Having a will is important. A will is a device that lets you tell the world whom you want to get your assets. Die without one, and the state decides who gets what, without regard to your wishes or your heirs’ needs. Wills generally cover your personal property, investments, cash and other assets. But what happens to your digital assets when you die?
I realize it’s not the most pleasant thought in the world, but if you’re like me then you probably have a ton of media and other information stored in the “cloud” at one or more online service sites. These sites all require a personal user name and password for access, and if you pass on without divulging these to someone your information could be locked away forever.
Enter Entrustet.com. The company, which is set to launch its free internet based service in the middle of April, takes care of getting your friends or loved ones (or whomever else you decide) access to online content after you’ve died.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss exactly how the company operates with the firm’s two founders, two University of Wisconsin undergrads, Jesse Davis (age 23) and Nathan Lustig (24).
If you’re what Entrustet calls a HiWi (High Internet Worth Individual), then you probably have a ton of data stored online. But it takes only one e-mail account to be considered a HiWi. Think about it. One simple web based e-mail account contains copies of all the e-mails you sent/received as well as all of the information about your contacts.
Entrustet was created to protect your digital assets. Any online content is an asset and files on your computer are considered assets as well. You also have two types of digital assets. Economical ones, such as domain registrations with sites like GoDaddy.com and sentimental ones such as your online family photo albums at sites like Flickr or Photo Bucket.
Entrustet’s main offering is their Account Guardian service. Here you create a user account and name a digital executor. The digital executor is the person responsible for receiving all the information about your digital assets once you pass on. You can name up to 2 executors.
You also name up to 10 heirs. Your heirs are the people you want to give your digital content to. They’ll receive this information in the form of the user names and passwords for each of the sites you’ve specified that they are to receive.
After you’ve named your executors and heirs, you can then proceed to enter the information about your digital assets. There’s no limit to the amount of digital assets you can add. Entrustet has about 60 pre-set and if one that you subscribe to isn’t present you can easily add it. You’ll also set the parameters that your executor will follow for each account. You can choose to have each account deleted or transferred.
Once you’ve set all your accounts up, you’ll receive a printed summary (that doesn’t contain any security information) about all of your assets and parameters.
The Account Guardian Service is free. But Entrustet does offer one paid service. They call it their Incinerator Service. For $20 per year, per account, you can set up services that should you die, they will be automatically deleted without anyone knowing they ever existed. Imagine the possibilities for what might be stored here.
In addition to your online content you can also upload documents to your Entrustet account. For $1 per document Entrustet will keep your files and forward them as you wished if you die.
By now you’re probably wondering, is this safe? Do I really trust a company with the user names and passwords to all my content? Entrustet describes themselves as being about as safe as an online bank. They use verifying SSL, MaCafee Hacker Safe and perhaps most importantly do not keep their decryption keys in the same location as your information.
So what happens if you die? It’s important that you’ve told someone about your Entrustet account, and the company recommends to be absolutely safe that you actually name the service in your written will with instructions for the executor. If you were to die, the executor would need to provide Entrustet with a copy of your death certificate. They use this to double verify that you have indeed died by contacting the local records office in your area.
Once the company has verified your death, your executor receives an e-mail containing a user name and password which allows him/her to log into your account and begin the process of honoring your wishes, contacting your heirs, forwarding your account information, deleting accounts etc.
Your heirs receive, in the form of an e-mail, notification that they’ve been named as an heir to a portion of your digital content. They then head to the Entrustet web site, register and gain access to the user names and passwords you left for them. Entrustet also provides them instructions for completing whatever task you asked of them, be it transfer, deletion etc.
How does Entrustet earn money? In addition to their paid Incinerator Service, they also allow lawyers to advertise on their site. If you don’t have a will and wish to make one, they’ll hook you up with a lawyer who can assist you with the process.
In the future Entrustet hopes to partner with the companies who manage your online content. Here’s a staggering fact: They estimate that Facebook, for example, currently deals with 1.2 million user deaths world wide every year. What happens to these accounts? If the user hasn’t specified anything then probably nothing. If a loved one sends Facebook the proper documentation the deceased’s page can be turned into a memorial, but other sites are more stringent and some family members have actually had to take companies to court to sue for access to their family member’s information.
So whether you have one simple e-mail account, or over 100 online services to which you subscribe, it’s time to start thinking about what’ll happen to all your content when you’re gone. If you want to make sure your memories wind up in the place you hoped they would, or if you just want them erased forever, it’s time to start thinking about Entrustet.
Currently in public Beta, Entrustet expects its service to go live on April 22nd.
You can learn more about about Entrustet by visiting their home page here.