If you’re like most Internet-savvy people, you have digital footprints all across the Web, from Paypal and Flickr to Amazon, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and video game sites. You probaly also have auto-renewal accounts for sites like Consumer Reports and your local newspaper. So what happens to all of these accounts when you die?
Worst-case scenario: A family member accesses your email account and finds messages that you don’t want revealed, including keys to access your online financials for banking and brokerages. If the wrong people gain access, photos that you don’t want exposed might go online. Tweets and Facebook posts in your name might appear. The potential for mischief is significant.You most likely have a will naming an executor, but who will deal with your non-financial digital online presence after you pass? The authors of the new book, Your Digital Afterlife, have a number of suggestions for dealing with this end-of-life question.
Authors Evan Carroll and John Romano suggest first creating a list of websites that you would like dealt with, along with access user names and passwords. (You do store your passwords securely, right? Not on a piece of paper hidden under your keyboard?)
With this in hand, sit down with the person you would choose as your digital executor. This is not necessarily your will executor, unless you trust them to have the ability and willingness to take on these additional tasks. (Don’t put your passwords in your will; that becomes a public document.)
Your digital executor would, on your passing, visit your sites (except sites on which you have a financial account, which will be a responsibility of the will executor) and carry out your wishes. Some you might want transferred to next of kin, such as family photos on a site like Photobucket. Some you might want closed, such as Amazon. Some you might want destroyed, such as your Gmail email history.
Unfortunately, as the authors point out, there are no industry standards for how sites deal with deceased members. Yahoo, for example, does not in its terms of service allow its sites, such as Flickr, to be transferred to another person. Others will allow another to control an account only on proof of death.
There are a surprising number of Web services already established to help with the planning and execution of one’s digital bequest.Datainheritance.com allows you to set up access by your digital executor to your passwords upon your death. Legacylocker.com permits you to set up beneficiaries of your various accounts: You could “gift” your oldest child with your online photo account, your brother with your fantasy baseball team, your cousin with your Farmville empire and your sister with your Ancestry.com account, all assuming that the sites allow it in their terms of service.
No one likes to dwell on their mortality, but as our lives are increasing led online, many of us will want to shape our online legacy rather than leave it to decay over time like an abandoned shack.