“The soul of man is imperishable and immortal,” Plato tells us. What a relief.
But what of our earthly remains? Once we ship out for good, our assets are beyond our control. It’s a problem that bears pondering in the years we have left – no matter how long we linger, we all reach a terminus station. Try to argue that point, and hear wise Plato chuckle.
This week, my editor Rebecca asked me to write on the post-mortem management of digital assets. She apologized for assigning a subject I’ve covered so recently. It seems people are asking, as high-profile cases have spread the issue to everyone’s screens.
We recall Prince and Michael Jackson. Lest we forget: Aretha Franklin and Sonny Bono. Howard Hughes; Bob Marley; Abraham Lincoln; Alexander the Great. All died without wills or succession plans. See, it isn’t really a new deal; alas, the endurance of stubborn stupidity is a hallmark of our humanity.
Heating the wires: James Dean, who set cinema screens afire in the 1950s, then made like a supernova. Forever young in memory, there was never a question he was dead. Yet now, somehow, he’s set to start working on a new film.
The digital trickery in this mimicry is simple, if you’re a tech-head. One simply needs enough images, moving and still, and then, action! Technological black magic isn’t our brief, yet we can be sure, whoever plans to do whatever with his image, Jimmy D has lost creative control.
I share his spirit’s pain. Last month, I recorded my 62nd birthday. As a gift, so-called, an ex-girlfriend seeking obscure revenge sent me a video. She’d built it up, via some devilish app, from shots taken two decades ago, artfully melded and animated to force yours truly into motion.
Digital rascality! In the mercifully short video, I prance and caper, grinning ear to ear. Dear readers: I do not cut rugs or dance jigs. My smile tends to the grim. I try not to laugh hard; it hurts my sciatica. Her video, I affirm, misrepresents my life’s creative oeuvre.
If Jimmy looks a fool, his estate can do nothing – they lost his digital rights before they existed. I can’t do anything about that noxious video, either; the source photos aren’t mine. Yet I do own digital assets: bank accounts in five countries, online investments, a couple of websites, cloud files, gaming accounts, credit cards – a long list. Those, I can catalog and control, even beyond death. Here’s how we do it.
First, read my blog, “Preparing for the e-Afterlife – Estate Planning Tips for Digital Assets” from August 30. I’m sure if my mother was alive, she’d say it was delightful, and I won’t have you arguing with Marie. That article should get you started.
Let’s examine some angles. As a rule, your fiduciary should cancel your credit cards quickly, to prevent their misuse. Yet what if you’ve scheduled regular bill payments, for subscriptions and utilities, mortgage or car payment? Unpaid debts and missed payments can land your estate in the soup.
Liabilities, even the smallest, must be listed on your fiduciary’s scorecard. Outstanding debts need paying first, before the estate can reward your heirs. Plus, there’s no reason to pay for services you can’t enjoy (I checked with the Vatican: Spotify is unavailable in Purgatory). Those can be cancelled, forthwith.
Review your social media accounts. They can be hacked after death, cause financial harm, damage your legacy. Wipe them out. My cousin Keith, disgruntled by Facebook, cancelled his page and vanished completely; even his ‘likes’ disappeared. That’s what you want across your entire social media presence – it should be like you never were there.
Caveat: someone needs to pan out the gold. On the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, I posted a series on Facebook, photos and stories, recounting the wartime service of my father and his three brothers. The family loved it: the youngsters were moved, the old ones, remembered. My brother Paul warned: these posts are precious, not ephemera; they need saving for future generations.
A simple matter: I took screen shots of the posts; saved them to a shareable cloud file; sent interested family the link and a password. Every family has assets like this, priceless heirlooms, despite no financial value. Take extraordinary care of these treasures; leave instructions to preserve them. Future kin will thank you, perhaps even remember your name.
Everything you back up will need backups. The host of some digital assets may close up shop suddenly, dragging your records, photos, essays and e-heirlooms down the pipe with the company. Keep duplicates on a cloud or two; use external drives. Stay current on technology; to think what I lost on floppy disks… Give a physical storage device to your fiduciary, too, and don’t forget to include the login and password – and preserve those in triplicate.
Hang on: we nearly made a mistake. Companies routinely force changes in login and password data, sometimes according to schedule (kept hidden from users) or following a data security breach. The basic twosome for access isn’t enough – that fiduciary will need a lot more.
What answers did you give to security questions? Do they know where you’ve lived, past telephone numbers, mom’s maiden name – the maze of personal details that verify identity in life and beyond? It’s tedious to assemble this info, but I’ve found it a living boon. The things I’d forgotten, now codified and handy. They’ll never lock me out of my own life again.
Yes, it’s dreary to gather this mass of data, make records of records, back it all up. But it comes back to something I’m ever saying: I don’t want to burden my heirs. I’d rather they recall me as grand Uncle T, who groaned when he danced the sirtaki, his pained smile a grimace of Metaxas-soothed joy – not as the dunce who landed his loved ones in the ‘avgolemono’ soup – that old ‘kefalí láchanou’, they’d say.
If you knew what that meant, you’d be on the case today. ‘Hoi Anthropos’, listen, you old and young: today is a good day to get cracking.