What does Mahatma Gandhi, Hitler, the virgin Mary and your great-great-grandfather have in common?
They are dead. Dead deadily-dead-dead dead. And unless you are planning to buck some pretty solid statistics, you will die as well.
So what happens to all the people and stuff you leave behind? That is the topic of today’s article, with the focus on the special considerations required by nomads and ‘digital’ people.
If a piano falls from a ten-story building and crush me in a D-minor crescendo, how will my family and friends find out about my musical death?
If I am in my home country it will take the police very little time to piece together who I am, where my registered address is and who are my next of kin.
If I live in a far-away country, this whole process takes a lot longer. Not that I would be in a hurry (I’m dead) but nervous family members may start interpreting every week-long silence from me as a sign that I’m chilling out in a Peruvian morgue.
Since I spend most of my days far away from a police force that know me, I carry a simple ID card in my wallet with my name, nationality and a few next-of-kin details.
That won’t do much good, however, if an alligator eats me alive – flesh, clothes and wallet all together. For this and other gory eventualities where my wallet disappears alongside my body, I leave a copy of my ID card in my luggage.
If you are geo-static, then your social network is probably focused on one or a few locations. If you die in a freak custard-related accident, then your relatives will put a notice in the local paper and the news will get around to all concerned.
If you are a nomad, however, then your friends are probably grouped into pockets dispersed throughout the world. The only person they have in common is you. If you die, your friends may never find out that you are dead or the hidden dangers of custard.
You could instruct your next-of-kin to update your Facebook status to ‘deceased’, but not all of your disparate friends will be on social networks. (And ‘deceased’ is too easily misread as ‘diseased’.)
My solution was to create a group in my contact list titled ‘To be informed of my death’. These are the contacts that I expect my next-of-kin to – you guessed it – inform of my death.
Do you know what will happen to your Email, Google, Facebook, webhost or cloud backup accounts when the grim reaper comes knocking? What about your laptop? Who will get that when you die? And do you really want your relatives going through your files? Think carefully now. Exactly. Figured.
Some online services will allow you to set up a controlled transfer of ownership in the inevitable case of your death, but most do not. For this majority, your only option is to give the login details to your intended recipients. This will make them criminals guilty of identity theft, but until this first digital generation starts dying en masse and proper routines for digital inheritance is established, there is no other way.
Of course, you probably don’t want to hand over the keys to your digital home while you are still living in it. To solve this you need a system or a service that will release your various login credentials only after your confirmed death.
The service I went with is Legacy Locker. In short, you create a number of digital assets (e.g. your Facebook credentials) and allocate them to various beneficiaries. Your death must be confirmed by a set of verifiers (of your choosing) before the assets are given out.
You can’t set up your post-mortem system and then forget about it. (You don’t want your ex to remain the beneficiary of your online journal after that hateful breakup.) So I’ve created an annually repeating task in my Getting Things Done system for updating my post-mortem system. During the update, I will
- verify the next-of-kin details of my ID cards.
- add new friends to my ‘To be informed of my death’ contact list.
- update my digital assets in Legacy Locker and make any desired changes to my beneficiaries or verifiers.
That’s it! You can now die in peace knowing that your digital life and nomadic friendships are all taken care of.