Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

6/21/2015

Digital Assets After Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happens when we die.

Recently, a friend of my wife’s died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  She was not, as far as anyone knows, ill in any serious way.  Nor, again, as far as anyone knows, did she have any medical condition that might lead one to expect a sudden death.  It was a very shocking surprise.
Her husband, who is also a friend of ours, was suddenly responsible for all the things she had been taking care of, including paying all the bills on-line.  Naturally, she had her email linked to all that, but, as it turns out, he didn’t have all her email passwords, because, well, who would?  I certainly don’t have all my wife’s passwords memorized, if I even know them.  Not that she keeps secrets from me, but, who can think of every system and password?  And, I have my own passwords to keep track of, which, thanks to my work, are many and not all chosen by me.  Our friends didn’t have much more in the way of “digital assets”, really, beyond email, their phones, and their Facebook account.  But, my wife and I have several websites between us.  Obviously, I have this one and my other, more personal site, JKHoffman.com.  She has her business website, The Organizing Decorator.  And, then there are the sites I’m still developing, FindMyPhorographer.com, FindMyDecorator.com and LookingForLawyers.com  Although those are still under development, we hope that they will one day be thriving businesses that will continue even if one of us were to die.
But, how?

Well, for the simple passing on of information, there are a lot of methods.  There’s the tried-and-true method of simply having the information, like a list of passwords for assorted systems, in a sealed envelope with instructions for delivery after a certain condition or date.  I’ve actually had that kind of thing with employers when I was at small companies.  Just a sealed envelope in a fire safe with the administrator password and other relevant details.  But, this relies on someone coming to find it or knowing where to look.  Also, there’s not as much control over who gets it, even if that envelope is left with someone trustworthy, like a lawyer.
Another method, that’s the higher-tech equivalent of this, is the software-based “Dead Man’s Switch”, which I wrote about back in 2009.  In addition to the resources there, now there is also the service Deadman.  The idea is all the same and based on an old idea from the train industry.  The so-called “dead man’s switch” is a device that someone must actively keep engaged or the train, or other piece of machinery, will shut off.  Here the “dead man’s switch” is just something that has to be reset by a certain time or some series of events will occur, like sending an email to one or more people with important information in it.  I used to use a bit of freeware based on this called “DMS”, which was, obviously, an abbreviation.  The software did, among other things, some encryption to protect vital information from people who might get nosy after my departure from a company, especially if that departure came as a surprise to me.  That worked great until I got cancer and was suddenly hospitalized and unable to reset the timer!  Whoops!  The creator is no longer supporting the software, and it has some obvious dangers, but you can still download it here.  There is a decryption tool, but, it may be best not to use that at all.  Also, I’m not entirely sure how well it will work on Windows 7 or newer machines.  It’s pretty old.
If you’re a WordPress blogger, you can try the Next of Kin plugin, which sends out an email per your configuration if you don’t log into your blog in a certain amount of time.  It hasn’t been updated too recently, but it is more up-to-date than the DMS software and runs on what is hopefully a more reliable system than your desktop, at least in the long-run.
(Of course, if you’re a spy or a whistle-blower of some kind, these services and software packages have other uses!)

So, what might one need to pass on to the living once we have passed?
Besides the previously mentioned email passwords and banking access passwords, there may be website and web hosting accounts and passwords, social media accounts and passwords like Twitter and Facebook, PINs for your ATM, credit cards and home alarm, device passwords for phones, laptops and desktops, and password storage software, if you use any.
Honestly, this list can go on and on in our connected world.  A site called Tuts+ ran a two-part series about this very subject and I highly recommend that if you want to think through all the things that you may need to transfer access to after one’s passing.  The first article, Preparing Your Digital Assets For Your Eventual Death, has a lot of food for thought.  The author, like me, knew someone who lost their spouse and was confronted with the sudden loss of a spouse, which is what inspired his writing of the articles.  However, it took on a much more personal sense of urgency when, after starting the articles, he was diagnosed with a, thankfully, operable brain tumor.  And, as a cancer survivor, I can tell you that this is not the first time these issues have been on my mind.

If you have a self-hosted blog, like this one, or another kind of website, you have an additional set of challenges in addition to the normal ones that pretty much everyone faces today in our digital world.  First of all, there’s the domain name.  Now, you can register that somewhere for an extended period of time.  The last I checked, though, ten years is the longest one can pre-pay for that service.  Most registrars have an auto-renew feature, as long as you have a good credit card listed in the payment section.  Or, have it linked to a PayPal account that has funds in it.  In theory, web-hosting can work in a similar fashion.  In fact, the popular and well-known registrar GoDaddy has hosting options as well, so, if this is a real concern, it may be possible to achieve both goals at a single vendor.
But, of course, the question ultimately becomes one of how reliable in the long-term any of these companies are or may be.  Do you want to host your content for 100 years after your death?  The internet itself hasn’t been around that long yet, so who knows what any of this digital landscape will look like that far into the future?  Jeff Reifman talks about these issues in greater depth in the second of his articles at Tuts+, Hosting Your Website After Death.  It’s an on-going series and I recommend that you check it out if you have any interest in these topics at all.

 


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Contrary to popular belief, UNIX is user friendly. It just happens to be selective about who it makes friends with."
   --Dave Parnas

1/25/2011

Dealing With Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:14 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, not the idea, but the actual event.

Two stories ran recently about dealing with the parts of us left behind after death.
First a story about a “better” coffin that screws into the ground.  Okay, I’ll grant you, this is less serious than morbidly amusing to me.  Still, I do like the idea of having a low-cost disposal method for what I’ll leave behind once I “shuffle off this mortal coil”.  That it screws into the ground, just tickled me.
And, for anyone keeping track, I’d just as soon be cremated and scattered to the Four Winds where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan just outside the Loop.  Seriously.

The second two were a little more serious.  Two stories about social media applications dealing with the accounts of the dead and, more recently, one from the New York Times Magazine, online, of course.
Back before everyone was on the web all the time, I used to have an envelope that was labeled “Open upon my death or disappearance”.  Seriously!  I used to keep it tucked under my keyboard.  I had one at work, too, for those folks, though that was in a safe.  In each envelope was a series of usernames and passwords for people to use to get access to my accounts should I go missing, or should something happen to me that left me incapacitated or dead.  I’m honestly not sure if anyone knew about the one under my keyboard, but I figured it would have turned up when someone cleaned up after me.  So, basically, I was giving someone who survived me access to my e-mail and other, similar accounts.
I got rid of that sometime shortly before the divorce, for some obvious reasons.

Now, though, there are so many accounts and websites and blogs and such that I’m not sure I could easily list them all.  And, frankly, who would bother to pay for my website?  Who would care enough to maintain an archive of this blog, for instance?  I don’t have a huge readership, though you are a pretty loyal lot, so I don’t expect anyone to really want to preserve what I have here.
How many of you have though about what will happen to your blogs and websites and so on when you die?  What about if you were to die suddenly from, oh, say, cancer?  What then?  If I went missing for a month, would anyone notice here?
Well, for WordPress blogs, there’s a plugin called Next Of Kin that might help, a little.  You can set it to post some message to your blog if you fail to login to your blog for a set amount of time.  And, just to be sure, it will send you a reminder or warning e-mail to check and make sure that you haven’t just forgotten to visit your blog.  It’s far from enough to take care of all of your digital needs after death, but it is a pretty good start!

So, what have you all got setup in case of your untimely death?  Does anyone know your passwords?  Have you given anyone instructions on what to post to Facebook or Twitter after you’ve gone?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who does not appreciate kindness and compassion."
   --Dalai Lama


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