What happens to your digital accounts once you pass away?
Let’s talk about a subject that some find creepy, but it is really a practical reality. What do you want to do with your digital possessions when you are no longer with us? If you are among the majority, this question has not even crossed your mind, but the truth is that just as physical goods should be willed to avoid aggravation to your loved ones, digital assets must be taken care of as well, and it is easier than you think.
There are essentially two kinds of accounts you own in the digital world: Those you use to communicate and share media, and those you use to buy digital goods. As a master rule of Estate Planning, keep a log of all User Ids and Passwords in a safe place where your family can get the access information; depending on your current setup, this may be essential for them to keep basic services running.
The truth is that the approach to handle this situation varies from company to company, since there is no US law that governs it. However, you have agreed to their terms and conditions for this provision when clicking that pesky “I Agree” upon opening the account. Let’s see what the big names do:
Amazon: Your kindle books and movies will remain in your account for as long as the account is opened. Your family should not purchase new items on this account, as they would be impersonating a deceased person regardless of the verbal agreement you used to have with them. Amazon allows for prime accounts and family members to share purchases. I recommend you setup the accounts this way and in your absence, the main account rolls over to another family member.
iTunes: Here you are out of luck. The music and downloads yo ‘purchased’ with your iTunes account are not for the digital goods but rather for the license to listen and watch them. You are allowed to backup copies for your own safekeeping, but technically the license expires when you do.
Google Play: There isn’t clear information on what are Google policies for a deceased person’s content, but their stand in Google accounts data management suggests they will make reasonable accommodations.
Communication and Media
Google: Google has decided to take a very personal approach. They have a feature called Inactive Account Manager, where you make decisions on what to do with your account assets. But in the case you don’t have this information filled out, Google will work with family members to close, delete and in some cases transfer data. They will however NEVER give out passwords or grant access to the account even after your death.
Facebook: In the social media world, each manages this situation differently. Facebook allows accounts to become memorial pages or they would gladly delete the account. In order to do either action, you need to proof to Facebook the person is truly deceased. In the case the decision is to make the page a memorial page, the option of posting as the account holder will disappear, to avoid trolls hacking into the account.
Twitter: Again, they will not give access information to anyone, but will work with authorized representative of the state to deactivate the account and, in some cases, remove imagery or video from the account.
LinkedIn: This network has a form where you can request the profile of any person to be removed on the basis of his/her passing away, but the requester must fill out a pretty detailed form with information about your account. LinkedIn makes a case by case consideration on whether the account must be deleted, which it is the only action supported, and reason why business owners should provide someone else with access information so the contact data can be downloaded before the account is removed.
I think you guessed it. The most important step in your digital Estate Planning is storing a list of your access credentials for your survivors to manage the settlement of your accounts. Think about all the pictures, movies, emails that would disappear if you just let this to chance, and take 15 minutes to preserve your memories for your loved ones.
Now let us know if you have any other suggestion for managing this ever-increasing aspect of your life. Write your comments below, so we all can benefit from your experience or thoughts.
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