Until recently, when a family member died you would look through their filing cabinet to find details of their accounts, browse their address book to find their contacts and inherit their physical photo albums.
But my accounts for banks and utilities are online. My contacts are in Google and Outlook and my photos in several places, to keep them safe. Then there are my email accounts and accounts for all the social media, shopping, travel sites I use … the list seems endless. I must get organised so I don’t leave my children a digital nightmare.
The first thing I’ll do is put together a prioritised list of my accounts and give clear instructions on what needs to happen to them, particularly any that have a financial aspect such as Paypal and my online subscriptions. As this is sensitive data, I need to be careful where it’s saved. I considered Mega’s encrypted cloud storage and Turtl’s encrypted note-taking software but decided the best option is to keep copies on two (one live, one backup) USB drives. I’ll plug these in to my computer when I’m editing them, but otherwise keep them in a secure box.
There’s conflicting advice on whether passwords should be included in this list. Even when it’s not a criminal offence for an executor to access my account, it’s often against a site’s terms and conditions. I hope that over time this will be legally clarified, but for the moment, I’m going to have to decide for each account individually.
Some companies allow me to specify what happens to my account after my death. I’ll start by using Google’s Inactive Account Manager and setting up a legacy contact in Facebook – as I do more, I’ll add their details to the comments here, along with useful links.
For photos, I’ll download the ones I want kept and save them on an external hard drive, along with my exported contacts from Google and Outlook.
Finally, as I password protect my desktop on my computer, I’m going to add a trusted person in Windows 10 settings > Accounts > Family & other people. They won’t be able to log in to my desktop, but they will be able to use the File Explorer to access my documents.
Yes, there’s a lot to think about! I’ll be reading “Death in the Digital Age”, “Digital assets - What happens to them when I die?” and “My Digital legacy” as a starting point for more information. But I hope that my efforts now will avoid later hassle for my children.
I wouldn’t advocate, as some suggest, taking the side off your desktop computer to give it a thorough clean unless you’re confident you know what you’re doing. But there’s no harm in running over the outer casing with the soft-brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner, particularly near the fans as these can accumulate huge amounts of dust. Just turn the computer’s power off first!
I do suggest spending an hour or two going through your computer and dejunking. Delete unneeded documents and tidy up your photos. Weed out old emails. Declutter your desktop. Check your Downloads folder: it’s amazing how many files end up in there—sometimes with multiple copies. Open the Apps & features area in Windows Settings and remove any programs you know you’ll never use again.
One of my favourite clean-up tools is ccleaner. I mainly use it to tidy up less-accessible files, such as cookies, browser history and the temporary files created by my programs. This not only gives me more disk space, it can make a noticeable difference in the performance of my browser. If you don’t want to install new software, the Disk Clean-up tool, included in the System or Administrative tools in all versions of Windows, will do a more basic clean-up. However, ccleaner also offers extra tools to, for example, find out which types of file are using your disk space and to identify and delete duplicated files. This LifeHacker article has excellent advice on using ccleaner.
For pictures, I found ccleaner a little lacking. Since writing this article originally I've tried a number of different tools for finding duplicate images. My favourite, which I've used to safely delete many gigabytes of duplicate photos on my laptop is the modestly named Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder. Specify your Pictures folder—or, ideally, a sub-folder as this can take a very long time to perform the initial analysis on a large folder—click Search and ISP shows you all your duplicate photos, along with information to help you decide which copy to keep and which to delete. Simple, effective and free, what more could you ask for?
As a bonus recommendation, if you want something that covers more than just pictures and is more flexible than ccleaner or you could try Clone Spy.
One final note: after you’ve cleaned everything up: it’s an ideal time run a backup! And then sit back and enjoy your freshly organised computer.