Organize data held on digital devices as soon as possible

What will happen to the documents, images, access privileges to bank accounts and other data on people’s computers or smartphones after their death? A difficult change has come to light in the emerging digital society.

Many people store contact details, images, documents and other information on their smartphones and other digital devices. When an owner dies, the data on their device is called “digital inheritance” and is basically left to the bereaved family members to deal with.

However, in many cases, family members do not know the passwords and cannot unlock devices. In some cases, families cannot access the contact information of the deceased’s friends and acquaintances, and therefore cannot inform them of the death.

People would not want an additional burden to be placed on family members tied up with funeral and inheritance procedures after their death.

Nowadays, many people use online banking and securities services that do not require bankbooks and do not involve regular postal mail. If family members do not know their loved ones used such services before their deaths, assets may be neglected.

If the use of music and movie subscription services is not known, contracts cannot be terminated.

Recently, “end-of-life planning” has been widespread. It is important to discuss the status of assets and contracts for services and other such matters with family members in advance and to share information.

Compiling a list of necessary information for procedures after death and keeping it in a place where family members can find it when needed could be an effective approach.

According to a survey conducted last year by a private research company, only 13% of people aged 60 to 89 keep a list of their accounts and the financial institutions they use. Seventy percent of respondents had never discussed end-of-life planning with their children.

Some people may be reluctant to discuss such matters with their families. However, it is advisable to start with what one can do, such as categorizing the information on smartphones that should be left to family members.

The number of elderly people living alone is increasing and some tend to become isolated in their communities.

The municipal government of Yamato, Kanagawa Prefecture, offers a free service to keep “end-of-life notebooks” in which such residents note down their assets, acquaintances and wishes regarding funeral arrangements, among other things. The municipal government has assigned advisors for end-of-life planning to help such residents.

In the event of a person’s death, the municipal government notifies the registered contact person.

The term “end-of-life planning” may have a negative image. However, organizing personal affairs may lead to a more positive outlook on remaining life.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 7, 2023)