Death does not come to anyone by asking. It is always sudden and people never expect it.
Our lives are heavily intertwined in the digital world. As such, when (not if) that happens we should be prepared from a Cyber perspective.
We have hundreds of online credentials that our lives depend on. It would make the life of our next of kin much easier if we had settled them or let them know how to settle them before our number is up.
Some of the important things we can do are as follows. The best way to incorporate these tasks are to gradually implement every one of them over a period of a few weeks/months.
1. 📝 Will
I always thought wills were just about money! But that’s only one aspect of it.
No one would want their children (under 18) to go to foster homes or go through a year of court hearings (probate) to decide who their guardians should be and how their assets should be distributed! That happens a lot with people who haven’t defined this in their will.
It costs only around ~$500 per couple to get a will created by your lawyer/attorney.
The most important things to define in it are the executor (someone you trust with your life – after death), your children’s guardians (if under 18) and the distribution of your assets. You MUST define backups of those people as well, in case they’re not around at that time. You can always update your will every few years as you deem necessary.
It’s a good idea to let the executor of the will know what assets you have and how to reach them will full detailed instructions in a separate unofficial document. This will go a long way to keep things unambiguous. You can give them access to certain or all your passwords (using LastPass) and or email address with personal instructions as described below.
2. 📧 Emails
With Google, you can assign trustees to your account.
Here you can assign up to 10 email addresses of your family/friends that will get access to your account with inactivity of at least one month (you’re pretty much dead if you haven’t signed-in in over a month!).
This will give access to all your gmail emails, google drive, calendar, youtube, etc, whatever application uses google’s single sign-on. Use this option wisely, you don’t want skeletons 💀 to fall out of your inbox long after you’re dead!
3. 🔓 Passwords
LastPass has a feature called Emergency Access that gives access to your trustee anywhere from 3hrs to 30 days. You get notified and can decline access to all your passwords in that time frame, unless you’re dead! Bear in mind, that other person also needs to have a LastPass account. For me, this solves all the issues of other services not having a backup trustee or password sharing mechanism.
4. 🔥Burner Credit Cards
Don’t use plastic credit cards for recurring payments. Use burner cards and leave access to their credentials in LastPass so they can be turned off in a single click instead of countless calls with your bank trying to prove to them that you’re no longer alive.
All recurring payments like subscriptions to your gym, Netflix, utility bills, phone bills, installment plans, insurances, online services, etc can be turned off by pausing or deleting a burner or merchant credit card. Isn’t it better to go through a single portal rather than to contact 20-30 different agencies to cancel stuff that will take months and a lot of patience, not to mentioned wasted money?
Privacy.com is my go to service for this. Citi Bank and others I’m sure also offer it. But they’re all cumbersome and take a lot of time. Privacy.com is instant, there’s only one page after login!
The inverse is also true, you don’t want your electricity cut off because the credit card of the head of the household got cancelled. You can swap out the underlying payment/funding methods in privacy.com to another bank account without changing the virtual/burner card information and swiping credit card info in 20 different locations.
5. 💰 Investments
The easiest way to cover Stocks is to have their online login information shared when you share your passwords account (see Step 3). Property, cars and businesses should be part of a trust or LLC (discussed next). These should all be outlined in your Will as well if possible.
6. 📑 Trusts / LLC
Your house (and car) should be in a trust with both parents and all children’s name in that trust. It only costs less than a $100/year to maintain a trust depending on the state.
Businesses should be in an LLC.
The best option for people with a lot of wealth (over $1 million) is to put all assets in a Revocable Living Trust. So if you die, everything (wealth, property, cars, etc) transitions smoothly to the next in line defined in the Trust without going through lawyers, probate, courts and lengthy paperwork which could all very well cost you millions in court and lawyer fees (there are many such examples). You’d rather take those precautions now rather than leave it to your grieving relatives (or evil hounds, whatever your case may be).
7. 💸 Retirement Funds (401K, IRA)
401Ks have the option of defining your spouse in case you die. It only takes a few mins to add them online in the portal. Other funds have similar options like IRA, Roth IRA, etc.
8. Identity Theft
Probably the #1 victim of identity theft are the ones who no one looks up: the dead.
Have your Trustee contact the 3 credit bureaus to put a credit freeze on your SSN. Learn how to do this in advance with the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, Innovis). If you’re not opening up a new bank account, credit card or taking a loan in the near future or ever, then don’t wait for death, do it now, put a credit freeze on yourself, it does not hurt at all. It actually protects you from identity theft. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to abuse someone identity and credit with just a social security number.
Credit Freeze links can be found at the bottom of this wikipedia page.
This is a great write-up on Credit Freeze with examples and links.
9. 🤳🏻Social Media Accounts
Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, etc all have some way for a verified relative to contact them and delete your account, or set a status that you are deceased. Some require death certificate verification, other require assigning a contact beforehand. You could go research all the different sites, they just keep increasing. That’s why the best approach is simply to share your master accounts passwords (like using LastPass) and let them log in and close those accounts for you. You obviously have to trust them as they will probably snoop through your accounts. But that’s fine, you’re dead anyways!
10. 🗂 Organize Your Digital Life
Keep the task of the person going through your digital life (and yourself) easy and simple.
Keep all your files and folders organized. At this point, you’ve obviously made backups (local and cloud)! Make it easy for someone to navigate through the directory structure of your hard drive to find important documents like copies of birth certificates, passports, notes, pins, invoices, etc. Name files in a way that’s easy to know what it’s about and will show up in a search query. Don’t keep it untitled.txt It’s frustrating when you can’t find something that you desperately need at that moment.
Delete junk from your life if you know for sure you’ll never need it, like emails, documents, files, etc. Even though they don’t take up much space, they take up time to sift through. I make this decision on the fly, right after I read an email or go through a file or picture/video on the laptop or phone, I often delete it right there and then knowing it’s worthless in the future.