly important question.

Personally, I have my Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts, in addition to multiple email accounts and a host of shopping, banking and utility bill accounts, all accessed digitally. Hitting 50 and the recent heart attack of a friend (he survived) has suddenly given me pause: after I am gone, these assets will need to be managed in one way or another by the provider and my family.

Socialnomics, a great blog from Erik Qualman, has published an interesting post on this topic, including a nice animation from @LifeInsuranceF which helps showcase some of the social media assets that we hold:

The biggest question regarding these sorts of accounts is should they remain accessible to both friends and companies who can still see photos and mine the data of the deceased, or should direct access pass to relatives? This is being considered in Nebraska, U.S., right now, where lawmakers are considering legislation that would give personal representatives legal possession of the social accounts of the deceased.

Then there is the question of all my payment services – do I need to ensure that I leave behind my access details for my internet banking, Amazon account, Xbox Live etc? All these services will remain after I am gone and will need to be managed, but recording these details could present a security risk. Strong authentication processes are fortunately in place in most financial services areas, but the question facing us is how these can continue to be applied when transferring accounts to next of kin.

Balancing the need for future access with the requirement for confidentiality while we are alive is not currently an easy thing to manage. As such, I expect we will be hearing a lot more about digital wills in the future as our digital lives continue to become as pervasive and all-encompassing as our physical existence.