It’s October and the weather is finally starting to cool down. The signs of Halloween approaching are everywhere. Costumes, candy and trick-or-treating supplies are for sale in just about every store and spooky decorations are popping up all over the place – including here at the Slamdot store! You could say we’ve gone a little web crazy up in here!
Seeing the eerie decor everywhere might naturally lead your thoughts in a morbid direction. We’re none of us getting any younger, you know. Have you put your affairs in order? Your estate, your investments – your social media? What will happen to your online presence when you eventually join the ghosties? Will your selfies remain available for eternity once you’ve shuffled off the mortal coil?
All joking aside, determining what will happen to your digital life at the end of your physical life is a valid concern. Do a little poking around and you’ll find lawyers more than willing to help you set up an official social media/digital will. It’s not surprising; more and more of us keep large amounts of information, pictures, files and more on social media or cloud storage accounts, and we may want to decide how those things will be handled when we’re gone. Fortunately, the social media entities themselves are realizing that too, and starting to provide us with tools to handle it ourselves.
Memorializing Your Facebook Profile
Facebook has an option called Legacy Contact under Security Settings. This will determine what will happen to your account after Facebook has been made aware of your passing. You can choose to have your profile “memorialized” – your posts and images will remain intact and the word “Remembering” will be added before your name on the profile. Your profile will no longer show up in birthday reminders, People You May Know suggestions or ads.
In order for a Facebook account to be memorialized someone must report the passing to Facebook and provide proof, such as an obituary or death certificate. At that point Facebook will carry out the actions that you requested in your Legacy Contact settings.
If you would like for your account to be memorialized after your passing you can choose the person who will be able to manage that account. There is a limited amount of control that the legacy contact has; they can respond to new friend requests but not remove any existing friends. They can’t delete posts or pictures from the profile or log into it directly or read your private messages.
Of course you could always simply give your login information to the person that you’d like to manage the account, if you don’t mind them having total control over your profile and history. This might be useful if you trust someone to “clean up” your profile before choosing to have it memorialized – this person could go through and remove any content that you might not want to be made permanent before sending Facebook the report of your passing. However if you want your profile to remain available for your friends and family to view and interact with, but you don’t want anyone to have complete access to your message history or have the power to edit your existing content, setting a Legacy Contact is a good option.
If you really don’t want your Facebook page hanging around at all when you’re gone, Facebook also gives you the option to permanently delete your account after your passing. If you’d rather people not remember you by your status updates and selfies, this may be the option for you.
Google Inactive Account Manager
Google has also provided a way to determine how your account is handled post-mortem. Google’s system is a bit different, though. Rather than relying on someone to report your passing, Google bases it on a time period of inactivity. The feature is called Inactive Account Manager and allows you to designate what will happen to your Google account after a set period of inactivity, starting at intervals of three months.
With Inactive Account Manger you can choose up to ten trusted contacts who will be notified after the set period of inactivity. You can determine which of your Google services they will have access to (you could choose to let someone access your photos but not your Gmail, for example) and even write a message that they will receive when they are given this access.
Of course, as with Facebook, you could always just make sure that your nearest and dearest have your Google password, but the Inactive Account Manager is a good backup plan. If your loved ones lose track of your password or you change it and forget to notify them, this system will allow them to access your data should something unexpected happen. Given how much of your life could potentially be stored on your Google account, this could be an important measure to take. My personal Google account contains years of packratting – every digital picture I’ve ever taken, years of creative work and far more more – I’d hate for my loved ones to be unable to access it if the worst were to happen. I set up Inactive Account Manager as soon as I learned about it.
Turning Over Your Entire Online Presence
It’s likely that not every online service you use offers a feature like Legacy Contact or Inactive Account Manager. If you want to keep your entire digital presence bundled up into one place that could easily be handed over after your passing you may want to look into a service like PasswordBox’s Legacy Locker. PasswordBox is a password management system and its Legacy Locker feature allows you to designate an “heir” to receive access to your accounts should you pass. Upon receiving proof of your death and verifying the identity of your heir, that person will be given access to your digital information.
Other password management systems like LastPass and 1Password will allow you to share your password vault with selected users so you could make certain that your loved ones always have access to your current passwords. This method would require them to use the same password management system that you have, however, or at least have an account set up. They would also have access to all of your accounts now, and maybe you’d prefer to keep that access private while you’re still around. An option like Legacy Locker makes sense if you don’t want to share your data during your lifetime.
Of course if you feel you need the assistance you can certainly find an attorney to help you plan this out. Googling terms like “digital will” and “digital executor” will turn up plenty of options for planning your digital estate.
A Bit Morbidly Funny? Yes. A Joke? No.
If you’re not a serious user of social media or cloud services, this may seem a little ridiculous to you. For those of us that use these services on a daily basis, though, this is just as important as planning how our physical, tangible assets are handled after our death. If anything were to happen to me, the inability to access my Google account would, for my loved ones, be akin to being unable to get into a storage unit that contained all of my photo albums, home videos, diaries and important documents.
As a society, more and more of our lives are reflected on – and stored in – online accounts. Don’t discount the importance of making sure your loved ones can access these accounts when you’re no longer around.