Many of us think nothing of sharing our lives with our friends and family members via social media. It is an easy way to keep up with acquaintances that have moved away, and a much easier way to share photos than pulling out a bunch of dusty albums or, like your grandparents did– setting up the slide projector. But have you ever thought about what is going to happen to all the stuff you post on the internet after you die?
The internet, and social media in particular, are such a relatively new phenomenon that few people have included instructions for the disposition of their digital assets in their estate plans. Fortunately, this is starting to change as people pass away with more and more ties to the digital world.
Facebook now has a setting that allows you to delegate the power to shut down your account or turn it into a memorial page. If you don’t set your after death account preferences, there is also a form your loved ones can fill out to request that your account be removed.
Google has a similar system in place. You can designate an “inactive account manager” to take possession of your digital assets after your death. And there is also a form for requesting data (or funds, if applicable) from the account of someone who died without designating an inactive account manager.
After it got a lot of bad press when a widow revealed that Apple was asking for a court order before it would let her play games on her deceased husband’s iPad, the company is being a bit more flexible when it comes to account sharing. However, the terms of service agreement you agreed to when you signed up for an account actually terminates all rights at the time of death, meaning apps, music, films, and other files aren’t transferable to a new user.
Tips For Controlling Your Digital Afterlife
While the Facebook and Google account management systems are useful, they are not set in stone. These features might be discontinued or changed by the company at any time. So, it would be prudent to fill out the appropriate forms, and be on the lookout as other companies roll out similar services, but don’t rely on this as the only way to take care of your final wishes online.
If you have old accounts that you are no longer using, why not log in and shut them down now? This will save your loved ones the hassle of doing it later, and will help protect your identity should that company be hacked or go out of business.
If you want to make managing your digital assets as easy as possible for your surviving friends and family, consider keeping a list of your various accounts and passwords with your other important documents.
As with almost all after-life requests, the best place to put instructions regarding your digital assets is in your estate plan. Estate plans are typically enforceable via court order, so companies respect them and friends and family are bound by them.