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Planning for digital afterlife: what happens to your accounts when you pass away?


Within the next few decades, the number of Facebook profiles belonging to dead people is expected to outnumber those of the platform's living users. So, while many are excitingly preparing for Web3, maybe it's time to consider your digital legacy plan.

Almost every moment of our waking life can be recorded, tagged, and shared online. A wealth of digital well-being apps also promise to help users track their fitness goals, boost their moods, and reduce stress. Although we are all too aware of the importance of managing our digital footprint, did you know that when we die, our data can take a life of its own? It's time to prepare for the digital afterlife.

A quick look at your bank statement will probably reveal a wealth of subscriptions to apps and services where your devices automatically log you in. But have you ever stopped to think about what would happen if you no longer had the mental capacity to remember the hundreds of passwords and logins you have accumulated, or what would happen after you die?

What happens to your subscriptions, crypto, and NFTs?

Everything from bills for utilities, phones, internet, streaming services, smartphone apps, and online storage to email and social media accounts all require a username and password. But current laws prevent family members from accessing your online accounts unless you have specifically given permission.

Although you might have a will and testament to determine how your physical assets should be distributed, we seldom think about our digital assets. However, in a digital world where crypto investments and NFTs have become the norm, it's time to think about what will happen to your digital life should the unthinkable happen.

Early adopters of Web3 will have earned their stripes on the threat landscape. Many will have more than a few war stories of how they avoided rug pulls, and they can often be heard repeating the phrase not your keys, not your coins to anyone they meet. But their weakness is often dealing with their own mortality. For example, if you were rushed into the hospital today, are you confident that a family member or trusted friend will know how to access your private keys?

Suddenly the decentralized nature of the blockchain that attracted you to the space, combined with the promise not to share your keys with friends and loved ones, could work against you. With no centralized authority waiting to pick up the pieces, anyone invested in web3 needs to have a contingency plan.

In legal terms, a traditional executor is a person you name in your will to take care of your financial and legal dealings after you have left this world. When thinking about managing your digital afterlife, your best option is to choose a person you can trust with all your stored passwords and how they can access your accounts to manage your social accounts and digital assets as you wish. But finding someone you trust with the keys to your hard-earned gains might be much more complex than you think.

Will you choose a digital memorial or immortality?

Hollywood famously brought Carrie Fisher back to life to play Princess Leia, and AI technology was also used so that chef Anthony Bourdain could narrate a posthumous documentary about himself. More recently, Ed Asner's memorial service bizarrely invited mourners to "converse" with the deceased actor via an interactive display using a service called StoryFile.

Heather Maio-Smith, CVO & Co-Founder, StoryFile, was inspired to leverage technology to create a solution that would enable her to converse with an individual who is no longer with us.. To test out the feature, users are invited to ask Star Trek's Willam Shatner a question. Elsewhere, Amazon is exploring how its Echo devices will eventually allow users to have the voice of a dead relative to read them a book.

MyHeritage also offers a service that allows people to animate their family photos. These are just a few of the increasing number of memory-preservation programs that promise to create a virtual version of you that will live long after you have passed away to provide comfort for those you leave behind.

Many futurists and technologists have become obsessed with overcoming their biological limitations to conquer death by uploading their minds to live forever in computing systems. Once again, this direction feels eerily reminiscent of a Black Mirror episode. But some families are already digitizing loved ones so they can interact with them after their death.

However, there is no avoiding the ethical implications of trusting enormous technology companies with our digital remains. Although social platforms such as Facebook allow users to memorialize their accounts when they reach the end of their life, virtual immortality opens up a pandora's box of ethical concerns about what happens to our data when we die.

Maybe Bob Dylan was right when he sang the line, "Just remember that death is not the end." But the bigger question remains: How will you manage your digital afterlife?


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