Writers, who gets your digital remains?

What will happen to your email account, blog, or Twitter feed when you die?

New online lockboxes allow you to specify beforehand who’ll get your passwords, which private Flickr photos should be purged, and what final status should be posted at Facebook, but these services are no substitute for a will. And writers and other artists should be especially careful about relying on them.

In the current Wired, Scott Brown looks at “three companies — AssetLock.net, Legacy Locker, and the charmingly named Deathswitch.com — [that] have arisen to keep customers’ passwords, usernames, final messages, and so on in a virtual safe-deposit box.”

Here’s how it works: For around $10 to $30 per year, or $60 to $300 for a lifetime — prices depend on the services you want and how much you’re storing — these companies organize and store all Net-borne Protrusions of You… Once it’s determined that you’re fully and finally degaussed, your probate probes fan out across the Net, making your last epayments, Old Yellering your avatars, perhaps even euthanizing your FarmVille stock, and, ultimately, sending sign-off messages to friends, followers, frag-buddies, and hookups: “Status update: I’m dead. It’s been real!”


Under many circumstances, these lockboxes will work out fine. For instance, if you don’t have a will, but the person you’re handing the keys over to is the same person the law says should get them, no problem. And if you have a will, and it’s consistent with your online directions, okay.

But let’s pretend you’re a young, single writer who’s estranged from your parents (or you’re married, and in the process of getting divorced; you’re a storyteller — you can spin out the scenarios). You’ve kept a blog for years, and you die with no plan, except a digital lockbox, shortly after your first novel has been published to wild acclaim and unprecedented sales.

Under state intestacy law, your parents may very well be entitled to your blog and email account and the rest of your online accounts, even if you’ve directed a site to place them in the hands of your best friend, your lover, or your sister. As one site says:

AssetLock offers no legal expertise and therefore can not draft legal documents such as Wills or Trusts which dispose of property after your death… If you die without making valid documents such as Wills or Trusts, the state government will disperse and tax your assets and belongings for you according to the law, no matter what you wrote down in AssetLock.

Of course there would also be the matter of the proceeds from your novel — your parents would probably get those too — but at least, once the book was published, it couldn’t be deleted. Unlike a blog. Or your personal email.

If you’re a writer, and you don’t have a will, you really should make one. And if you’re not sure how, Neil Gaiman’s tutorial is a good place to start.


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