When it comes to managing your digital assets after death, there are two primary issues to consider: your legacy and your privacy. When you’re gone, your online presence might be one of the primary ways that people, including future family members, learn about who you were. Does an online search of your name bring up details about who you are that help tell your story, both through the images of you that are posted online as well as any blog posts, social media profile pages or other websites?
You also want to make sure your privacy and security are protected in both life and death. Depending on what you share online and your privacy settings on your social media accounts, including Facebook, it might be possible for a stranger to figure out details such as your birth date, mother’s maiden name and marriage anniversary. Those kind of details can make it possible for hackers to guess your password and break into financial and other online accounts. Reviewing your privacy settings and making sure that one trusted person knows your passwords and how to handle your accounts after your death can help protect those accounts.
Because so many people are active on social media, and, as a result, users die every day, social media companies have been updating their death policies and providing more options for grieving family members. Twitter now considers requests from family members to delete upsetting images of users who have died, but the company does not honor every request, especially if the images are newsworthy. Facebook, meanwhile, offers the option of having a family member delete the account altogether or create a memorialized page. (Family members often turn to memorialized Facebook pages after a family member’s death to share comments, photos and memories.) LinkedIn also allows family members of the deceased user to delete the account, as does Twitter. In most cases, the companies require a death certificate and confirmation of the relative’s identity.
Just like when it comes to managing your financial assets, your digital assets can benefit from organization and a point person. Providing your trusted person, such as a lawyer or family member, with an overview of all your accounts, along with the relevant passwords, can make it easier for them to follow your wishes after death, whether it’s shutting down the account or preserving some aspects of it, like photos. (You’ll want to make sure that information is stored in a secure and private place; wills are not the place for passwords because they are public documents.)
Taking this kind of precaution is helpful not just in the case of unexpected death, but also if you become incapacitated for some reason and unable to manage your accounts. For example, if you have a stroke and can’t use Facebook for a period of time, you might want that trusted person to post updates for friends and family members on your behalf.
Here are a few more tips to consider when it comes to preparing your online accounts:
1. Make as many decisions in advance as possible. Would you want your Facebook account deleted or memorialized? Similarly, do you want a family member to have access to your email accounts or would you prefer they be deleted after death? Are there some digital assets, such as a music or e-book collection, that you want to pass on to somebody? If you make your choices before death and describe your wishes in your will, then you have a better chance of making sure your digital assets are handled exactly the way you want them to be.
2. Consider getting outside help. The marketplace has noticed a demand for help managing one’s digital afterlife and has responded accordingly. You can work with an estate lawyer to add details about managing your digital assets or take advantage of a website like everplans.com that can help walk you through the different considerations.
3. Create complex passwords. Make sure online passwords are hard to guess so hackers don’t try to break into your accounts after reading an online obituary. Unfortunately, scam artists often read obituary notices before picking their targets. You might want to also consider heightening your security settings on social media accounts to make it harder for a stranger to log in to your accounts from a different location.