Preparing for Your Digital Afterlife
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Back in 2013, we became interested in what happens to our digital presence after we die. It had become common to see friends appear the same as ever on social media long after they had passed away. So we decided to look into this. The result was the infographic below, Preparing for Your Digital Afterlife.
Seven years ago, the internet was not well-designed for dealing with the deaths of its users. And that's still true today. There are, however, more options to control your eventual fate. Read on to find out more.
We may no longer be around, but just as with normal afterlife planning, we can consider our digital assets and the security and privacy ramifications of leaving them behind. We should also try to make the lives of our remaining loved ones as easy as possible.
Do you want your email account left to fade into the digital ether, or is there a series of letters in there from your mother that you want your children to have? Do you want people to tag you on Facebook pictures after you're gone? What happens to your stream of pithy Tweets?
As users' digital lives grew during the early 21st century, people began to be concerned with what happens to their digital lives after death.
Google was one of the first to offer a solution for how to handle these assets. They launched the Inactive Account Manager that allowed you to determine what Google did with your data should your account become inactive and stay that way for a predetermined period of time.
Other companies, including Facebook, slowly followed suit and offered similar services.
The situation has only become worse. We have more digital assets than ever. Not only are social media and the like ubiquitous, many apps and services have become cloud-based so more of our lives are scattered all over the internet.
If you are like most people, your digital footprint is enormous. It can be daunting to think about everything that you need to do to make sure that everything is handled securely and discreetly when necessary.
What Should You Do?
What you should do depends on what you want to happen with your digital assets. There are various options:
- Have your data deleted after a predetermined period of inactivity
- Hand your access credentials over to someone else to manage
- Change the "status" of your accounts.
The following are some of the options offered by major tech companies.
Research suggests that at least 1.5 billion members currently on Facebook will die before 2100. With this in mind, what should you do with your account?
You can designate a legacy contact who could manage your account after you pass away or request that it be removed.
They could also switch your profile to a memorial design, indicating that you are no longer alive yet allowing your friends and family to share memories.
Twitter, unfortunately, doesn't have a robust policy regarding accounts whose owners have passed away.
The only thing you can do is request the deactivation of a deceased person's account if you are an immediate family member or are otherwise authorized to act on behalf of the deceased person's estate.
Google's Inactive Account Manager feature allows you to determine what happens to your data if you don't use your account for a predetermined period of time. This includes full and automatic deletion of all your data.
You can also provide a trusted contact, who can access your data when you've stopped using your account.
Unfortunately, there aren't many tools for planning your digital afterlife. Things are changing fairly quickly, but in the end, it's up to you to make decisions regarding how your data is handled after your death.
In some cases, you may simply have to include your access credentials with your estate and ask your executor to handle your data (eg, deleting it, downloading it for safekeeping, and so on).
Useful Tools and Services
In the end, determining what digital assets are important enough for you to consider during estate planning is the first step you should take.
Then, you should check to see if the platform offers any type of digital afterlife policy. Unfortunately, most do not.
As such, it is up to you to determine how your accounts are handled, and the following tools can help you make such decisions. We've listed them in by the type of tool or service.
These tools allow you to document your life for those who come after you.
Similar to documentation sites, these allow you or your loved ones to set up memorials.
- Funeral Finder
- Memorial Matters
- Momento Stories
- Much Loved
Providing a safe long-term place to store important digital assets is an important part of afterlife planning.
Critical Information Storage
These are similar to archive sites but they are more focused on providing space to store important information that you would need for things like social media account information.
Various providers will send out messages and even gifts to your loved ones after you die.
These are tools and services that help you plan your digital (and in some cases real-world) afterlife.
- Directive Communication Systems
- My Wonderful Life
- Parting Wishes
- US Legal Wills
As more and more of life takes place online in the form of social media posts, digital pictures, tweets, blog posts, email messages, and more, planning for your death is more complicated than ever. Everyone differs in how they want their legacy handled, and it is up to you to determine during estate planning what you want to do with your digital legacy.
Some of your options include:
- Making note of access credentials and passing them along
- Downloading the data and passing along the physical media on which the data is stored
- Providing legacy contact information.
Unfortunately, many companies do not have robust ways of handling digital items after death, so it's up to you to figure out which assets are important to you and leave information behind so your loved ones know what you want done.
Most importantly: have this conversation with your friends and family so they know what your wishes are.
Digital Afterlife Infographic
Digital Afterlife Details
Much of our lives are now spent online, and as in the physical world, we leave traces everywhere, from emails to shared photos; product reviews; Tweets and Facebook status updates. But what happens to all of this after we die? Can we live on forever? Would we want to?
- 30 million+ - accounts on Facebook that belong to dead people
- 2060 - 2130 - approximate point at which there will be more dead people on Facebook than live ones
- 3 - Facebook users die every minute.
- 70% - of UK 65-74 year-olds are active online.
Death in the Digital Age
Different companies have different policies for dealing with deceased users.
Twitter doesn't provide account access to anyone, regardless of the relationship to the deceased.
Instead, they allow an authorized person to deactivate the account.
- Death certificate of deceased user
- Your government issued ID
- Your relationship to the deceased user
- Evidence that account belongs to the deceased if name on account and certificate does not match.
- Links to a public obituary that provides proof of death
Facebook gives friends and family the option to memorialize a deceased person's profile or permanently delete it.
- Proof of death
- Link to timeline and email address of deceased user
- To access a person's content, Facebook requires a court order and will or durable power of attorney sent via mail
The executor of the estate must fax to PayPal:
- Cover sheet stating account holder is deceased and account needs to be closed.
- Death certificate of account holder.
- Legal documentation or copy of the will that identifies the executor of the estate.
- Government-issued photo ID of the executor.
- Letter that specifies what to do with any money that remains in the account.
Google does not guarantee they will grant access to a deceased user's account, but recommends mailing them:
- Your full name
- Physical mailing address
- Government issued ID
- Gmail address of deceased
- Death certificate of deceased
Yahoo! accounts are non-transferrable. Rights to your account and content terminate upon death.
Microsoft allows for release of Outlook.com content to the next of kin, including emails, attachments and address books.
Accessing content requires:
- Death certificate of deceased
- Document showing next of kin or executor of estate
- Photocopy of government issued ID
- Email address of account
- Account details: date of birth and city of residence given when account created
How to Live Forever, Online
"Today, you get a shoe box full of pictures, tomorrow you will get a Flickr account. Today, you get a diary; tomorrow you will get a blog."
- Jeremy Toeman, CEO and Founder, Legacy Locker
Here is just a sampling of some of the many services currently available that help you plan for digital death and afterlife:
- AssetLock: A digital safety deposit box allowing users to upload their files, passwords, and any instructions to be released to predetermined individuals upon their death.
- Eternity Message: Will send pre-written emails to loved ones (or enemies) at agreed intervals after your death.
- Legacy Organiser: An iPhone app that allows users to record their preferences for their funeral, such as music, photographs and messages.
- LifeNaut: Service allowing you to upload a DNA sample so your mind and genetic code are backed-up.
- The Voice Library: Lets people record, save and share the sound of their own voice.
The Current State of Death
- 47% of adults access social media websites.
- Yet only 20% have considered what happens to their online profiles after death
- 16% of people prefer they remain online and available for comments
- 43% of people would like their accounts closed down
- 20% of people would like them to remain online but closed to comments
- 20% of people are unsure
Worried about what people may find after you're gone?
- Delete your online presence in advance.
Prefer to keep the notion of death not at the forefront of your mind?
- At the very least, record your usernames and passwords for sites your frequently use, and discuss with a trusted person what you want done with them.
Death is something that comes to us all, and most of us luckily have the time to prepare for it. If you're at all active online, perhaps it's time you gave it some thought.
- Death in the Digital Age: Are You Prepared? - bbc.com
- Why Is It so Hard to Claim a Dead Relative's Facebook Profile? - dailydot.com
- Accessing a Deceased Person's Mail - support.google.com
- What Happens Online When You Die? - finder.com
- Why Twitter's New Deceased User's Policy Isn't Good Enough - blog.legacylocker.com (Archived April 17, 2014)
- My Family Member Died Recently/Is in Coma, What Do I Need to Access Their Microsoft Account? - answers.microsoft.com
- Help following the Death of a PayPal User - paypal-community.com
- Would You Want to Live Online Forever? - perfectchoicefunerals.com (Archived March 9, 2014)
- Contacting Twitter about a Deceased User or Media concerning a Deceased Family Member - support.twitter.com (Archived August 20, 2014)
- Gail Rubin - AGoodGoodbye.com
- Over 30 Million Accounts on Facebook Belong to Dead People - technorati.com (Archived March 28, 2014)
- Facebook of the Dead - what-if.xkcd.com
- Digital Death and Afterlife Online Services List - thedigitalbeyond.com
- Yahoo! Terms of Service - info.yahoo.com (Archived November 4, 2013)