You’ve probably known someone who has had a Facebook page when they passed away. Floods of messages get posted to their pages, and the page lives on in memory of the user. But can anyone access that page again? What about your email account? How about family photos posted to a picture sharing service? There are a lot of questions when it comes to managing what is called your “digital afterlife:” where your content goes after you die.
Your will may take care of who gets your house when you pass away, but what about who gets your Facebook account? Or who's allowed to access your email data? It’s never a bad idea to think about these digital assets as you write your will and through the estate planning process. Here's what you need to know about how you can prepare to leave your digital accounts in safe hands.
Digital Assets to Manage in Your Estate Plan
Compared to other social media platforms, Facebook has an easy process in place to ensure that your account is safe and protected if you pass. Facebook allows you to designate a legacy contact who can manage parts of your account.
To do this, open Facebook Settings, choose Security, and then select Legacy Contact at the bottom of the page. Legacy contacts cannot sign into your account or see any private messages, but they can post a pinned post to the top of your Timeline, accept (or reject) new friend requests, and update your profile picture and your header image. They can also (with your permission) download an archive of your posts, photos, and profile information.
If you’d prefer not to have your page memorialized or managed by a legacy contact, you can have your account permanently deleted after you die. Choose this setting under Settings, Security, Legacy Contact.
Learn how to assign a legacy contact and set your privacy settings.
Twitter does not allow you to grant anyone access to your account when you die, though immediate family members and people who are authorized to act on your behalf can request that your account be deactivated when you pass away. If you want someone to be able to take over your account when you die, you'll need to provide them with your login information.
Google doesn’t speak to your digital afterlife explicitly, but they do let you decide what happens to your Google accounts - Gmail, Photos, Google Drive, etc - when you haven't signed into your Google account for a period of time. Google lets you add friends and family members who will be notified if your account is inactive for a certain amount of time, and who will (with your permission) be able to download data from your accounts for three months.
If you have a Microsoft email account, family members will need to go through Microsoft's Next of Kin process in order to gain access to your account data. Microsoft will release your account data -- including emails, attachments, and your address book -- to your next of kin on a DVD. Your family members will not receive your password or be able to access your account fully.
To start the Next of Kin process, your next of kin will need to email firstname.lastname@example.org and provide documentation that verifies that you have passed and that they are your next of kin, the executor or benefactor of your estate, or someone with power of attorney.
Assign A Digital Executor to Help You Organize Your Digital Assets
Because the policies change from company to company, when writing your will it may be easiest, to assign one tech-savvy individual as your digital executor to manage your digital afterlife. This could be the same individual who is in charge of your estate, or it could be someone different. Meet with this individual to provide them with your passwords or a technology that manages your passwords. Even the accounts that do let you designate a digital heir don't let people fully access your stuff after you die.
If you want to leave full access to your accounts to someone after you pass away, your best bet is to use a password manager with a legacy feature. This is best practice for small business owners who use an email service like Yahoo or Gmail to do business.
However, whatever you do, do not include password information in your will itself as your will is a public record.
SuperCheck Your World
As you plan out a strategy for your digital assets after death, take this time to ensure that your whole world is cared for in case of the unexpected. No one likes to think about dying, but thinking about your digital legacy now might relieve some of the burden on your loved ones when you pass away. Thinking about the financial resources that your family may need can also help. Contact your agent to schedule a SuperCheck and protect what matters most in your world.