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How to prepare for death in the digital age


Few people actually want to sit around and think about what will happen once they die, but it's a necessary discomfort for the sake of ensuring that final wishes are known. Living in the digital age has brought a new question to cover when considering any final arrangements though: What will happen to your digital data and your online accounts once you die?

Drake Martinet at All Things Digital reports that a service called LifeEnsured is attempting to guide people through resolving that question.

The service allows individuals to make arrangements for the deletion or transfer of online accounts, the sending of final emails, the passing of files, and just about anything else they could want to do as part of their virtual deaths:

Besides having Facebook accounts deleted, users can leave a final status message, disable wall postings, change their bio (theoretically to the past tense) and even transfer ownership of the account.

In fact, LifeEnsured members can take similar actions with over 30 online services like Twitter, PayPal, WordPress and Dropbox.

Some users will be particularly glad to know that the Match.com and eHarmony dating sites can also be dealt with, through LifeEnsured.

[LifeEnsured founder Michael Aiello] explained that there were also even more creative things that could be done with the departed’s data.

“One of our options for Yahoo’s Flickr photo service is to have all of the images revert to Creative Commons or into the public domain upon death of the owner,” he said.

LifeEnsured will also send any final emails, disperse the last files that users upload, or make a eternal XML/SOAP call to a personal Web server.

The way things work is that you log on to the LifeEnsured website and enter account usernames and passwords, upload any files you wish to share upon death, and enter any instructions necessary. Once your death has been confirmed, your final wishes will be executed.

In the meantime, your data will sit around, "encrypted with a 2048-bit, military-grade encryption algorithm" and be inaccessible by anyone — even the LifeEnsured staff. In order for any of the data to be released as you've instructed, LifeEnsured must receive "notifications directly from the Social Security Administration or from an elected friend, family member or attorney" that you've passed.

As LifeEnsured is still in the startup stages, some might wonder what will happen to their data or final wishes if the company shuts down. According to the service FAQs, there is nothing to fear in that regard:

We keep a part of every payment we receive in an irrevocable trust fund to ensure there are resources available to execute your final wishes. Additionally, we are in the process of partnering up with long-standing companies in the life insurance space.

The service can be purchased for a one-time fee of $300 or maintained with reoccurring $24/year charges. There is also a free, but limited, version available.

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Rosa Golijan writes about tech here and there. She's a bit obsessed with Twitter and loves to be liked on Facebook. In case of her untimely demise, she would like to have any and all embarrassing photos erased from her hard drive right away.