Book Review: Your Digital Undertaker

This book falls a bit outside the topics we usually cover in Journal of Cyber Policy, but there is a lot of useful information here and some of it does relate to security. The book, Your Digital Undertaker: Exploring Death in the Digital Age in Canada, offers a thorough, step-by-step approach to settling the estate of a loved one. In particular, author Sharon Hartung reveals the problems that can easily arise if a parent or grandparent dies without leaving much in the way of instruction about their wishes and will.

This is not a new problem, of course, but in the digital age, it can be extremely challenging to piece together the fragments of the departed person’s life. It’s necessary to do this for a variety of reasons, ranging from simple issues like discontinuing credit cards to more complicated matters like life insurance, investment accounts and so forth. An adult child can find him or herself confronting a password-protected PC, a locked mobile device and unknown cloud volumes in a search for crucial information.

We live in a digital age. Our lives are increasingly lived on digital devices. As a result, our estates are at least partly digital in nature. Hartung makes a series of recommendations about preparing a roadmap to all of your digital assets for your heirs. After all, you won’t be able to answer any questions like, “Dad, where did you put the bank statement and last year’s tax returns?”

This recommendation, while wise, does create an unintended cybersecurity risk, however. Creating a spreadsheet or Word document with all of your personally identifying information, bank accounts and passwords is extremely useful for your heirs. It’s also really useful for hackers. Concentrating so much material for an identity thief is risky. A good practice might be to create the file but write passwords in with a pen, and so forth. That way, you’ve achieved the goal of making life easy for your heirs without setting yourself for digital theft.