zen.org Communal Weblog

May 15, 2012

Digital Legacy

Filed under: — elana @ 21:10 IST

There are many types of digital legacies, I’m learning.  There are the ones that people know B for best: Zen and the Art of the Internet, the CuD archivist, EFF supporter, gcc/c++ programmer. But then there’s a few layers under that as well, like his Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and this site and blog.  Those are the more public legacies, the more enduring ones because of sites like Archive.org.

But what of his personal digital legacy? What of his multiple home computers and the information (or lack of) on them?  Password files, financial files, stories and notes, his vast email archives?

What do you do when you are next of kin to a geek?

In the past few months, I’ve had to learn a lot. Some things, like Unix, backing up Android phones, and figuring out why our MythTV box isn’t working were helped by friends. Other things I’ve had to do on my own: digging through B’s email to find answers to questions, figuring out our bank accounts and how to pay his VAT to the Revenue. All the things that he seamlessly did before.

But the things I don’t know are larger: where are our wills? When was the last time he balanced our Quicken account? Where were things left with other accounts?  Who now maintains mailing lists and what do I do about his email account?

Luckily, I knew his 3 most used passwords, and he had given me his password file a few months ago, and kept it updated, so a large part of what could be stress is gone. And everyone has been very kind in explaining things to me in very small words.

So people, let me explain to you all in small words what you should be doing right now:

*Get your password file. Email it to a friend in another city. Ask them to just sit on it, and then every month, send them an updated file if you’ve changed any passwords.  And tell them to do the same to you.

*Tell your loved ones–not just your partner, but a friend or relative–where your will is. You don’t have one? Make one. Scribble something on a piece of paper, have it notarized, and whee  you have a will. Tuck it somewhere safe and make sure someone you actually KNOW has access to it.

*Make sure your accounts for everything are in both your names if you have a partner/spouse.

*Get rid of all that crap in your inbox. Really. Wading through all that stuff is not very fun.

*Have a file, on your desktop, that has all the most important files in it. Your updated Quicken file, info on your assets, your network setup (act like you are explaining it to your mother) and your domain setups. The PIN to your mobile phone.  You can encrypt this file if you like…as long as you let your password file holder friend have the password (and the password to just get INTO your computer.)

I’ll be updating later on what to do with email and social media accounts.  As I figure them all out.

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  1. I maintain one encrypted file of secrets, to which my wife knows the password. Bank accounts, credit cards, hosting account and all clients thereof, email accounts, and zillions of Web sites, communities, & probably obsolete stuff. Included in the latter category are the social media accounts. At the head of the file are suggestions for who to contact among my tech friends/acquaintances to deal with which parts of the digital legacy, in particular my Web hosting affairs.

    Comment by kdawson — May 15, 2012 @ 21:23 IST

  2. Thank you so much for putting this here for the rest of us. I’m so sorry you’re having to figure all of this out, *hugs*.

    Off to get together a very basic list of passwords/etc to send to my brother in CA.

    Comment by Kylie — May 15, 2012 @ 22:06 IST

  3. Keeping an updated list of login usernames and passwords with your will, as well as your living will and other documents. Make a list of all your bank accounts info. With acct. numbers and exp. dates as well as contact numbers for credit cards. I like to also include the rewards cards id and contact numbers. Having been an executrix for two estates, it helped a great deal. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Sabrina — May 15, 2012 @ 22:35 IST

  4. There are zillions (well, a fair bit anyway) sitting unclaimed in bank accounts, credit union accounts, etc., because only the account holder knew about their existence. You could pull this all together and sell it to the papers.

    Comment by Sheelah — May 15, 2012 @ 22:40 IST

  5. it’s not just in the event of someone’s passing but if they should leave you as my wife left me last fall. I’ll spare you the disasters but it touched his many points in my life as you have described in your post.

    Comment by piedoggie — May 15, 2012 @ 22:56 IST

  6. Excellent advice, really necessary practical stuff.

    Comment by Roseanne — May 16, 2012 @ 00:21 IST

  7. Follow the postal mail. Everything, even in the digital age, will eventually wind up in the mail. It is not uncommon for a safety deposit box bill to show up a year down the road, thus exposing something you didn’t know about.

    Great write up!

    Comment by Dan O'Neill — May 16, 2012 @ 01:51 IST

  8. The one I always recommend is to have the password(s) in a sealed envelope that has been signed by the sealer across the flap. That way it’s available if needed but it’s obvious if it’s been used. It is an approach I’ve suggested for an office environment too, where it means that the root password is available if really necessary, but is otherwise held secure.

    Of course, it still relies on someone knowing where the envelope is stored, which is the weak point in all of these things.

    Comment by Dave H — May 16, 2012 @ 09:11 IST

  9. So many things are on the web now; if you’re OK with it security-wise I recommend something like LastPass. Not only is it very handy but you only need to share one password with your spouse/SO and they can get all the rest, as well as links to sites (which can help you locate useful things you may not have known about or forgotten) and, where necessary, tips and notes.

    Comment by Paul S — May 16, 2012 @ 13:15 IST

  10. I put all my stuff with Cirrus, I store all my info and can assign it to a guardian for when I’m gone

    Comment by magnus — May 17, 2012 @ 18:28 IST

  11. I understand where you’re coming from and your reasons, but recommending people to e-mail their passwords is not a really nice advice to give. e-mails can be easily intercepted, and e-mail accounts can be easily accessed as people usually employ an easy to guess/crack password.
    If they really want to e-mail their passwords they should at least encrypt the file they’re in, and communicate to their friend the passphrase to decrypt the file through a more secure mean than e-mail.

    Comment by Mathieu — May 17, 2012 @ 23:20 IST

  12. Mathieu, that is a great point. However, most people have no idea of encryption tech, which does fully suck as it’s not hard. I do agree with you, but the benefits outweigh the downsides. Maybe I’m a bit too Pollyanna about sniffers as well. I guess next post should be explaining G/PGP? 😀

    Comment by Elana — May 17, 2012 @ 23:57 IST

  13. Be sure to make a copy of your living will and will and give to her executrix so they know what your wishes are. Get a loved one to sign on your safety deposit box. Write a note and attach to will if you want particular items to go to particular people. Doesn’t need to be a part of the will. Make up a login password sheet include login, Pw, and email associated with the account for personal and business. Great reminder post that life is short and to show you care, make this process easy for loved ones to survive without you

    Comment by Sabrina — June 8, 2012 @ 10:53 IST

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