How To Ensure Your Loved Ones Can Access Your Data Once You’re Gone

Joshua Lockhart 16-07-2013

gravestone-black-and-whiteWhen it comes down to what information should be accessed by your loved ones after you’ve passed on, some people can get in a bit of a conundrum. After all, everyone has secrets, and just handing your email password Safeguard Files and Login Information With oneSafe for Mac and iOS For the last few years I have not used a traditional wallet to carry around my bank cards, business cards, and paper notes. My iPhone and a stylish credit card case are now my paperless... Read More off to someone may not be the best solution. (As a note, I’m not talking about secret trysts or forbidden lovers. Perhaps you killed someone – maybe you’d just rather no one find out about that side of yourself. We at MakeUseOf get that.)


No, no. Dig deep within yourself and think, “What do I have that generations from now my descendants and other people should have?”

This could get pretty serious, my friends. What do you have that’s valuable? Is it a map to buried treasure somewhere on your property? Perhaps it’s a collection of videos of yourself telling stories of family history. Maybe you have a book detailing the events of your life, and you hope that your family can learn from them.

This goes way beyond having access to your bank information, email accounts, etc. This could be your last ditch effort to make the world better than when you were in it, and it seems as though enough people do not take this to heart. With that said, I encourage you to. Sit down with a pen and a piece of paper (get away from the computer) and write down what you think is worth preserving.

What will you leave behind?

Combine Technology With Trust

We’ve written a bit about how loved ones can access your accounts and how to prepare for your death in this digitally-influenced world 4 Online Resources To Prepare For Your Death & Digital Afterlife Read More . However, since we are talking about rather important data, it might be best to come up with a safer way for this information to be accessed. Personally, I would add the human element to technology.


You could easily store your information on the cloud or make your data disaster proof in an offsite location Disaster-Proof Your Data! 4 Offsite Backup Solutions Laptops, desktops and tablets are ultimately trivial items that can be replaced and hold little value, but the same might not be true of the data they contain. Losing a project you’ve worked years on... Read More , but if you are storing valuable information (whatever it may be), you may want to consider bringing in more security than just a password. The most simple answer would be to leave a hard drive (or two identical ones) with your family that are password-protected, and leave the password with an attorney who cannot release it to them until after death. Lawyers can’t breach confidentiality, so you are pretty much set here.


If you would rather not bring in a lawyer, you could physically tell a loved one where the location of the hard drive is, and then tell another loved one the password for the hard drive. In  order for this to work, the honor system must be utilized. However, the idea is that they can’t tell each other this information until after you have passed on.

This is more efficient than using just a Dead Man’s Switch in that the information is stored with trustworthy humans – not a faceless automatic web app. Granted, you could incorporate the Dead Man’s Switch into this plan. For instance, you could have the password emailed to one person and the location of the drive emailed to another, but that may be a bit too much.



Alternatively, you may not want to use a hard drive at all. We do have cloud storage, you know. With this, you could give one friend a password and one friend a username or email address for the account. Either way, it’s all about combining technology with trust.

Backing Up Your Data Is Effectively Storing Yourself

When you die, you are at least physically removed from your friends and family. For the remainder of their lives, they won’t have access to you. The next best thing is to provide them with your data. Rather, you are providing them with your memories.



While you may be dead and gone, you can effectively allow your family members to see you post-mortem if you provide the proper data. Essentially, you are providing a dynamic time capsule The Days Of Our Life: How To Lifelog Online With Photos And Videos Photos or videos are the ideal way to document specific moments in your day, and there are several apps and sites that cater to that exact need. At the end of a year of documentation,... Read More of yourself! I encourage you to include as many photos, videos, audio recordings, and written text as possible. We live in an age where preservation is easier than ever – don’t miss out!


Remember that you aren’t doing it for yourself. You are doing it for the ones you are leaving behind and the generations that may come after. Your great-great-grandchildren have the ability to meet you even though you may not have the ability to meet them.

Other Technological Solutions

I’ve already mentioned physical backups and hinted on digital ones (such as Dead Man’s Switch), but the reality is that the cloud is today’s way of doing things. Apart from potential government spying (sigh), there shouldn’t be much of an issue with storing files on the web. If you are looking for a few digital solutions, we’ve got you covered.


One primary need people have is for their password to be released upon death. Fortunately, quite a few web services exist that can help you with just that. If you’d rather get away from the attorney, and you don’t have a trusted friend to give it to (for whatever reason), then these are your best bets.


PassMyWill is one such free site which will check in on your Facebook and Twitter accounts to see if you are still posting. In the event that it appears you have drifted into the afterlife, it will send you an email to confirm if you’re dead. Since there’s likely no WiFi wherever you’ll end up, then this is a pretty good way to check in. If no response is received, the service will send out an email to trustworthy people you have listed. After they enter a key (which you must give them before you pass on), they will have access to your eWill which can connect them to your cloud-based and social data.


For a more formal approach, AfterSteps is a site which handles the passing on of your legal and personal data upon death. The basic package allows you to include three verifiers who can confirm your passing, and after two out of three confirm, your data will be released. This option is a bit pricey though: $60 per year or $300 for a lifetime pass. Is it worth it? Maybe.


If I Die is a tool which connects you to others after death by passing on messages. The site’s basic offering allows you to write notes that will be delivered upon your death. Users must know that you have messages for them available, but they should not try to access them until you have passed on. When they do try to access them, a message will be sent to verifiers who will confirm if you are actually dead. Alternatively, verifiers can open a link which confirms your death, and if enough people confirm, these messages will be released.

What other ways can you ensure that your loved ones can access your data once you are gone? Have you already taken precautions for this purpose?

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  1. fdfd
    July 21, 2013 at 1:14 am

    the question you have to deal here to begin with is why living at all if we're gonna die anyway.

  2. Jeremy G
    July 17, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Thanks for this article. I had been idly wondering for some time. It would be nice, however, to literally have a dead man's switch, say, linked to blood flow or brain activity. As I grow older, I find myself less attached to technology, and may, though at this moment I think it unlikely, decide to stop interacting altogether. Another possibility is that I have a fit of road-rage - traffic never gives enough respect to us bicyclers - and end up in prison, thus limiting my access to electronic confirmation of my well-being. In a third instance, future travels my take me to an religious retreat in the peaks of Tibet, where I will effectively loose contact with the rest of the world. I would not want that to register me as dead.I do, however, realise that should I ever become important in the world of villainry, such a switch would effectively make me a hunted man, so perhaps it is better to rely on trusted people rather than on bioware

  3. Captain Obvious
    July 16, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Like Curts, I simply gave out portions of my master password to various family members than know if I pass, to get together and use it (in specific order) to access my master truecrypt volume with access to LastPass.

  4. curts
    July 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I recently worked on this very issue myself. What I found to be the biggest challenge was the issue of passwords. The collection of passwords associated with each of us constantly evolves over time. We add new ones, we modify existing ones, and eventually discard them. To further complicate things, I currently live across the Atlantic from my family. A snapshot saved to a CDROM or thumb drive, updated infrequently, probably isn't going to be adequate if the worst were to happen.

    My solution was to create a shared room on SpiderOak and gave my two trusted family members the web link and password. In this encrypted cloud space are copies of my KeePass encrypted password safes: a "master" safe and an "everyday" safe. These password safes are updated regularly by my automated backup tasks. I then wrote up instructions on how to access and use the passwords and distributed this to my trusted family members.

    The "master" safe contains my most sensitive passwords, including the password to the "everyday" safe (the one I carry around with me and doesn't contain any really sensitive passwords, like banking passwords), my PC login, encrypted file volumes, etc. Each trusted family member has been given a portion of the password to the "master" safe, thereby requiring their collaboration to access the sensitive data. If I had a safe deposit box in the USA, I could have placed the "master" password within it for safe keeping and benefited from the standard procedures for my Executor to access it after my death.