How to retrace the digital footprints of the deceased
This is a series to help reconstruct the financial life of a person who is no more. While death never came with just old age, but the Wuhan virus has brought the fragility of life right into our homes. In this piece, I discussed the seven important people to contact as the first step of rebuilding the money life of a person who is not there to tell you what is where.
The next step is to use the deceased person’s digital exhaust to trace out some important details of their finances. Our digital footprint reveals a lot about who we are and what we do. Big tech platforms use this to direct advertising at us. You too can use the footprints to find some missing pieces of the money jigsaw you are trying to make.
- Phone. One of the key devices to help you trace out the money profile of a person. Your first gate to unlock will be the phone password that locks the device. I am hoping that the password is something you either already know or can guess given the set of passwords a family tends to use. We all have a certain method in using passwords and plenty of couples share the mobile pins with each other. If the phone has a face or fingerprint lock, you will need some techie help to unlock the phone. There are resources on the web that deal with this, but are specific to the kind of phone, the version and the associated platforms used. So, yes, there might be a way to unlock, but no, I won’t go into it. You will need to get some techie in the extended family or friends to help with this.
What are we looking for? We are looking for phone numbers of the people mentioned in the earlier story on who to contact. Look in the ‘recently called’ list. Take an hour’s time and then search through the entire phone list and forward to yourself numbers that have anything to do with finances. Most people save numbers with the function or the contact details will have the name of the firm the person works for or runs. We are also looking into the photos and specifically for pictures of documents that the person might have saved. Some people save images of their important documents like PAN, Aadhar, passport, driving license and such like on their phones. You might even find images or PDFs of insurance policies, mutual fund account statements, bank account statements and other such documents on the phone itself. The deceased might be using an app to manage the budget and that too will give plenty of clues as to the regular outflows. You might see the premium for an insurance policy that you did not know about. You might see systematic investment plan (SIP) outflows on a monthly basis.
- Computer. A desktop and or laptop is also an extremely useful device to unpack since it is a significant storehouse of the deceased person’s digital footprints. Again, I am hoping that the passwords are shared with you and you can access the computer. If not, get some techie or use google to figure out how to open a locked computer. Assuming that you are able to open the device, you are looking for documents scanned and stored. Documents such as PAN, Aadhar and other identifiers. Downloaded insurance policies – most car, home and life insurance policies are now sent in a digital form as well – are usually stored in the hard disk of the computer. Look for a folder with tax details. Another one might have bank details. There could be NSDL (depository) monthly statements on shares and mutual funds held. Property papers might have been scanned and stored. Some net worth and asset lists might be maintained. There may be an excel sheet or a word file with a list of regular payments that are due, such as rent, EMI, premiums, SIPs. Speak to the office assistant or boss for help with an office computer.
- Tablets. Most people today have a multiple set of devices. Look for a tablet such as an Ipad or an android tablet. If the person preferred to use the tablet more than the laptop or desk top, you might find the details stored in this device.
- Email. Unlocking the emails is another way to access the financial details of the person. Even if you cannot access the phone or computer, you can try and open the email if you know the password. The combination of a one-time password (OTP) along with an email address registered with service providers will give you access to most accounts.
- Whatsapp (or Signal or Telegram – some messaging app) messages. Assuming that you have been able to unlock some device, now go through the messages. The messages to a financial service provider will give clues to what bank accounts, what assets and what liabilities the person had. Some people message themselves important updates and details on whatsapp instead of using the ‘notes’ features on phones and laptops.
- Digi-locker. Few people will be using this cool new app (https://digilocker.gov.in) that aims to store all your original documents in one place. This is a government portal and app and some people are already using it to store documents. Again some combination of OTP plus email will be needed to unlock this app as well. The documents stored here are treated as originals.
- Cloud. The deceased might have been using some kind of a cloud service such as Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox or some other service. These help store files and data not just in the hard disk but in remote servers that can be configured so that all the devises can access the data. OTP, passwords and emails are again crucial keys to open this lock as well.
Often, most used sites and programmes are left open on laptops or office desk tops. If you are able to access these devices, then just keying in the name of the site might open it up for you. Children and young adults are usually good with technology, so if you are unable to do this yourself, enlist the help of trusted extended family members to help you out.
Next time, we will go on a physical search of places to search for files, documents and paperwork. This is a tough time. We all need to just belt up and keep going.