After you die what happens to your online presence?
November 17, 2005 11:54 AM   Subscribe

When you die, what specific information and instructions (beyond user names and passwords) would you need to leave for your heirs to deal with your email accounts, web hosting accounts, domain names, affiliate accounts, forum memberships, mailing list memberships, etc?
posted by redneck_zionist to Society & Culture (25 answers total)
 
Money for maintaining domains, and webhosting unless you pay in advance.
posted by letterneversent at 11:56 AM on November 17, 2005


I've often thought about this. Certainly there's some kind of service that allows for information like this to be passed on to a designated recipient in the event of an untimely death. Anyone know how that might work and how expensive it would be?

It'd be nice were someone to leave a note regarding my demise on my various sites should I not make it home this evening. And a short post here at MeFi would be nice too (hopefully, I'd garner a respectful column of "." comments).

In fact, we should probably have a separate forum for this. MetaObit perhaps?
posted by aladfar at 12:01 PM on November 17, 2005


I'm sure if you mention the particulars of your email accounts, web hosting accounts, domain names, affiliate accounts, forum memberships, mailing list memberships, etc in a will than you heirs would hopefully honor your wishes.
posted by orlin at 12:12 PM on November 17, 2005


Here's a discussion on Slashdot: What Happens To Your Data When You Die?.

Certainly there's some kind of service that allows for information like this to be passed on to a designated recipient in the event of an untimely death. Anyone know how that might work and how expensive it would be?

There used to be a handful of Dead Man's Switches available for download. Here's a post from BoingBoing. Other Google results. The basic mentality is that you enter information into an application that you access on a regular basis. If the application isn't accessed within a pre-determined period of time, it assumes you're dead and sends the information via email to those you've specified.
posted by Hankins at 12:18 PM on November 17, 2005


Suddenly, that 100year buy of a domain doesn't look so silly.

This is going to be an interesting and ongoing problem as the generation that grew up with computers dies. What happens if two people know your super secret password, yet have differing statements on how your estate is to be divided up? Will your personal website reflect your death? Will people come to know all your writing/art/music etc via your personal website LONG after you're dead? Should you leave a forum up for them to chat about? Should you leave comments open on your blog forever? What happens if they break your bandwidth limit? Does your spouse or next of kin automatically get your web domain, email account and passwords? What if they decide to delete your site and put up something else? or sell it? What would you put on a website meant to last after your death? Who will be the first person to die naturally on cam, or in an AIM session, or in the midst of a blog entry? Will complete strangers be able keep your website running after your domain expires via donations? will families have huge websites dedicated to their deceased? Will the Library of Congress be collecting some of these sites? What happens when your website uses version 5 of flash, but version 47.2 no longer supports those early versions? Will script kiddies build up their skills on your old technology site? What happens when your ISP, which is still hosting your site after your death, is bought out by another company which changes your monthly bandwidth allowance? Will your children pay to keep your website up?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2005


Am I missing something? But who cares? Why would I want my domain name and web hosting account to continue on after I die?

I'm not being snarky, I'm genuinely not understanding the question.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:29 PM on November 17, 2005


Why would I want my domain name and web hosting account to continue on after I die?

So someone else could continue to run your website. This would make sense when one person single-handedly runs a lucrative website and wants to pass it on to someone else after they die.

Or it could just be a short guest blog post to inform readers that a blog is being terminated because of its author's death.

Things like email could be valuable for the same reason any correspondence of a deceased person is valuable.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:37 PM on November 17, 2005


Yeah, I have a hard time believing most people have any good reason to care about a few bits on hard drives somewhere once they're dead. Unless, as Jaltcoh pointed out, there is a lucrative enterprise that could benefit surviving family. Seriously, take a step back and think about what's important in this life...
posted by knave at 1:03 PM on November 17, 2005


when I draft a will, I'll leave usernames/password of my e-mail account, so that some intern at my lawyer's office will be able to email all my contacts, tell them I died.
posted by matteo at 1:15 PM on November 17, 2005


I like a variation of the Google Will Eat Itself Approach. The site runs Google ads. The Google ad revenue is direct-deposited. The hosting companies fees are auto-debited. The domains are registered for 100 years. Received mail is auto-posted to a forum on the web site (using blacklists, etc., to keep spam down) to make sure there's some new content once in a while. So on and so forth. Not quite a perpetual motion machine, but I think there are some university subdirectories that have been online and not updated for more than ten years now.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:47 PM on November 17, 2005


When I die, I hope those that survive me will have more important things to worry about than whether my website is okay. Like, where did I hide the liquor?
posted by weirdoactor at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2005


when I draft a will, I'll leave usernames/password of my e-mail account, so that some intern at my lawyer's office will be able to email all my contacts, tell them I died.

How creepy would it be to get an e-mail from a dead guy's address?!

From: matteo
To: All Contacts
Subject: I died.

Actually, wrt people dying in an AIM session, I had a friend in high school who died suddenly and his away message was up for a couple days after. It was quite surreal.

I've actually wondered about this question, too. As it concerns domains, hosting, etc., that all sounds like property that would pass through like normal... assuming someone has the password to at least the e-mail account where a "Forgot Password?" would be sent. (Of course, with the proliferation of e-mail addresses and the hundreds of password services one has, it may be impossible to find everything if it's not written down somewhere.) (Then again, if you write it down, you lose a huge measure of security.)

Seemed to me like an easy question but I think it's much more complicated... any lawyers around who have dealt with this?
posted by SuperNova at 1:58 PM on November 17, 2005


On a side not to some of the comments above, there have been a couple of students around here murdered within the last few months who still have facebook profiles up.
posted by fourstar at 2:23 PM on November 17, 2005


Yeah, I have a hard time believing most people have any good reason to care about a few bits on hard drives somewhere once they're dead. Unless, as Jaltcoh pointed out, there is a lucrative enterprise that could benefit surviving family. Seriously, take a step back and think about what's important in this life...

You mean like all the close friendships I've developed on the net who might never be able to find out I'd died if no one who had real world access to my status and my computer was able to inform them? Those things that are important in this life? Things with monetary value are, in the grand scheme of things, of minimal importance.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:21 PM on November 17, 2005


I think the solution is an untechnical one. Hopefully, you've drawn up a will and living will (if not, that's an even higher priority than this concern). Include a clause in the will -- or a separate letter to your executor -- detailing what you'd like done with your online presence.
posted by WCityMike at 3:35 PM on November 17, 2005


Am I missing something? But who cares? Why would I want my domain name and web hosting account to continue on after I die?


You sound quite reasonable and sane. As such, you really can't understand the implications. I can easily see a point in the future where people are specifically crafting websites that are available ONLY after they die. Finally, just about anyone can be "immortal">
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:52 PM on November 17, 2005


You mean like all the close friendships I've developed on the net who might never be able to find out I'd died if no one who had real world access to my status and my computer was able to inform them? Those things that are important in this life?

I guarantee you none of those things will matter to you after you're dead.
posted by kindall at 4:17 PM on November 17, 2005


I'm surprised no one has mentioned this yet, but you should have your lawyer draft a durable power of attorney, giving someone whom you designate legal authority over your domain and accounts and stuff on your death. That way, your ISP and web host and whatever can legally give them control of the site and send them passwords and any other information they need. It seems that this is a much better solution than leaving a list of passwords with the attorney's office - it would suck to forget to update that list when you change passwords or forget some of the more obscure ones (like your account info with the domain registrar) and have it all be for naught. A power of attorney would mean that your heirs can get what they need from the source instead of relying on a potentially outdated password list.
posted by robhuddles at 4:33 PM on November 17, 2005


A Power of Attorney is null and void upon death. (Scroll down to #9) So you're better off stating instructions in your will or living trust.
posted by cyniczny at 4:49 PM on November 17, 2005


If what you're talking about is your intellectual property and online semiotic presence, you ought to designate a literary executor or artist's proxy.

The role of this person is to collect, store, and parse all published and unpublished writings of a deceased author or artist, and decide what further publishing or sales of notes, letters, and finished and unfinished works should be accomplished. For a renowned author, they are the person in charge of getting the amassed works bought by a library or museum, and publishing posthumous volumes of work, and editing volumes of letters and diaries.

They would, in an online-document circumstance, decide whether to create a posthumous web site of amassed blog posts and emails and chat logs, as well as more traditional work such as poetry or photography.
posted by tarintowers at 5:01 PM on November 17, 2005


A few days after my sister died three years ago, I plowed through her various email address books, IM contacts, and bookmarked forums to inform anyone I believed would want to know and hadn't already heard.

Since then I have thought about this topic quite a bit, and would want the same done for me. I would like something mentioned on my blogs, communities, forums, and even to my IM contacts about my passing. It's not that I want my amateur writings and photography to live forever: I have made a lot of friends online who would not otherwise have the chance to hear about my passing.
posted by rhapsodie at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2005


This is interesting. Just yesterday I (re-)wrote my will. After giving instructions of what do do with my assets & all belongings, I ended with a list of my (8) domain names & blogs, and wrote that as far as those are concerned, anybody who wants to take over & maintain them is welcome to'em, and asked the executor to post a note on the blogs for that effect.
posted by growabrain at 8:59 PM on November 17, 2005


I know of at least one website being kept operative by the deceased's family. Ken Kifer was a pretty widely known guy in cycling circles, and his website has a lot of useful information on it. I'm glad his family keeps it going.

I don't claim any such merit for my own site--regardless, it will live on in some form at archive.org, I imagine (but what happens when Brewster Kale dies???). I am gradually organizing all my various logons and whatnot into a password-keeping program (info.xhead for now, fwiw). If those who survive me want to keep my site going, it shouldn't be too hard.
posted by adamrice at 8:23 AM on November 18, 2005


You mean like all the close friendships I've developed on the net who might never be able to find out I'd died if no one who had real world access to my status and my computer was able to inform them? Those things that are important in this life?

I guarantee you none of those things will matter to you after you're dead.


I think that's what I'm getting at. If they were "only" Internet relationships, how important can they be? There are a few folks here who I really enjoy reading their stuff. There are some people on another forum that I really like, but it's only the ones I have actually met that I would be concerned about. And I'm assuming that when I die, if they don't hear from me for a while that if they care enough they'll do a little digging and find out or that they'll have been notified by my friends/family because they are in my phone book/contacts list.

But that's just me and I've been through the death of both my parents, so I know the drill.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:00 AM on November 18, 2005


adamrice writes "I know of at least one website being kept operative by the deceased's family."

Gus Mahon was the first guy to push his Caravan into low 13s. His site is an invalueable resource even though he passed away three years ago. It's good that his family is maintaining his site.
posted by Mitheral at 8:41 AM on November 20, 2005


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