Have you ever wondered what happens to your email after you die?
A morbid thought but relevant because most of us run our lives through email. Apart from personal and work-related correspondence we get mails on investments and life insurance, bank accounts and credit card bills, and we save these documents in email folders. But what if you were to die suddenly? How will your family access this vital information? And if they do, what about those personal emails that you may not want them to read?
The smart thing would be to have two email addresses: one where you store “legacy” information and whose password is known to select members of the family, and another for your private life. So if you were to die unexpectedly, your spouse or children will know about the status of bank accounts and insurance policies.
If you haven’t shared your password but have a Gmail or a Hotmail account, the next of kin can still get access to it—but only after long and complicated paperwork. I am not on Facebook but I believe there is a provision that can turn a dead person’s profile into a virtual memorial.
However, if you would rather not share your password and would prefer to keep your email secret, you have another option: Save this information elsewhere and leave instructions to have it delivered to whoever you want, after you are dead. These mails could be about the combination to your bank locker, the password to your blog, a special bequest for a person, or even a letter to someone you secretly admired. Maybe you have a few secrets that you don’t want to share with anyone—or share with the family only after you are dead?
There’s a range of Internet services where you can leave instructions to be sent out to family, friends and foes after your demise. These websites have quirky names: Letter from Beyond (“Keeping your thoughts and memories alive”), My Last Email (“Preparing today for tomorrow”), My Webwill (“Your life online after death”), Last Messages Club (“Leave a digital will”) and AssetLock (“Preserving your legacy”).
Broadly, they all work on the same principle: You subscribe to the service for an annual fee and leave messages to be sent out in the event of your death. At Death Switch (“Bridging mortality”), for instance, you will receive periodic email messages:
“Dear ABC, This email has been sent to you by deathswitch.com, a death notification service. Please click here to demonstrate that you are still alive.”
If you don’t respond, the website assumes that you’re dead, and sends out your saved email messages and letters to recipients nominated by you. The website was developed by a neuroscientist who claims that “individuals began to use death switches to reveal Swiss bank account numbers to their heirs.”
You can write email messages, attach photos, audio and video, and send it to these companies for a fee. They will then send you mails at regular intervals to check if you are still alive. You can leave posthumous instructions to friends and family, and even write birthday or anniversary greetings to be sent out in subsequent years.
At My Last Email you can create an “Online Memorial” and leave letters and photographs or a specially recorded video message for all to see. I have no idea about the popularity of these services and whether one is better than the other, but a quick glance shows that they all offer pretty much similar services.
At the Last Messages Club, you can write and store letters for family and friends and, if you change your mind, you can rewrite them any number of times. You can also send a birthday wish or an anniversary message. If you cannot make up your mind what to write, they have suggestions for opening lines: “This message will come as a surprise but there are some important things I wanted to say to you.”
I don’t know about you but personally, I would be totally spooked if I were to get an email from a departed parent on my birthday. No thank you. I would rather share the “legacy” information with my family when I am still alive, and keep my personal life to myself. As for that belated love letter, as they say, certain things are better left unsaid.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at firstname.lastname@example.org