Dying on the Internet

At age 26, I’m hopefully quite a long way from my inevitable demise, but you never know when something tragic might happen.  As a sysadmin, I’m expected to plan for contingencies, including the good ol’ “hit by a bus” scenario.  That responsibility extends to life outside of work, too.  I keep financial documents, both electronic and dead tree, in a place where my wife can find them if she needs to, and I have life and personal accident insurance policies.  The big problem in my planning is: what happens to my online accounts if I were to die or be seriously injured?

If my accounts on Facebook, LinuxForums.com, etc. are left adrift, that’s not a problem.  If my web hosting account gets left in the dust, that’s a slightly bigger deal.  If nobody can get into my TIAA-CREF account, that becomes a much larger problem.

My options seemed fairly limited.  I could keep all that stuff in an encrypted file on my computer, but that leaves me open to loss or theft.  A written notebook suffers from different forms of the same problems.  I could put the notebook in a safe deposit box at the bank, but that’s rather inconvenient to make updates to (because I always change my passwords on a regular basis *wink*), and it costs money.

Alan Reiter had an interesting article on Internet Evolution today that suggested another option.  There’s a new service called Legacy Locker.  The service is so new, in fact, that you can’t even sign up for it until next month.  Legacy Locker is basically the digital equivalent of a safe deposit box.  You put your account information in there and for each account you can name a beneficiary who can access the information in the case of your death.  Two “verifiers” and a copy of the physical death certificate are required to pass your information to your beneficiaries, so in theory at least, it’s pretty secure.

As the middle-aged businessman has told us, the Internet is serious business.  Until now, the matters of death have been left in the brick-and-mortar world, and I’m interested to see how well this service plays out.  Frankly, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in this service.  Let’s face it:  I hope to live another 50-60 years.  Considering how much the technology has changed even in the last decade, I can’t be sure that this service will still exist when it comes time for me (my survivors, really) to make use of it.  Will I sign up?  Most likely not, but it marks an interesting step forward for the digital world.

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