No matter how many sci-fi movies depict it, we’re not going to be able to achieve eternal life by uploading a digital version of our consciousness to the cloud anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t leave traces of yourself behind on the internet. If you have a website or blog, it could continue for as long as the hosting site exists and your financial obligations to the site are met, promising some small taste of immortality. But what exactly happens to your domain if, when you leave this planet to meet that great processor in the sky, there’s no one to pay the upkeep? Can you will your small corner of the internet to someone else the same way you can physical property? We looked into it, and here’s what we found.
What happens if you do nothing
If you make no special plans to pass your domain on to someone else after you die, your domain will simply expire at some point. Your hosting company will attempt to contact you when it’s time to renew your commitment, and if you don’t reply, the domain will enter a grace period, usually followed by a redemption period (during which only the original registrar can make the site live again). It will eventually be deleted and become publicly available for someone else to purchase.
This might not be a big deal if your website was just a hobby or something that wouldn’t have lasting value. If your domain is attached to a money-making site, or a site with significant traffic, it would make sense to leave it to someone else.
Plan for your passing
This can be as simple as passing along your domain login credentials to someone you trust. To formalise things, you can work with an estate-planning attorney to release this information, along with instructions on what you’d like done with your domain after your death. With your username and password, the person who inherits your domain will find it easy to manage and update it according to your wishes.
The documentation you draw up should also specify that your legally named representative has full authorisation to access your domain account and make any changes necessary to keep the site functioning.
By the way, this is not only a good idea for your domain, but for all of your digital assets. Creating a sheet of account passwords and logins can go a long way towards making your estate settlement easier for the executor of your will once you are gone. To simplify the process, you could consider using a password management app like LastPass or 1Password. This way, you can always keep your login credentials up-to-date on the app and grant access at the time of your passing by simply sharing one master username and password.
If you don’t include your domain in your will, or you die before you’ve had a chance to do so, there is still a chance that family members can gain possession of the domain. Different registrars have different processes for accomplishing this, so anyone looking to take over your domain upon your demise would have to do a WHOIS lookup to find your registrar, and then follow the rules for gaining access.
GoDaddy, for example, requires that someone seeking to take over a domain after the death of its owner provides a death certificate in addition to photo ID, a change request form, and proof that the person requesting the change is the estate administrator. Furthermore, if the domain was owned by a business, it would be necessary to provide a government-issued business identification document.
While it might seem like a hassle to ensure that your domain continues after you’ve died, it’s worth it for those who succeed you. Consider the fact that the domain name Fiona.com sold for over $100,000 in 2019. That’s a serious chunk of change for a beneficiary, and well worth protecting.