Part of the desire to preplan your own death comes as a courtesy to your loved ones, who usually shoulder the burden of things like funeral arrangements and redistributing possessions. The other part comes from a desire to manage your own legacy. When you die, you don’t get much say in how your memory lives on—especially online. “We get birthday greetings from dead people on Facebook. We get their work anniversaries on LinkedIn,” says Rikard Steiber, who founded the legacy management startup Good Trust earlier this year to solve the problem of posthumous accounts. No one wants their legacy to be LinkedIn notifications sent from the grave.
Like Memories, Good Trust is courting two types of customers: the bereaved and those who are living but one day plan to die. (In that sense, the market is very big.) For the first type, Good Trust offers a white-glove service to clean up the digital accounts of the deceased, from memorializing Facebook pages to shutting down ongoing subscriptions. Some of these tasks turn out to be quite Sisyphean: “If you want to extract content, those things are a hassle and cost a lot of money,” Steiber says. To inherit an iPhone photo album or a private Spotify playlist or someone’s unfinished manuscript in Google Docs, Steiber says, you typically need a court order to transfer custody, given those platforms’ privacy standards. Good Trust offers to handle that, and all of the other accounts, starting at $39.99.
This month, Good Trust will also expand into death planning with a feature that functions like a will for digital accounts. Someone can list the total of their accounts, subscriptions, and social media log-ins, along with instructions on what to do with them in the case of death. That person then assigns a deputy, who is granted access to the “will” after their death. (You can also authorize Good Trust to expunge certain accounts posthumously, before anyone else has a chance to find them.) The portal has places for documents like a will and a medical directive, a birth certificate or the title to a house. Steiber says it encrypts everything in its portals and requires two-factor authentication from all of its users.
As more of our lives are lived in ones and zeros, these online spaces have become a critical place for understanding, and memorializing, a person’s life. A series of meticulously curated Spotify playlists is just as valuable as a beloved record collection; seeing the last Google search someone made is every bit as intimate as the unwashed mug left on the table, the last thing to have touched their lips. Custody of these digital spaces, then, is every bit as important as managing inheritance in the physical realm. Leaving a loved one the credentials to your Gmail, or the passcode to your iPhone, can be a powerful bequeathal.
Steiber also sees potential for people to control how they are remembered by the internet. Using Good Trust, you could create instructions for which tweet to keep pinned at the top of your Twitter. You could leave directions for what to post on your freshly memorialized Facebook account, alerting your friends of your death. “You can kind of have that person speaking from the grave,” Steiber says. Then, with a service like Memories’s Future Messages, you could carry on the conversation, leaving little video dispatches from the distant past for years into the future. One day, Ainsworth believes, we’ll be able to use AI to animate ourselves for even longer, maybe even having back-and-forth chats with our loved ones. It will be as if we’ve never died at all.
It’s a seductive idea. To live is to constantly leave behind a trail of ourselves, in the hope that it’s remembered nicely—or remembered at all—after we’re gone. Legacy, the playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda once wrote, is “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Preparing messages to send and share with loved ones is more like buying a tree. There’s more control over where it grows, how it casts shade. But for those who are left behind, maybe there was something worthwhile in the gardening.
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