Who Will Take Care Of Your Digital Legacy After You Die? Poll Says Many People Haven’t Specified
Many Americans haven’t picked a person to oversee their digital accounts after they die, and while some would like to have their accounts memorialized, more than half prefer that they be deleted, according to a poll released Tuesday.
For years, managing someone’s online presence after their death was a fractured process. Families had to reach out individually to social networks like Facebook, Twitter TWTR +0.8% and Tumblr if they wanted to access or change a dead loved one’s account and often had limited options. But some companies have started to build easier ways for users to specify who they’d like to oversee their accounts after they die — and, importantly, what they want done with them.
In February, Facebook released a “legacy contact” feature, which lets users designate another user who can post a final message, change profile pictures, accept new friend requests and sometimes download a user’s photos and posts (but not private messages). Before that feature, Facebook only allowed dead users’ accounts to be kept visible but frozen or to be deleted. Google GOOGL +1.16% began offering a similar service in 2013 that let users decide how they wanted their data used and distributed posthumously.
Both of these options are steps that have allowed users more control over their digital life, a trend that attorneys hope will encourage other companies to follow suit. “I’m looking forward to the day when most, or all, Internet accounts allow people to name successors, like Facebook,” said Christopher Johnson, an attorney with Rocket Lawyer, the legal service that commissioned Harris HRS +0.65% Poll to conduct the survey.
Instead of waiting for online accounts to start offering digital legacy handlers, people have the option of naming “digital executors” in their will who can do the job generally. But in the poll, which surveyed 2,009 U.S. adults, 70% of respondents with a will hadn’t picked a digital executor.
What’s keeping them from doing it? More than half had no idea that they needed to at all. Many (39%) also said they assumed their family and loved ones would be able to access, manage or delete their accounts on their behalf.
One-third of respondents said they just hadn’t thought about their digital assets, and 12% said they didn’t care about what happened to their Instagrams, tweets and other online footprints once they had died. (A very honest 2% of respondents said they hadn’t thought about picking a digital executor because “I don’t want to think about death.”)
Those who assumed they could lean on their families for the job are mostly right, but they could make their families’ job slightly less onerous by making that clear before it’s too late.
“It’s best to name successors like that on any accounts you have that allow you to do so, because that would make the process even easier than trying to communicate your court-granted authority to the right person at a faceless internet company,” Johnson said.
When it comes to how accounts should be handled after death, the pool is split: 51% of respondents with social media accounts said they would want them deleted, while 31% said they would want some memorialization similar to Facebook’s legacy contact options. And 29% would also allow a trusted contact to download part of their archive, though 14% said they would not.
Which two online accounts do people think need the most protection after their death? About two-thirds of respondents picked their online banking accounts, and one-third said email. E-commerce accounts for sites like Amazon and eBay EBAY +0.67% were seen as slightly more important to guard than social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter (15% and 13%, respectively).
The poll was conducted online between March 31 and April 2 and surveyed 2,009 U.S. adults.