Dead man’s switch in digital world?

According to Wikipedia, a dead man’s switch is a switch that is designed to be activated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.

Why am I talking about this?

Well, today I came across this news about a Canadian cryptocurrency firm CEO Gerald Cotten who dies in India taking with him the password of the cryptocurrency vault containing $190,000,000 of his investors money to his grave. Unfortunately neither his wife nor security firm had any luck in retrieving the vault contents as on the date this article was written.

Similarly, one of my colleague who’s dad (wife died before him) died due to natural causes, forgot to inform his son that he has around ₹11,00,000 in his bank account. My friend, the son came to know about this while trying to close his dad’s bank account and faced lot of difficulty to close the account. As far as I know he couldn’t retrieve the money nor close the account since his dad didn’t nominate him. The proofs provided where not accepted by the bank. I didn’t know if he succeeded later.

Few years back I went to a foreign country and fell sick, fortunately it was a minor health issue but during the issue I had this thought to make sure I have to inform someone about my details.

Why is this important?

These days most of the governmental documents, bank accounts and other relevant critical information are digitalized. Most of the digitalized content don’t have an alternative nominee who can take over, except for the financial records where by Indian law it’s a must to add a nominee. Also, these digital content are secured using credentials and multi-factor authentications.

So in the eventuality of our death or medical conditions like coma, we have to make sure our spouse or parents or siblings or friend for life should have access to our contents. Google, Microsoft & Facebook have various policies which allow access. Yahoo specifically requires professional legal personnel to approve it by court order. All the providers mentioned, require offline and physical proofs along with legal court orders.

What can you or I do?

Following are few steps we can take.

  1. Authorization letter.
    1. Write an authorization letter having information like who (nominee) has the right to your physical and digital assets along with the list of those assets.
    2. Sign it physically with a date.
    3. Scan it and keep it in a secured digital as well as physical location.
    4. Use automated services like Dead Man’s Switch ( to send out a mail to the nominee if in case you don’t respond to the reminders from service to prolong the dead man’s switch.
  2. E-Mail accounts
    1. Use relevant features in your email accounts to send out access to your data.
    2. Save a copy of alternate access codes of the multi-factor authentication along with the above authorization letter in digital location only.
  3. Password Management accounts
    1. Store all your credentials in a renowned password management services.
    2. User emergency access or similar features to provide access to your account.
    3. If required keep a scanned copy of the password in plain text along with above authorization letter in digital location only. Take care to make sure the font you use can show difference between alphabets and numbers.
    4. Make sure all your accounts have multi-factor authentication enabled.
    5. (Password management service can to an extent overcome hurdles in accessing contents instead of dealing with providers to gain access. Keep in mind, still it might be illegal to use the data without the help of professional legal personnel.)
  4. Phone numbers
    1. Share your critical phone numbers which will be used to intimate the access codes to your family and friend for life.
    2. Do make sure the mobile plan is always active.

In addition you can do the following

  1. Employee details
    1. Share your employee and few other details to your family and friends all the time.
    2. Share your organization/company emergency contact details to your family and friends all the time.
  2. Medical information
    1. Keep a log of your medical details and share it with your family and friend for life.

Dying should be a natural process, but due to environmental, financial and work factors, our health might take a turn for the worse and we should be prepared to lessen the burden for our loved ones.