One year on…

I’ve had my doubts on whether I should publish this article or not, but at the end of the day it helps me move on personally, so here it is:

Today, 8th of May, it has been 1 year since my wife passed away.

She was very active online and shortly after she died I wrote an article about how I’ve approached dealing with her digital estate.

The article has taken on a life of it’s own. It has been shared by charities, it has been linked to by Jeremiah Owyang and been featured on both BBC Radio 4 and Colourful Radio (yesterday).

… but none of this is because of me or my article. It is because this is an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant as the online population is growing up and getting older.

The Internet is part of our lives now. Our online profiles are part of who we are now.

One year on, where am I with my wife’s digital estate?

  • My wife’s hobby blog remain live for a couple of reasons; Some of her articles are truly unique online; the site still have a fair amount of visitors; I’m using it as a communication channel to her extended network (but the site does very visibly state she has passed away).
  • Her Flickr account remains open as it feeds many of the blog articles.
  • In January, I closed one of her busiest channels, her Twitter account, as I felt I’ve been able to notify all her connections there and deal with all requests from her Twitter network.
  • And ofcourse her email account remain open as it will be the last thing I close down.

What problems have I faced?

I think the one issue that stands out has been unsubscribing from emailing lists she had signed up to. Roughly half unsubscribe functions have simply not worked. After three or more attempts I have listed these as spam to keep them out of her inbox.

I wish there was an industry standard for dealing with this.

On a different note, I understand, and sympathise with, Yahoo’s stand on not giving anybody, not matter relation, access to a deceased person’s email, ever. But there has to be a practical middle ground.

What if they could give access to email accounts post death? So you, as an heir, can use it for practical purposes such as closing down other digital accounts, but without exposing the past, unless the deceased have given permission in a will?

Final thoughts

Jolyon Jenkins, the BBC4 journalist who interviewed me, ask me one question, which I had considered, but never thought about putting down in words. He asked:

Have you considered the legal implications of what you are doing? Breach of different digital providers’ terms and conditions and such?

The answer is: I have. I felt I had the moral right to access my wife’s accounts as she left me her passwords, but I did set myself some ground rules, which was:

  • Do not read any of my wife’s emails or direct messages from before she passed away.
  • Do read and reply to all messages arriving after she passed away.
  • If replying via any of her digital profiles always clearly identify that it is not her, but me who is replying.
  • Update any digital profiles to broadcast she is dead either with auto-response or by updating any descriptions.
  • Close profiles as soon as I am 100% positive they are no longer needed… but not a second before.

…And prepare. I am eternally grateful for my wife making preparations in terms of writing down passwords and talking to me about what she wanted to happen with her digital estate (such as “Close down my Facebook account straight away”).

I hope it will be a long time before you have to deal with this yourself, but do prepare. Make a digital will to help those left behind in case you die first.

Here in the UK I’ve received an incredible amount of support and help with everything regarding my wife’s death… except her digital estate. I’ve had to figure that one out on my own, but not entirely alone as I’ve planned with my wife before she passed away.

Final final thought

I promised myself I wouldn’t do this as it is not really in the spirit of my wife’s practical ways of being… but…

Hug the ones you love. Don’t leave it to another day.

I did. And it has helped me moved on tremendously.

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Share your thoughts

  • Truly touching, this also does raise some serious concerns, as our lives become increasingly enveloped with digital services, what happens to the management and control of those by loved ones when someone is deceased. A response from a provider that no matter what you won’t be given access isn’t really a valid one. There needs to be some research done on what would be appropriate policies to enforce.

  • One year already. Another touching and practical article about this most difficult of topics. Thank you for sharing again Robert.

  • yes, the year has flown by quickly. I can’t believe it has been a year already, still so much to sort out.

  • Absolutely. The problem is there is no industry standards. The Web Standards Projects ( recently closed it doors stating their work is done, but there are so many industry/global standards to be set in how digital affects us.

    The work for standards is far from over.

    I recommend listening to the BBC radio 4 show. There are some scary stories from other people who’ve been less fortunate in dealing with their deceased loved-ones’ digital legacy.