Life Matters Media
Quality of life at the end of life

Preparing For Your Digital Afterlife

Courtesy WikiMedia Commons via Flickr

Courtesy WikiMedia Commons via Flickr

Family photos, voice recordings, phone numbers and even legal documents could be lost if your loved ones are unable to access your social media accounts after death.

As technology reshapes interpersonal communication and document storage, Americans must learn to prepare for the unexpected.

Technology reporter Tim Akimoff and attorney Ronette McCarthy fielded questions regarding living wills, email and social media during “Your Digital Afterlife,” an event hosted by Life Matters Media and Chicago NPR affiliate WBEZ.

Life Matters Media’s Guide to Digital Death

• Wills are the only truly effective way to manage all your digital assets

Wills are expensive, especially for young people starting out. Although there are some digital tools that can help, none are as complete as a will completed by an experienced attorney.

If you do much of the work yourself, you can have a will drafted between $300 and $1,200, depending on where you live.

One popular service is RocketLawyer.com, but it is time consuming, limited and comes with a cost.

• Each social media company has a different set of rules governing privacy and death

The only way to ensure loved ones have access to your online accounts is to provide them passwords and instructions in a will or easily accessible document. Start by gathering your digital assets into one place (password manager, spreadsheet).

• Facebook allows users to create memorialized accounts and appoint a “legacy contact

Facebook allows U.S. users to create memorialized accounts – the word “remembering” is added to the decedent’s profile. On memorialized accounts, friends can share memories, photos and posts, depending on privacy settings. Memorialized profiles do not show up in public spaces, like friend suggestions.

You can choose a “legacy contact” to administer your Facebook profile when you die.

How to: 

From the top right of Facebook click the down arrow next to the globe and select settings 

From the left menu, click security

Click Legacy Contact

You can also opt to have your account permanently deleted.

• Google offers a “death manager

Google’s Inactive Account Manager, or “death manager,” allows you to indicate what should happen to digital contacts, emails and web history once they are no longer actively managed.

As many as 10 approved family members or friends may have access to data from an account, or the account can be terminated and its data erased after a pre-selected time period.

How to:

In the Google Account Settings, scroll down the page and click “Inactive Account Manager”

Then click Setup

Indicate preferences, time period and alerts

Click the Enable button

•  Twitter is a tough bird to tame

Twitter’s death policy needs improvement. You can have a deceased user’s account removed only after submitting an official request to Twitter. Twitter will send an email with further instructions and requests for information about the deceased, a copy of your ID and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate.

• Password management systems can be a useful way keep your digital assets protected while at the same time providing peace of mind

Some of the best password management systems are 1Password, DashlaneKeeperLastPassMSecurePasswordBox and RoboForm.

  • If you use Yahoo! Mail, switch!

Unfortunately, anyone who agreed to Yahoo! terms and conditions will lose data after death, because nothing is transferable. Your email is quickly shut down after a period of inactivity or death.

  • Young attorneys are often well-trained in wills and trusts

There is a misconception that wills are incredibly expensive. Young counselors are often trained by experienced mentors who can draft a will for hundreds- not thousands- of dollars. It’s a much better option than using Legal Zoom or a one-size-fits-all printable will.

  • Always keep a paper copy of important legal documents and passwords somewhere safe

Tech companies offering digital file cabinets may not be around in 10 or 20 years. Update your paperwork yearly.