Putting to Rest

Death-Proof Information Management

Susan’s dad John passed away when she was still very young. She and her sister Amy were the only two direct relatives, so they had to take care of everything. They had never had to deal with a death within such proximity. It was overwhelming to have to organize the funeral, go through all the bureaucratic processes, heritage and so on. After a couple of months, they managed to put his stuff more or less to rest. Finally they had a little time for grieving and mourning. This experience made her think about her possessions. She had some bank accounts spread across different countries where she had lived over the time. She was an active blogger, member of many online social networks and had many web-based accounts. She had an iPhone, several computers, hard drives, iPod, and so on. Susan cared a lot for her family and friends. She didn’t want anybody to go through all the painful situations that she encountered after her father’s death.

Personal Inventories

Since our personal information is generally scattered across several locations, different forms and tight to various identifiers, the creation of personal inventories can help us by affording orientation among all of these. For example, if we move to a new address, knowing which institutions and registries we have to inform about the change can save us a considerable amount of time. A list of our devices, such as computers, hard disks and so on, can help us to organize, retrieve, maintain and update our information. Some of us may use pseudonyms in our personal and professional activities. A list of these may provide our survivors with important information. After the death of an individual, the heirs have to get in touch with all of the institutions that took part in the personal space of information. Providing a list of all of the places and people that should be notified is a nice favor to whom we care for, since it allows them to have more time to undergo their personal grieving processes and reduces the possibility that they would miss something important. If we are especially concerned about how other people will remember us, we should also include an overview of our personal attitudes, as a documentation of our personal identity, which can be a precious information for our bereaved.

The personal inventories are summaries of our artifacts and assets, both physical and digital. We can use them to appoint to the most important information. They can be a table or a spreadsheet created with tools such as MS Office, iWork or Google Docs. We can store them locally on our computer or somewhere within the cloud, for example in Dropbox, so it is easier to maintain them up-to-date and we can even print them out. If we use any systems for archiving our books or passwords and other things, we might as well annotate these, rather than multiplying the information. Each item in our personal inventories should have its own entry and include information such as name, location, way of access (e.g., a link) and credentials where applicable.

Our web-based information may require further considerations. Having a list of passwords for our digital assets maybe useful for us, while alive, but may be we don’t want to share them with the ones who outlive us. A better option might be to keep the important content of our digital assets within a location that doesn’t require a password in order to be accessed. For example, we may want our families to have our photographs that we share with others on our Picassa account, but we may not want to give them the ability to curate them for us. However, providing information such as domain name and hosting provider and the steps necessary to access the respective accounts, may be vital for retrieving the content or maintaining our personal blogs or websites.

If we create a digital legacy estate plan, we should include our wishes regarding the actions we are willing to be carried out after our death. These should be specified in the personal inventory entries as well. The digital afterlife web-based applications, for example Legacy Locker, Entrustet or DataInherit, can help us with our efforts in establishing the digital estate plan. If we have a digital estate plan or use any of these applications, we should inform our digital executor about their existence, their location and means of access.