This week I’m updating my will, which hasn’t been updated since I was married (I’m now divorced). Updating one’s will is never a fun task, but it is essential if you don’t want to leave a mess behind after you die. More importantly, you may not always want everything you own go to Nearest Next of Kin, or the courts, if you die intestate (without a will).
In my case, a will is simple since I don’t own a house or business, and don’t have kids. I’m including in my will my bank account number, and my car insurance policy account information, in addition to the online accounts I’ve set up for both. I do have royalty payments, but it’s a simple matter of just specifying who the royalties go to. Of course, I also have to leave instructions about what royalties I am expecting and who to contact to ensure they go to the right person.
Then there’s this web site, and therein lies a modern challenge when planning one’s own EOL (end of life): what do we do about our connected lives?
I currently have automatic payments set up to pay for phone and internet, as well as my web site. To ensure that these are managed property, I’ve included instructions and access information for both.
I’ve provided a list of people and their email addresses to be notified if I die, so I won’t suddenly disappear without a trace. However, I have no interest in my web site lingering much beyond my death, as some form of white cross along a virtual rather than real highway. I realize that my web site going away will leave holes where previous documents used to be, but whoever decided that the web must remain static and 404 free really didn’t think through the issues in their Utopian view of the internet.
As for my writing or pictures, whatever I do have online is free for the taking after my death. Oh, the copyright will still be there, but my “heirs” will not be going after anyone. I haven’t decided yet, but I may ask that my online material be turned over into the public domain after I die. I’ll have to explore the ramifications of this issue in more depth, as there are some pieces that some people may want.
The domains I own will, themselves, be allowed to expire unless my heirs decide they want to keep or sell them, early. I will include information about how to access my registrar account, as well as my web hosting account.
Speaking of domains, currently I have several email addresses dependent on burningbird.net. I’ve already started using my Gmail account as an intermediary for sign up accounts, and I have to start doing the same with other email addresses I maintain. My email server will be gone once my web site is gone, and I don’t want others to suddenly lose email access because I’m no longer around to maintain the email accounts.
My Kindle is set up under my account at Amazon, and I’m not sure how one goes about “leaving” my Kindle books to another. I would assume that since these are property, and since the actual physical device goes to someone, the books themselves do, also. I’ll have to ask Amazon what its recommendation is. My Netflix account must also be transferred, which means transferring the Netflix Roku box to another account.
Other than my web site and email addresses, as well as online accounts with service providers, I don’t have any investment in any other online social services that I have to worry about closing.
Online accounts are not the only issue, though. I’m the tech in my household, and the only one with knowledge of how all the pieces are fit together. This week I’m spending time writing out detailed instructions of how all the components of my various systems fit together: from how to access movies on my AppleTV (including which computer is synced to my AppleTV, and what my iTunes account information is); to how to access movies, Hulu, or other online account from both my Mac and my Dell laptop.
These latter activities may seem frivolous when compared to the event leading to the need for such documents, but it seems a shame to do a really nice job with a home intranet, only to have it fall apart if I’m not longer around. Plus if I’m not dead, but only incapacitated for a time, or even on a long trip, it would be pity if my roommate couldn’t access my rather spiffy video setup.
To summarize the tasks:
- Do the usual: create will, assign executor, provide detailed bank account information, as well as information about car insurance, and other insurance policies. Make sure to note all sources of income, even sporadic ones. (Getting money from selling ads, or being an Amazon associate? Note these.)
- Provide a contact list of who to contact if you’re dead or may be dying.
- Sign up for and use a centralized email account for any accounts. Have the account forward email to your hosted email account.
- Leave instructions about how to access your web hosting account, and what do with your online material if you die.
- Leave detailed instructions for all other online accounts, including your domain registrar, Amazon, Paypal, iTunes, FaceBook, Twitter, and so on.
- Leave detailed instructions to access all your accounts that are setup with automatic payments. These will need to be transferred or canceled.
- Provide account information for all computers, too, unless you want the computers wiped clean. Don’t forget your iPhone or other cellphone or small devices.
- If you participate in some committee, such as a W3C working group, or provide open source software, such as Drupal modules, Firefox patches, then provide information about who to contact and how to provide access to any work in progress, or ensure that someone in authority knows that a module or other work is now available for someone else to support, if they wish. The same goes for any conference or other event where you’ve made commitments. Notice of death may be sufficient.
- If you’re responsible for the internet or intranet connectivity in your home, (or church, or other organization outside of work) document your connections and equipment, and make sure whoever needs access to this information has these documents, and understands these documents. I am assuming you’re already doing this for your job.
- To ensure you’ve accounted for everything, keep a diary, and every time you access a new online account, work on a new project, make an adjustment to a new device, make a new work or event commitment, jot it down and make sure the diary is accessible to whomever is your executor.
It is actually quite a lot of work to prepare for one’s own end in in this era of subscribed services and internet accounts— not to mention long distance relationships, and plethora of connected devices. I think, though, it’s important to do so if we don’t want to leave behind a tangled mess.
We should do this type of planning no matter how old or fit we are— there’s nothing morbid about planning for one’s death, and age is no defense. After all, there could be a beer truck with our name on it, just around the corner.