How do I help my spouse keep up our home internet setup after I die?
April 29, 2020 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Like many folks here, I don't have a straight forward internet setup. I have a bunch of IOT devices, an extra linux box or two, game consoles and a router with satellites. I have done some minor documentation of usernames and passwords in a physical book, but it really doesn't tell the whole story.

On the flip side, even if I was to create a full network diagram, I don't know if my spouse would want to bother with it all. Not that she isn't capable, just that it may be too much to deal with at first.

I need to decide whether to document the crap out of it and hope that Geek Squad can help figure out when anything goes wrong or write up an alterative technology plan replacing the more esoteric devices (like the separate camera system) with a more integrated mainstream service that has support (like, shudder, comcast). What have you all done to lessen the tech burden on your family if you pass away?
posted by sciatica to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I would not worry that much about the setup - if your spouse is not getting much value out of it as a solo user, then there's no great loss if the gear and setup becomes unusable if when you go.

What I would do is make sure the data and your account info is preserved in a way that none of your custom IT setup is needed to obtain:

- Account info and settings for your Internet Service Provider. Most likely one call and they will replace all your carefully administered gear with a basic ISP router/modem.
- Email credentials for your account or accounts - share password and tokens for 2FA
- How to get at family data - bills, photos, videos, music. Login for the main computer? Or I'd suggest:
- Offsite backup - like Backblaze or Crashplan - have that setup and get the credentials to your spouse.

What I do:

We have a shared 1Password vault with all the credentials, including email accounts. Periodically I print it on paper and stick it an a safe-ish place.

It also has logins for the house computer where everything is stored.

But also - it has password for our backup service - so spouse could access and download anything as needed even if computer is inaccessible.

I have a super nerdy alternate backup scheme - basically pushing time-stamped versions of photo albums and critical files to a private Google Cloud coldline storage account - but I would never dream of my spouse getting that stuff. So I also use a bog-standard online backup service, with good reputation for customer support, as the primary backup of all the family files and photos.

In a sneaky way, I'm already preparing to do this for my aging parents. When they got a new computer, as a gift, I got them unlimited backup as another user on my backup service. I get the reassuring email that Dad has been on his laptop and his data is backed up, but also I will be able to go in and get access to his files if he becomes unable to. And by Sneaky I really mean honest and above board - as I've had conversations with said parents about this and their estate plans are in good shape with me named as executor.
posted by sol at 11:39 AM on April 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

First, what does your spouse say about all this?

Second, if you're going to run your house like an idealized IT shop with continuity plans, then run your house like an IT shop. Start with requirements. What does your spouse need in the wake of your death? What are the risks of not having full control of those technologies? Will she be locked out of the house? Will the furnace stop working? Will the door camera system stop working? Etc. Then put those technologies on a sustainable path. Update this plan regularly, because Comcast will offer different things, Google Home will be discontinued, your needs will change, etc.

Consider this for the future: if your house is engineered with a bus factor of one, then you may have made some poor decisions. My own policy is not to do my hobby hacking in domains of shared concern, like locks, thermostats, lighting, etc. What to me is a fun fuck-around project is someone else's piece of critical boring infrastructure; leaving that in a boring and functional state is a nice courtesy to them. Being a widow/er will suck enough. Being a widow/er who gets locked out of the house because the hand-built locking system fails if no one pays for its cloud hosting sucks more.

(not a hypothetical. I shared studio space with a tech enthusiast friend who automated things with all manner of sketchy shit and I was once locked out of a real important rehearsal because I couldn't hit the door-opening API because his credit card expired)

For our family, there's a list of bank / investment / retirement / etc accounts and passwords that is stored in a safe place. And I've made it clear that after I die, the Plex server will probably stop working at some point, but that's nbd because Mrs. Sauce has spotify and netflix etc. Everything else is analog, except for the fucking Nest thermostat that we inherited from the past owner, and which we've never configured with the wi-fi password.
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2020 [16 favorites]

So this could be part of a larger conversation about estate/death planning. I hope you have shared passwords and such for things beyond your internet, written your wills, etc. You could also give leave her a simpler approach ("If something breaks, call these folks and get this simpler set up").

Next, will the internet continue to work without your daily presence? Could she continue to function as usual for a few months? In that case, I don't think this isn't the biggest thing to worry about. If she has to figure it out, and wants to, she will. Right now this is your job. As a capable person, she will do this, if you leave directions, if she needs to.

There are a host of things I never bothered to deal with while I was married (and I know the same was true for my ex). After my divorce, I figured it out (even when I still could have asked my ex-husband) because I needed to.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:07 PM on April 29, 2020

I kind of faced similar-ish situation when my father died. He was really into technology: homemade computers, tons of servers (he liked to download movies), super weird wiring through my parents' house, tons of devices hooked up to it, etc. Growing up and living in that household I "kind of" had an idea of what was what, but after his death I was kind of left thinking "wtf do I do with all this shit."

Of course, I used his super fast computer and the servers, but I had nooo idea how to run them or what was what! So, again, I was left with this horde of technology I had no clue what to do with (and my mom didn't care, she can't even use a computer!).

In retrospect, I wish I thought to go through everything with my dad before he died so I actually KNEW what things were (like physically labeling servers, etc.). Like, I didn't even know where the on/off buttons were on some of these items or how to shut them down safely (without losing settings, files, etc.). I ended up calling an IT guy my dad worked with to kind of help out, but he only came over once or twice. The problem was also solved for us when our power went out one day and I couldn't restart some of the servers! I still don't know what to do with the rest of his servers that are sitting in what used to be my parent's pantry. I'm leaving them there in case I figure it out one day.

Maybe if she's interested, if she wants to, walk her through what everything is, what it does, what to do if it fails, who to call, etc. What would she really use after your death? Again, I've mostly kept the Q-Nap NAS my dad had going, because it was the easiest thing to figure out and use. Even giving her a list of computer shops or people she could call if/when she runs into trouble would be good. I ran into a lot of difficulty getting people from tech support companies to help me take down the servers because they simply didn't believe that my dad had the set-up he did! That's why his former co-worker turned out to be so helpful, he wasn't shocked.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 12:36 PM on April 29, 2020

My dad had a very sophisticated technology mess in my parents' home. When he died, it caused a lot of angst. We ended up dismantling it (I think this was the emotionally difficult part) and using something much simpler.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 12:59 PM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would talk to your spouse. My partner is my sysadmin and we have a very complicated setup that I’m fine with, but honestly do not care about even 25% as much as he does. If he were no longer to be here for some reason I would have absolutely no interest in maintaining all of this, and would downgrade to a less complex setup that I could design and maintain as I saw fit. Passwords would be very helpful but that’s about it.

Don’t stress yourself out about this before you know what your partner would actually want.
posted by Stacey at 1:01 PM on April 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Your responses have been very helpful.

I like the ideas of simplifying it down to what would still be needed going forward rather than keeping old systems/devices running for no reason.

The accounts of angst over dealing with that burden are very good to hear. I certainly don't want that to happen.

I am using all of your input to start the conversation with my wife about it. Thank you all for taking the time.
posted by sciatica at 3:18 PM on April 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I kind of faced similar-ish situation when my father died. He was really into technology: homemade computers, tons of servers (he liked to download movies), super weird wiring through my parents' house, tons of devices hooked up to it, etc. Growing up and living in that household I "kind of" had an idea of what was what, but after his death I was kind of left thinking "wtf do I do with all this shit."

My dad too! I think this is a thing with engineer dads. I wrote a story about mine. And then my mom died (different household) and her "plan" (and she prided herself with being very on top of things, didn't want us kids to worry etc) was a manilla file folder with a STACK of password printouts (like she had her passwords in a word doc and then would reprint it when things changed but then would write on this). It was not better.

You have gotten good advice. So much of this depends on

- what your spouse cares about
- what your spouse absolutely NEEDS (i.e. how to either use or replace an IOT thermostat)
- what could be maintained by another professional with the right information (and maybe the email address or phone of a possible professional)
- what is fun for you now but does not need to be part of your spouse's life after you

I never knew how my dad's irrigation system worked and so we don't use it. That's too bad, it might have been nice but was not needed. We ripped out the X-10 system and paid TOO MUCH to find the stupid transponder in the wall because it was the only way to turn the lights off. I ripped out a ton of cables from behind the TV that went to old tech that wasn't there anymore.

If you want to do your spouse a favor, make sure you've simplified to the extent possible. My dad's life kinda got small for a few years before he died and some stuff, I think, may not have been working for years but he just left it there. I was lucky in that he kept most of his passwords in a place I had access to. Often engineering types will make things SUPER secure and then you can't get into them for love or money without the secret password or code or text or email. It's absolutely great to have this as a hobby, but being mindful of how to make sure your spouse has appropriate information is a really great thing to do now, good on you for starting the process.
posted by jessamyn at 3:46 PM on April 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

@jessamyn, Thank you for sharing that story about your Dad.
posted by sciatica at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2020

I think it would be incredibly helpful to find 2-3 *people* (possibly businesses or independent contractors) who can help her with whatever you forget about / can't address. Find one who is the best choice, identify them, but have 1-2 other people in the queue in case the first one isn't available for some reason. Make sure the contact information for those people is available to your spouse and your spouse's friend/children.
posted by amtho at 12:29 AM on April 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

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