In the Event of My Death

For my mother’s 70th birthday celebrations, my sister-in-law, Naisha, put together a book of family photos ranging from my mother and father’s childhoods right through to the present day. The tools like iPhoto’s books and other services make this remarkably easy apart from the considerable time it took for Naisha to gather, scan and lay out the photos. We all looked through the book over and over again, rediscovering the joy of having photos in your hands.


For a while now, I have been thinking about two issues in the event of my death and posted some musings about them on the IxDA list back in 2008. The first issue is what happens to all those passwords I have in my head and/or safely stored in my 1Password app if I get hit by a bus? I can share my master password with, say, my wife, but if she dies with me, then all the domain name registrations for my family and clients, e-mail accounts, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, banking, etc. are lost. There seemed to be an opportunity for a service that handled all of this easily.

The second issue is one of an enormous personal archive. As I was searching for photos to give to Naisha, I discovered that I have 19,500 photos in Lightroom, which amount to around 43GB. What’s going to happen when I’m 70? Given that my digital photos start from around 2001, if I carry on creating photos at the same rate, my grandchildren can expect to be sifting through around 63,000 photos and that doesn’t include what will no doubt be a proliferation of video too. I have over 160 articles that I have written, not including my blogs plus all sorts of other collections of documents that might be a useful research resource (my collection of research papers and eBooks is around 4.5GB too).

It doesn’t make sense to me for most of that to simply disappear, especially the web-based material. So one option is to will all of my intellectual property to the creative commons. This all sounds good, but what about all the personal photos of me with other people who might object to them being public? Should I care once I’m dead? (Or, rather, should I care in advance of dying?). But there is another issue, which is how to make all those files useful to my children and grandchildren.

Entrustet seems to be a service that is half of what I was thinking about.

It has a service called Account Guardian to which you entrust your various online account details. Once your death is verified, the details get released to your Digital Executor (a trusted friend, family member or, I suppose, a lawyer, but who trusts them?). There is also an Account Incinerator, which does the opposite – it deletes certain accounts and information on verification of death before your friends and family get to have a look. And there is the possibility to set up an heir to your accounts, so you can nominate your grandson to take over your Twitter name, for example.

Potential problems with the service begs the perhaps unsolvable questions: Should I entrust all that information to Entrustet and do I really trust the person I nominate as Digital Executor?

The latter problem is solved by Entrustet requiring proof of death, so my trust of the executor is a moot point by then. I wondered if some kind of nuclear missile launch key scenario would work better, where two trusted people have to bring together the two halves of a digital key to unlock the account.

The trust-of-Entrustet is more problematic – I have no relationship built up over time with Entrustet and I have no idea whether they’ll still be around in 40 years time. The dotcom industry hasn’t got a great reputation for long-lasting brands. I probably wouldn’t trust Google (although I already trust them with plenty of log-in details). I might trust Agile because I already have trusted them with my 1Password details.

It still doesn’t solve the other half of my problem – who is going to sift through what will probably be a few terabytes of files by the time I croak, assuming I die of old age? Maybe there is a service opportunity for a book to be automagically created once a year of your best photos, blogposts and tweets based on something like Flickr’s interestingness. A kind of physical, cross-media version of Photojojo’s Time Capsule.

(Entrustet link via Crackunit via @mattonlymoore)

4 Replies

  • Funny that you should be thinking about similar things I have these days, even though my thoughts run more on a philosophical path: thinking about the emotions attached to personal pictures and the emotions they carry, about the fleetingness of time and the fact that those emotions or at least the stories and secrets that are contained within are doomed to vanish with us…as are our lifestyles and idiosyncrasies. looking at those boxes of pictures from my parents now very distant past, their parents and grandparents, I realise how these pictures' meanings keep disappearing continously over the generations. still, we keep producing and collecting (more and more) pictures that have a meaning for us, hoping they will find people who will enjoy looking at them and maybe even find meaning and/or identity within them. of course, the same goes for writing…- recommended reading on the inevitable side-effects of the passage of time: John Updike.

  • It's interesting isn't it? The more we feel that our memories are
    becoming ephemeral, the more chance there is that our lives will live
    on in the caches of Google and Flickr.

    One of the ex-Bauhaus Weimar students, Anke Heelmann, runs a fantastic
    project (it started as her Diplomarbeit) called Fotothek in which she collects old photo albums found at flea
    markets and similar. She then categorises them for people to browse

  • Andy,

    Great post and thanks for the review of Entrustet. My family created digital photo/recipe books for the holidays this year and everyone enjoyed looking back at old pictures and reminiscing.

    We know we are a new company and that we will have to earn your trust. Even if you are not ready to trust us with your usernames and passwords, it is still a good idea to use Entrustet to create a list of all of your digital property and make last wishes for each of them. Just having a list with your wishes makes your survivors job much easier. I wrote a blog post about this the other day:

    We'd love to hear more feedback as you explore Entrustet, so feel free to let us know what you think!


    Nathan Lustig

  • Hi Nathan – thanks (and kudos) for replying to my post. I'm certainly
    very interested to see where you guys are going with Entrustet. I know
    from even just thinking about this in some detail myself that there
    are plenty of difficult questions, some of which don't have any really
    satisfactory answers. In the end, you have to trust someone with your
    details because unlike 1Password or Backblaze, who can afford to have
    a set-ups to which they never know your password and if you lose it,
    you lose your data, death obviously means forgetting your password.

    I think there are different levels of trust (bank details versus my
    Twitter account), of course, but I find it interesting what the
    emotional responses are. I regularly give third-party apps access to
    Open Auth for my Twitter or Flickr accounts, for example. I also have
    an iPhone app for my bank account. I'm sure your brand will grow in
    trust over time, but it's an interesting service design question of
    how you show that.

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