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Your Death Be Not Proud in a Digital Cloud

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EmailShakespeare wrote “The email that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with the bones.” (See Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2.) (It’s sort of there.)

The email lives on? Sure thing. The person may have died, but the funeral home package doesn’t include embalming the deceased’s email account, which likely holds saved and unread mail with comments, remarks, links, ads, articles you meant to read, appropriate and inappropriate jokes (from others, of course), and God only knows what else.

Easy to take care of, right? Just tell someone your password. Your secret-keeper can then go into your computer and erase your mail, your links, your saved websites, and anything else you want. Hopefully they wait until you’re dead, right? And they won’t read anything, right? And if they happen to see anything, they’ll keep it confidential and not bring it up at your memorial service or during a slow moment at the dinner table next Thanksgiving.

Sure.

Now the US Government came up with a really weak alternative: write a “Social Media Will.” The official article suggests you “create a statement of how you would like your online identity to be handled.” And you should appoint an “online executor” to close “your email addresses, social media profiles and blogs after you are deceased.”

Your government and mine suggests some specifics: “Review the privacy policies and the terms and conditions of each website where you have a presence.” “State how you would like your profiles to be handled. You may want to . . . keep it up for friends and family to visit.” “Give the social media executor a document that lists all the websites where you have a profile, along with your usernames and passwords.”

Like you have nothing else to do, right? Spend your leisure hours checking out the latest policy that Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, et al. want to apply to your Hereafter, not in the clouds of heaven but in the Cloud of the Internet.

And hopefully it was an unpaid summer intern working for the government who wrote this “Social Media Will” article.

Don’t like that route? You can hire companies to guard your digital remains. One’s website urges you hire them to handle access for friends and loved ones in the event of your “loss, death or disability.” (I understand death and disability, but what loss? If I get lost? Maybe like Amelia Earhart got lost?)

I make light of the situation but your Internet Presence for the Ages is a real problem.

So here’s the best way to handle Digital You.

First, the Executor you name in your Will is going to have the legal authority to do pretty much anything for you and on your behalf. Real legal clout that the courts will back up. So why not give the Executor a specific power to deal with your digital assets?

Thus, you want language in your Will which gives your representative the power to access, manage and control all of your digital assets. And this should include all your Frequent Flyer Miles and bank rewards points. Nobody says these miles and points disappear when you do.

And to make this legally enforceable, accurate text should either be in the Will, or in that amendment which must be signed just like a Will (called a “Codicil.”) A handwritten note, even a notarized note, does not carry any legal clout.

Similar text should be added to trusts, and to Financial (a/k/a “Durable”) Powers of Attorney. Again, though, this is not form language you can punch out of a word processor and staple to the legal document.

The bottom line: when you are on your way to heaven, don’t leave your residue – your emails, your links, your Facebook pages – in a digital hell.

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