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How to Plan for Death In A Digital World

Stop obsessing about dying, and start obsessing about what comes after (for those left behind) instead!

We’re well into the swing of the 21st century, and the world has become a bit of a digital nightmare. Sure, the internet has helped us connect to the rest of the world, and that’s beautiful. But the internet has also helped us connect to the rest of the world, and it’s honestly horrifying sometimes. 

And while we’re all hyper-connected and comfortable with the kind of oversharing that would have the 20th century going “Ew! Why!?”, most of us haven’t realised that we need to account for our digital lives when we plan for our eventual deaths. Apparently not. Before the internet took over our lives, death planning was pretty straightforward. Write a will, do some estate planning, and make sure your loved ones know where you left the car keys. These are obviously still incredibly important tasks, but as your digital footprint grows, so does your checklist of stuff to sort out before you kick the bucket.

A checklist would be super useful right about now, you say? Lucky that’s exactly what we had in mind! 

1. Picture your death.

Okay, we know this is grim. But indulge your inner Goth for a moment. How do you picture yourself leaving this world? Whether it’s in a blaze of glory Thelma & Louise style, or peacefully in your sleep at the age of 116, you need to consider how that affects those left behind. So once you’ve flashed through every breath-snuffing scenario, move on to the next step.

2. Plan for every ending.

If you go out in a car crash, your devices might get destroyed, leaving your loved ones with no way to access accounts. This is where password banks, the cloud and even pen and paper become necessary. Keeping hardcopies of your passwords might seem counterintuitive, but can be really useful for your family. Give at least one trusted person access to all your accounts, and provide them with knowledge of your passwords. If you pass away after years of living a good life, someone still has to know where you kept the will.

3. Trace your digital footprint.

Start making a note of every digital point of call. This will take a while, because so much of our lives are lived online. Here are some of the most relevant touchpoints.

  • Note all the websites and apps you use that hold your information. Social media accounts, email accounts, banking, investment accounts, insurance and medical aid apps, cryptocurrency, cloud storage, budgeting apps, fitness trackers, payment apps (like Snapscan), shopping apps and websites, subscription services (like Spotify and Audible), rideshare apps (Uber, etc), food delivery apps (Mr Delivery for life)…

  • Create a space where all these passwords are laid out clearly. Make it accessible to people you trust with this information, and consider keeping a hardcopy somewhere, like a modern address book. 

  • Use hidden tools designed for the task. Many password managers like 1Password have an emergency feature that allows you to grant full access to all your passwords if you aren’t around. Google’s Inactive Account Manager can also be used to fire off an email with all the critical details if your account hasn’t been used for a specified amount of time.

  • Trace two-factor authentications. If something has more than one touchpoint to gain access (like an email account that also requires verification via phone), note this journey down when recording the passwords.

  • Create more than one point of entry. 

    If the only way of getting into your phone is with your fingerprint, that could be pretty traumatic to your family. Make sure there’s another way of gaining access, like a typed password.

  • Decide what you want to do with your social media accounts. Do you want your pages turned into memorial pages, or just shut down? Most of these networks make it possible for you to authorise someone to do this if you’re no longer around.

4. Make sure you know who’s paying.

If you’ve got debit orders, note them down. Let your loved ones know if they need to be cancelled (gym memberships, etc) or be taken over (electricity, levies, car license renewals, short-term insurance, etc). If you don’t have a joint bank account, give someone you trust signing rights or access to your internet banking so they can withdraw your money before your account gets frozen (this will happen once the bank gets a death certificate, and it will only unfreeze once your estate has been sorted out).

5. Don’t forget about the analogue stuff.

While you’re making sure your digital life is concluded tastefully, don’t forget about the paperwork and real-world tasks that also need attention. Write a will, keep a file with all the paperwork you will inevitably collect throughout your life, make sure all your policies are in order and that you have enough life cover to take care of your peeps (and your dream funeral) when you’re gone. Also keep track of everything you’ve borrowed from people, that’s an awkward conversation you don’t want to leave anyone with.

If you’re using a broker or an estate attorney to help you along, consider what your loved ones might need from this person beyond help with paperwork. A good “bedside manner” could go a long way with helping them cope with their loss. 

The point of all this is to make it easier for your loved ones, who will already be dealing with their grief over losing you. The last thing you want to do is leave them with months of admin and frustrating tasks that prolong their pain, and make them resent your disorganised ghostly butt.

Rather spend a little time getting sorted, and leave them with nothing but fond memories and your collection of wacky shirts. 💙

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Copyright © Sanlam Indie 2022. All Rights Reserved. Sanlam Indie's product offering is underwritten by Sanlam Life Insurance Limited, a licensed life insurer & financial services provider. Sanlam Indie is a division of Sanlam Life Insurance Limited - Reg No. 1998/021121/06. Sanlam Life Insurance Limited is an authorised FSP (No. 2759). Address: 1st Floor Glacier Place, 1 Sportica Crescent, Tygervalley, Cape Town, 7530

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