Part of preparing for the inevitable involves outlining what will happen to your financial assets and physical possessions once you pass away. With our lives becoming increasingly dependent on digital technology, we must now take another category into account when planning for our lives after death—our digital assets. From photos to checking accounts, investments to online journals, many of the deeply personal aspects of our lives now exist in the digital realm. When you are no longer around to access that data, what happens to it? What happens to your digital assets after you die?
The easy solution to this query is to leave all of your account log-in information to your spouse or another trusted loved one so that he or she will be able to access your digital assets after you die. Password managers like KeePass, LastPass and 1Password can help because they use a master password to store passwords for all of a user’s digital accounts. But even then, things can get complicated.
For example, if you leave your Gmail account information to your spouse to access it after you have passed away, technically the act of your spouse accessing it is a violation of Gmail’s terms of service. While Google is unlikely to notice or care that someone else is logging into an account that is not his or hers, if it did ever find out that the impersonation of a user was occurring, the account could be suspended or terminated at Google’s discretion.
However, Google does have options in place to prevent that from happening. Google users can use Google’s Inactive Account Manager to let Google know who should have access to their information or whether they would like their account to be deleted after they pass away. With the Inactive Account Manager tool, you set the amount of time you want Google to wait when your account is inactive before taking action. A month before the deadline you set, Google sends you an alert via email or text. If still then Google does not hear from you, Google will notify the “trusted contacts,” that you have listed and allowed Google to share your data with. You can list up to 10 trusted contacts.
On the other hand, you can also prompt Google to delete your account without sharing it once that deadline has passed. This would include any and all data associated with your Google account, like your Google Drive, Google Voice messages, Picasa photos, YouTube videos—the list goes on.
If a person passes away and he or she did was not proactive about what would happen to his or her assets, then an immediate family member or representative can make a request through Google for a deceased person’s account. The person can request to:
- close the account of a deceased user
- submit a request for funds from a deceased user’s account or
- obtain data from a deceased user’s account.
In any instance, Google is careful to point out that it cannot provide passwords or other login details, and that a request might only be granted after careful review of the situation.
Keep in mind that this is only Google’s protocol. When considering what happens to your digital assets after you die, you’ve also got to think about your Apple accounts, social media accounts, financial accounts, etc. Here’s where something called the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (FADA) comes into play. It guarantees individuals the right to transfer their digital assets legally. The act hasn’t come to light in every state, but at least 20 states have passed or are considering some version of the law currently. This act is important especially because sharing user data is a violation of the terms of most sites.
With FADA allowing you to include your digital assets as part of your inheritance in your will, it’s significant to note that you should never include specific log-in information in your will, since a will is a matter of public record. While the kinks of this type of blanket legislation handling a person’s digital legacy are still being ironed out, it is really up to the individual to properly plan for the end of his or her digital life. A number of social media sites have policies in place both to help users plan for their demise and to help people recoup their loved ones’ accounts after they pass away, including:
- Facebook allows you to set up in advance what you want to happen to your account. You can have Facebook “memorialize” your account after you pass away or have it deleted. When it is memorialized, one last post can be shared from the account, and the profile picture and cover photo can still be changed.
- Twitter will work with an authorized point of contact on deactivating an account after the user dies. The point of contact will not be allowed to post anything or make any changes to the account.
- Instagram is similar to Facebook, in that it allows an account of a deceased user to be either memorialized or deleted.
- LinkedIn’s policy is similar to Twitter. A point of contact will have to provide paperwork to prove that a user is deceased in order to have his or her account closed.
As you can see, planning for what happens to your digital assets after you die does not involve a one-
size-fits-all solution, but it is necessary if you do not want your digital life to disappear into cyberspace. The contents of your digital life likely include items of sentimental value that your loved ones will want to cherish when you are no longer around. Take a proactive approach to preparing for your digital afterlife by using the options outlined above, or even by working with traditional legal services to make sure your assets end up in the possession of the people you love.
For your digital marketing needs, call the McNutt & Partners team today at 334-521-1010 or visit our contact page.