Digital Afterlife – Death and an Exit Strategy

The chief problem about death, incidentally, is the fear that there may be no afterlife — a depressing thought, particularly for those who have bothered to shave. Also, there is the fear that there is an afterlife but no one will know where it’s being held.
– Woody Allen –

I’ve been thinking about Death lately. Not mine, specifically. Others. We’re spending part of the winter in Arizona, and most of our closest neighbours are considerably older than us. I fully expect to see a decline in the number of occupants at any time.

Emergency Services/The Fire Department have been on our street twice so far, but one time was to remove a rattlesnake from a garage and the other was to put a new key in the lock box just outside our front door. The Fire Department seems to only have one daily driver – a big shiny fire truck – so when the truck, and two or three burly young firemen arrive in our tiny cul-de-sac, it is quite the production.

I’ve also been thinking about the Afterlife.  I’m not inclined to believe in Heaven and Hell – not as locales I will be spending eternity in, at any rate. No, I’m thinking of Data Afterlife. Thanks to the Internet, little bits of my life will float around forever – or at least until Google figures out how to put an expiry date on blog posts that detail how much snow there was at the Red House during the great storm of ’11.

In addition to all those bits, there are the websites and accounts that require you to register a username and password before you can access any information. If left unattended, long after you have departed this world your Facebook Account will be sending your Email Account Happy Birthday messages.

Clearly I need to have an Exit Strategy in place. If my ultimate demise is slow enough, I will have time to cancel all those online accounts. But if my death is sudden, as it surely would be if that big saguaro cactus next to my lawn chair toppled over while I was engrossed in reading a book – well, I just wouldn’t have time to react, let alone post my farewell on this blog.

I started my Exit Strategy with a list. First I thought about all the Online Accounts that create a Public Presence. My list included a few of the following (you can likely add many more to this list):

  • Facebook
  • Myspace
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Flickr
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • eBay
  • special interest websites
  • blogs
  • business websites
  • gaming accounts

Then I thought about my Private Accounts, such as:

  • email
  • news readers
  • banking
  • credit cards
  • retail purchases
  • cloud web storage

Once I had my list, I thought about which ones I would want to close down (or have someone close down for me if I did suffer Death by Cactus). The most important one could be my email accounts. If they were hacked in my absence, all the addresses in the account would be fair game to the hacker – and all my friends would receive Viagra Spam.

Any account that had access to any of my banking information should also be closed down.

Any personal information that is stored on the web should also be removed. That would include personal photos and documents.

As for all the rest, I thought about:

  • What content I was willing to leave in the hands of all the insensitive, inappropriate, mischievous people who might take advantage of my absence.
  • Who was going to tell my Facebook friends that I wouldn’t be reading my timeline any time soon?
  • Who was going to say goodbye to all my faithful blog followers?
  • If I leave an account open, how long does it remain the property of my survivors? When does post mortem copyright expire? (This doesn’t actually apply to my content, but it might to yours.)
  • How do I want my online presence dealt with. Do I want all the information removed? Do I want it left online?

Last, but not least, I am working on an Action Plan (if the Canadian Government can have an Action Plan, so can I:

    • I’m making a list of all my internet accounts, with their URLs and my usernames.  I’ll state what I want done with each account. I’ll print this document, then hand print in my passwords and file it in a safe place. I’ll try to keep it up to date.
    • I’ll decide who will carry out my wishes. (I have no problem with The Car Guy or one of my children seeing all my online content.)

That pretty much wraps up my thoughts this week about Death and the Afterlife. How about you?

As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities.
– Charles Darwin –

26 thoughts on “Digital Afterlife – Death and an Exit Strategy

  1. What an interesting and somewhat scary thought. In this electronic age we do seem to have acquired another part of ourselves. Have you seen the commercial with people walking about doing their daily tasks with “aura of data” swirling all about them? That “aura” for lack of a better term certainly doesn’t leave when we pass. I have a dear uncle who passed away several months ago and who’s FaceBook site still remains. I guess it is kind of like clearing out the clothes closet, so tough for friends and family because it still has remnants of the loved one clinging to it. But, I would hate to think that it all would be left open to go on and on. Good idea to attach such a directive to wills.


    1. I haven’t seen that commercial, but will watch for it!
      I have several Facebook friends who have passed away, and I always wonder if and when their family will close their accounts.
      I am going to let my family know where my accounts list is so that they have a way of closing down my online life.


  2. Just this week I attended a seminar on financial planning for retirement and I’ve just started gathering all the information related to bank accounts (including online info), RRSPs, wills and estate docs, etc. Now you’ve given me something else to think about – something that had never even been on my radar! I wonder how many people even consider what happens to all that online content once they ‘pass over’? I certainly hadn’t, but now I will (and i’ll get right on that …) Thanks (How are you enjoying Arizona, by the way?)


    1. It sounds like you are well on your way to being organized, Margo!
      The best thing about Arizona is that the winter is so mild. We have had maybe a week in total of below freezing temperatures at night. I really do not miss an Alberta winter.


  3. I’ve often thought about that. I have a lot of cyber-friends who I’ve never met in person, but who I correspond with regularly. If I just disappear, how will they know what happened to me? I’m a person who likes closure. I once read about a company that you could register with and if you didn’t check in with them every 30 days, they’d send out a little note to the addresses you filed with them saying you had passed on (but I’ve since lost track of the article). Not sure if that’s a good idea. I’m a little lax when it comes to deadlines. Just ask the video store. I should have shares in the place. LOL!


    1. Yes, I would want my cyber friends to hear of my demise, just as I would want to know what has happened to them. That is what community is all about, isn’t it!


    1. Once I started making the list, I realized just how many accounts we have. I would prefer to have less, but many of them are not optional if I want to do business with them! For example, some things you purchase now do not come with a manual. You download it through the internet, but in order to download it you sometimes have to create an account. Alternatively, you can phone and order a paper copy, but then you have to ask yourself, “How many trees had to be cut down to produce that manual?”


  4. I am going to some of my favorite blogs this morning and resubscribing. Although it says I am “following” I have not been receiving notices of new posts so am clicking the box again.
    Not sure what is up with WordPress


  5. Haven’t even subscribed to Facebook, etc. And don’t plan to. Clearly Arizona draws you whereas for myself (will turn 54 next wk.) and my partner (69), we’re not interested living in a retirement community. Honest, it’s better to age in a multi-generational neighbourhood, if at all possible.

    That’s my game plan.


    1. I’m not all that gung-ho about Facebook either, but when we aren’t home it is a good way to keep up with the activities of all the family.
      As for living in a retirement community for a few months, we are enjoying it. It has reunited us with many dear friends who we normally don’t get to see very often because we live so far apart.


  6. While I enjoyed this post in a light-hearted manner, it still brings up something I too have thought about – what happens to all my online stuff if something happens to me? (I’m 60 so I’m allowed to think of these things now, lol) In my case, it’s not just email and other online accounts, but I have purchases online too, kindle books, audiobooks, not yet downloaded to my pc, other things like that. A last will and testament is no longer just about physical property, but needs to include instructions on intellectual property too. Interesting thoughts here.


    1. I agree, life is much more complicated these days. I don’t think anyone predicted that our move to a paper less society would result in so much virtual ‘paperwork’.


  7. Death By Cactus?? Uh… couldn’t you just spike your hair and let it go at that?? : )

    You raise an interesting point, and I’m embarrassed to say my own attitude is Why Bother? I fear my online junk will suffer the same uncaring fate as the junk in my cellar and attic: it will be left for someone else to deal with. This seems very irresponsible, but I don’t quite feel guilty enough to fall on a cactus. Ah, well… : )

    Cheers, Margie!


    1. I have first hand experience with helping my dad downsize from a house to an apartment. That has made me decide I won’t inflict that kind of responsibility on my kids!


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