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Featured FAQ: What Happens to My Digital Data After I Die?

October 15, 2016

In this digital age, we share a variety of personal information online – from emails, to photos, to credit card data, to posts on a multitude of social media networks. But what happens to that information after we die and who has access to it? As there is no uniform answer to that question, it may be a good idea to make a plan for what happens to your digital information upon your death and to appoint someone to carry out your wishes.

39070234_sWebsites, email platforms and various social media networks have different policies regarding what happens to the data when a user dies, as well as different requirements for deactivation or memorialization. Some sites deactivate your account after a certain period of inactivity, such as Google. Some prevent your username from being used even after you have been confirmed deceased, while others make your username available again, like Twitter.

Digital Data Plan

Think about what types of data you would want to share and what you’d prefer to keep private after you die. Designate someone you trust as your representative upon death and decide if you want that person to have access to your data once you die. Most platforms won’t share login information or allow others to log on as the original user. Your representative will need to contact the various digital platforms on your behalf and inform them of your passing.

Google helps its users make plans for their accounts through the Inactive Account Manager which allows you to designate who has access to your information and whether or not you want your account to be deleted.

However, if a user dies suddenly or has not left instructions on how to manage online accounts, Google will work with an immediate family member or representative to close the account of someone who has died. While Google has a commitment to keeping content safe, Google may provide content from a deceased user’s account under certain circumstances.

Facebook Options

Facebook, one of the most popular social media networks, has options for accounts upon the user’s death. If you plan ahead, you can notify Facebook if you’d like to have your account deleted or memorialized upon your death. Memorialized accounts maintain the content previously shared by the user, such as photos and posts, and provides a place for friends and family to gather online. Depending on the privacy settings of the account, loved ones can continue to share memories, post condolences and provide funeral information on the memorialized timeline.

Facebook also allowed users to designate a legacy contact which is someone you elect to be responsible for the management of your Facebook account after it is memorialized. While no one can log into your account, legacy contacts can write a post for your profile – to share a final message on your behalf or to provide information about a funeral service, for example; maintain your page and wall once it is memorialized; respond to new friend requests; update your profile picture and cover photo; and even download a copy of your Facebook data, should you choose to enable that feature.

Other Social Media Networks

Most digital platforms protect the data of their users, even upon death, so it is a good idea to research the policies of all the social media networks that you use. For instance, in order to deactivate a deceased person’s account on Pinterest, the designated person must provide documentation of the passing, such as a death certificate or obituary, as well as documentation of the person’s relationship to the deceased.

Twitter will work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased to have an account deactivated, but they will not provide account access to anyone, regardless of the relationship to the deceased.

LinkedIn can close an account and remove the member’s profile if provided with a link to an obituary and other relevant information.

Whether you are young or old, in good health or ailing – if you have an online presence and use email for communications, you can help your loved ones to preserve and protect your digital legacy by making a plan for your all your digital data and making sure your heirs are aware of your wishes.

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