Death and the Internet

As a note this is going to perhaps be a hard topic for some, and thus I do apologise in advance, and is not strictly a Mac/iOS specific topic, bit it is something that has been on my mind for some time

So one of the saddest realities of life is that we all will eventually die, and this can pose a real problem, because maybe you don’t have large amounts of physical assets that need to be distributed, but you almost surly do digital assets.

Being power users we almost surly generate more digital documents then the average user, more photos, more email, we have more online accounts, app subscriptions, devices, and we have sometimes complex systems for managing all of it, and if like me it all changes all the time!

Most of you probably have done everything correctly, you have a password manger, you have 2FA on everywhere you can, you have a backup system, these good systems become problematic though when you die, because likely you are the only person in the world who knows how your exact system works. I know my wife would divorce me if I tried to walk her through how all my data across all my computers is structured, and even if I did, how do I know that she won’t forget how to log into sometime, or where some bit of data is. As a developer I have things like cloud servers which need to be de-commissioned, which can be a complex process. And I can’t just put all the instructions in my will because that would be A: Insecure and B: A pain to keep unto date.

Its the little things that get you, for instance all of my photos for the last several years only live in my account on google photos, protected by a strong random password to my google account and 2FA, if I don’t plan ahead and get hit by a bus, my wife loses access to all the pictures I have taken of us, and all of our wedding pictures, (I might be glad to be dead at that point).

So what is my proposed solution to this annoying problem of being secure but not locking your family out when you are gone. I find a password manager to be the solution, I use 1Password, but any should do, (so long as it syncs, because if you only have your passwords available on your phone and your phone meets its end when you do, your in trouble)

Within 1Password I now have a very long secure note that details what to do with all 7 of my computers, all 140 websites I have accounts on, the data I have, how its backed up and where it is, even what to post on social media sites post my end. Then my will is to be executed by my lawyer whom used to own a software company before becoming an IP lawyer, a power user himself, in my will there is a statement to deal with my electronics as detailed by the note within my password manager.

I then have two tamper evident letters which I store offsite with people I trust, If I had something like a safe deposit box I would store it there. In 1 letter there is a copy of the login details to my 1Password account in an encrypted format, in the other letter there is the key and instructions on how to decrypt the other letter. The people holding both letters have instructions to hand them over to my lawyer in the event of my death and no single person (other then myself) knows who has both letters.

This keeps all of my accounts secured as I don’t have to bake the passwords into my will and it keeps things flexible, because I now only have to update my will with new devices or systems of management. I doubt it would hold up in a court of law should my will be questioned, however in my situation I find that to be unlikely.

The system does rely on things such as having a technically savvy executor of the will, and that the letters do make it to the lawyer, but it is better then nothing.

I would be curious as to peoples thoughts and what they do to insure that there digital assets are taken care of in the event of death.


First and foremost, we have a 1Password family account so we can get into each other’s accounts. We use the same passwords on our computers so we can each sign onto if needed. For digital assets like photos and videos, she can get to mine using the above access or pull them from the variety of backups we have.

We have the advantage of both being retired from the IT field so knowing to access things are easy for both of us.

Quite a few of my clients have a sealed envelope with their 1Password and my contact info stored in their safe or with their attorney.


Dead Mans Switch is a way to send instructions or message…

Thanks Ben for starting this conversation. I’m super interested in it. Just as a playful branch, I’ve recently finished reading Mark O’Connell’s “To Be A Machine” (about transhumanism) for those of the group hoping that perhaps we don’t all need to die (!). It would of course mean keeping track of a 1Password master password forever (which, as we all know, is a might long time). Yours from the cryogen, Simon.

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I don’t know how time-sensitive the information in the letters is, but you may be better off leaving them with your friends. Safe deposit boxes are not the best place to place things like wills (and maybe these letters) because they can be sealed upon a person’s death until probate allows them to be opened. If the information in the letters needs to be used soon after your death, they might not be available.

We have a trust lawyer who developed our estate trust document that includes all the various accounts where information is listed and explicitly gives our executor permission to access our information. I keep the passwords in 1Password and have created a first 30 days document of the critical things to be done in the event of incapacitation or death of either of us. Copies of the first 30 days document are in multiple fire proof safes, which the estate lawyer and a few trusted friends know how to access.

Wow! Your plan is super-thorough!!

I had lunch with an attorney friend, not long ago, and he recommended talking with an estate planner who also is or has on staff a lawyer (you’ve certainly done that!).

He said (and as many of us know), when we pass, our digital accounts have differing terms and conditions. Simply logging onto someone else’s social media account can violate those T&Cs, even if, or especially if, we have passed away.

I like what some of you have mentioned about ensuring your executor has permission to access the accounts. That’s where a good lawyer comes in – I need to do this!

I know an executor can send key documents to Facebook to turn a regular account page to a memorial page; but I have few details (I’m sure a quick internet search will provide that info., and it probably changes often).

Other sad thoughts; yet things we need to plan for:

  • What if your trusted computer person (or people) pre-date(s) you in death?
  • What if you are the trusted computer person and, when your friend passes away, the surviving spouse says, “I don’t want to bother with any of those things now and maybe never”?

I have been impacted by both of those bullets this year :frowning:

Interesting blog post by my atty. friend:

Add Digital Planning to Your Estate Planning Checklist

All the best to y’all!


Standard disclaimers: YMMV, I am not a lawyer, get real financial and legal advice from those in those fields, etc.

I think @Ben_Lincoln’s topic is one anyone with more than a minor presence on the internet or on home technology devices needs to pay attention to. Just as estate planning is something no one is every too young to do, our digital estates need to be part of that.

Joe Kissell has an interesting book on this topic: Take Control of Your Digital Legacy