If you died now, who would look after your digital YOU?


You’ve surely seen, at least once in your life, one of those very romantic, hearth-breaking movies in which some John or Mary die but, just one moment before passing away says to whoever is tenderly holding his or her hands something like:

“Promise that you will look after my X after I’m gone”, where X normally is children, parents, spouses, pets or family mansions. Invariably, no matter how serious their condition are, John (or Mary) resist until Mary (or John) does answer with some variant of “Yes, of course. Don’t worry, X will be in friendly, capable hands”.

These wonderfully complicated times we live in have added to the list of potential Xes our computers or, more exactly, the personal data and services we manage with them. What will happen to all that stuff after you’ve gone? Are you sure that everything worthwhile will remain accessible to whoever should have it? And are you sure that whatever you meant to be real private, instead, will remain real private?

Here’s what a “death preparedness digital checklist” may look like:

  • Notify death to online acquantances who, for whatever reason, should indeed know about it (for example, what if you’re the administrator of some forum, a webmaster or the moderator of a mailing list?)
  • Provide passwords of bank accounts and similar to spouse, children, family lawyer etc…
  • Decide if the passwords of your Facebook and email accounts should be in that list or not…
  • If you run a blog or other personal website, leave instructions about what to do with its content (should it be removed?). If you want it to remain publicly available, don’t forget to leave a declaration or something that releases it in the public domain or under a Creative Commons license. Orphan works already create too many problems.
  • Make sure that a copy of all the files that need to remain available (bank, pension or tax returns, pending payments or work contracts…) are all in one folder
  • Make sure that that folder is backed up in at least another place outside your computer
  • If you have files that you want to be available to your grandchildren, be sure that they are not in some proprietary, practically secret format that may become unreadable
  • Keep all the files that you want to die with you (hey, don’t ask me which ones, you know which files I’m talking about…) physically separated from the others

I’ll conclude with two questions:

  • Can you afford not to have and implement such a checklist? Especially thinking that you should do many of those things anyway everyday, in case your hard drives suddenly die?
  • Did I forget something? Please let me know!

Important note: This page has been inspired (even if I had already mentioned the same problem in my book years ago) by the article Data Recovery in the event of your Death. This other page of mine, as everything else on Stop!, is meant to make people aware of certain issues, not to provide detailed technical advice. I highly recommend to all readers that want to know about technical strategies on how to deal with these issues to read that other article too!

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