We all have them, and don’t really know what to do with them.
As so much of our lives moves online, how do we organize our passwords and at the same time ensure the security of our sensitive information? And what happens to our digital footprint when we are no longer leaving physical footprints on the earth ourselves?
Stuart McCormack, a retired lawyer and former Niagara-on-the-Lake town councillor, is offering some solutions March 23 and 30 in a two-part Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library workshop, entitled Suddenly I am Run Over by a Bus.
The whimsically morbid title has its roots in a National Lampoon magazine article from the 1970s, written by Michael O’Donoghue. You may remember him as the creator and voice of the repeatedly doomed claymation character Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live back then. Writing in the satirical magazine, O’Donoghue suggested authors use the phrase to wrap up their work when they have trouble coming up with an ending.
“It began as a tentative title,” McCormack says. “I know people who keep track of their passwords and this type of information, and they have chosen that as the title of the file, a literal file folder that people can look in to see the information.”
The first of McCormack’s sessions will delve into what he terms digital inheritance. He expects that he will speak for about half of the hour-long online meeting, and then spend the rest of the time fielding questions from participants, moderated by a library staff member.
“My goal is to illuminate an issue that I think, to a certain extent, is probably not high on people’s lists,” he tells The Local. “For one thing, people don’t think of these digital assets and wonder what will happen when they’re gone. The other thing is, it can bring up a landmine of complex feelings — frustration, anxiety and fear.”
“What I’m really trying to do,” he adds, “is open up the conversation with respect to this. It’s something that unfortunately we’ll all have to deal with at one point or another, and hopefully having this kind of discussion makes it slightly easier to talk about.”
McCormack stresses the importance of handing over access to digital assets to third parties, typically one’s executors and beneficiaries. These assets include documents, spreadsheets, audible content, photographs, emails, access to websites, medical information, banking, bitcoin, reputational information, and much more.
McCormack assures that actually archiving all of this information and getting it into the right hands is not an onerous task, though it may be one that does not provide many enjoyable moments.
“Are you going to pay for your own funeral?” asks McCormack. “Are you going to sit down with your spouse and have a discussion about your funeral requirements? It’s not a time management thing, it’s a negative emotion that comes into play. It’s more ‘I don’t want to face the fact that you or I are going.’”
The advice and tips he will offer on March 23 promise to encourage you to begin the process, and maybe even ease the pain of some of those negative emotions.
The second part of the workshop, taking place the following week, focuses on legal preparation, including wills, powers of attorney and joint bank accounts, with a discussion as well on financial abuse of seniors.
McCormack says people have approached him for advice when experiencing trouble accessing joint bank account funds once a spouse has passed away.
“The normal assumption,” he says, “is that there’s a right of survivorship that applies, and the other person whose name is on the account should be able to go in and deal with the account without any encumbrance. But that’s not always the case.”
He has aided some people who have been forced to work through a number of steps to access joint funds, and remembers it causing undue stress for them while at the same time dealing with the grief that comes with loss. His talk will help participants be aware and be prepared for any such roadblocks put up by financial institutions.
Another issue he has often been consulted on is the financial abuse of seniors. It’s not particularly McCormack’s area of legal expertise. His career involved him heading the Ottawa office of a national law firm, where his specialties were information technology and intellectual property.
“People who are physically separated from their families often depend on a caregiver to help them, either professional or not,” outlines McCormack. “The friend or caregiver may come in, ask for help with their rent, or their mortgage, or for help with a business opportunity. The question becomes how do you deal with that type of situation? What protections are out there? What can you as a child or third party standing by do to help that senior?”
As a member of the town’s library board, McCormack is happy to be contributing to the library’s offerings.
“It’s part of its mandate and its strategic plan to enhance the social infrastructure of the town,” he says. “Social infrastructure is the physical conditions that measure whether or not social capital develops. The library has a variety of activities that go on throughout the year, for all different generations. The idea is to bring people together so they connect. Its function in town is at least as important as the sewer system, if not more so.”
To better understand the idea of social infrastructure, McCormack recommends the Eric Klinenberg book Palaces of the People, available to read via Google Play. Klinenberg writes about libraries as a key focus on the fight against inequality, polarization and the decline of civil life.
McCormack says the workshops and other sessions the library has been delivering online have been wildly popular during lockdown. He feels that as we emerge out of the current pandemic, the library will play an even more important role than ever.
It’s McCormack’s first time delivering such a session and he’s looking forward to connecting with people to answer their questions.
The two-day workshop will be held March 23 and 30, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. both days. Visit https://notlpubliclibrary.org/ to register.