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A Digital Legacy Contact

My mom passed away a few years ago. She left behind a spreadsheet with all of her passwords, banking information, and other assets. It was one of those things that made a challenging time just a little bit easier. We all knew the cancer was taking its toll. When we went to the funeral home, they asked how many death certificates I wanted. I opted for one for every row of her spreadsheet. We needed more. Her spreadsheet could have been encrypted, and only made available to a specific person: this is whatis commonly referred to as a digital legacy contact.

Digital Legacy Contacts

A digital legacy contact is someone you designate to manage your online accounts and data after you pass away. This concept is particularly relevant with the increasing amount of personal information and digital assets we store online.

Here's a breakdown of how digital legacy contacts work in most solutions:

  • Designation: You choose a trusted individual (friend, family member) to be your digital legacy contact.

  • Platform Support: Some platforms, like Apple with their "Legacy Contact" feature introduced in iOS 15.2, allow you to designate a contact within their system.

  • Access and Control: The level of access your contact has depends on the platform and your chosen settings. In some cases, your contact might be able to:

  • Download your data (photos, messages, documents)

  • Deactivate your account

  • Memorialize your account (depending on the platform)

  • Important Note: Digital legacy contacts typically cannot access your passwords or financial information due to security reasons.

Benefits of Having a Digital Legacy Contact (according to the platform, or tool):

  • Preserves Memories: Your loved ones can access and potentially share cherished photos, messages, and online content.

  • Manages Online Presence: They can deactivate your accounts or manage their state (e.g., memorialize on Facebook).

  • Reduces Burden: Spares your family or friends the hassle of dealing with your online accounts during a difficult time.

Choosing a Digital Legacy Contact isn't the easiest thing. Sometimes it's obvious: a child, partner, or parent. None of those might be appropriate for a number of reasons. But here are some things to consider:

  • Trustworthy: Select someone you trust to handle your sensitive information.

  • Tech-Savvy: Ideally, your contact should be comfortable with navigating online accounts.

  • Communication: Discuss your wishes and expectations clearly with your chosen contact.

The above should look similar to anyone who's done estate planning. But with a technical twist. After all, with the prevalence of two-factor authentication for financial and insurance systems, it's easy to imagine that a password alone isn't going to get someone too far in reconciling various on-line matters.

Using Digital Legacy Contacts On Secret Chest

Here at Secret Chest, we encrypt secrets using biometric data spread across multiple devices. This makes the concept of a digital legacy contact a little challenging. However, not all secrets require such a high level of security. We also keep a shard in escrow, meaning that if a family member has access to the PIN code of at least one device, they can gain access to secrets (according to how they were created). But in one of the most difficult parts of someone's life, the death or incapacitation of a loved one, we want to be as helpful as possible - to make life just a tad bit easier. We have to balance that against security, though.

We have a few options to help:

  • Digital Legacy Contact. Every user has the ability to provide us with a contact who can request access to whatever we have. Again, we only have a shard - but we can step people through how best to get at the other shards if it is at all possible. We understand better than most how difficult this time is, and we want to help.

  • Provide the PIN or even add a fingerprint on devices for the person in charge of digital assets. This can be difficult, especially for a parent who has to come to terms with a child potentially becoming a caretaker or a partner or a friend or whatever the situation is. There is so much wrapped up in this. We've spoken at security conferences and written plenty of code, but when you're dealing with life and death and everything in between in the real-world, it's impossible to say what the right thing to do is for every situation.

  • Contact support. Provide us with a death certificate for a loved one, and we will guide you through how to get secrets where possible. Call us. Wanna' talk? We can offer security advice, but with empathy and understanding about end of life decisions. This can be proactive or reactive. We just want to help.

It's never too early to plan what happens to you or your digital assets when you pass. It's never too late, either. Use another tool? That's cool too. We just want to see to it that everyone is kept safe and secure, not taken advantage of, and in a way where their family or caretaker or friends can support them and their estate.

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1 Comment

I hope you had a digital legacy contact, my friend...

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