What Happens to Your Data When You Die

Estate planning has gotten a bit more complicated, so I recently made this mental update:

  • Have a will: Check.
  • Have a durable power of attorney: Check.
  • Have a health care power of attorney: Check.
  • Have a plan for digital stuff, like photos, email, Facebook page, Twitter account: Uh-oh.

I bet I’m like many of you in that I have made no post-death plans for my digital life and possessions.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has some great advice to help people plan for the disposal or distribution of these assets. Watch it, then read on for more details.

Passwords

I do have this one covered. I recently made a copy of all of my passwords and put them in the special place the executor of my will knows to look upon my expiration date. Don’t put passwords in your will, which becomes a public document. Your passwords should be shared at the end only with a trusted friend or family member who has been instructed about how to access and what to do with your accounts.

Note: Having the passwords is essential. With some digital assets, your survivors won’t be able to access your accounts without them.

And what do I want done with all of my online accounts? Do I want them destroyed? Are there photos or clever thoughts worth passing on? You need to spell this out in a detailed memo to your executor or an heir. Make sure someone is in charge of handling this.

In fact, USA.gov suggests you create a separate “social media will” with an executor, and provide that executor with your user names and passwords, and specific instructions about each account. We’re guessing the government means an informal document that won’t be filed at the county courthouse along with your will for everyone to see. That would be a disaster.

Online accounts

In general, you need to read the terms and conditions of each site you deal with to find out what can be done with your online presence after you die. But here are some of the major ones:

Google. This is the coolest solution by far. Google’s Inactive Account Manager feature lets you decide whether to pass your Google email and other data – including YouTube videos – to your designated heirs or erase it after a preset period of inactivity. A warning will be sent to you before that happens so you can stop the deletion if you’re still alive.

Yahoo. Your heirs have no rights here. Its terms say:

No Right of Survivorship and Non-Transferability. You agree that your Yahoo! account is non-transferable and any rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.

Microsoft. We found this information on a Microsoft forum post from last year, before Hotmail was retired from service.

The Microsoft Next of Kin process allows for the release of Hotmail contents, including all emails and their attachments, address book, and Messenger contact list, to the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated account holder and/or closure of the Hotmail account, following a short authentication process. We cannot provide you with the password to the account or change the password on the account, and we cannot transfer ownership of the account to the next of kin. Account contents are released by way of a data DVD which is shipped to you.

Facebook. Your account can be memorialized, which allows your Facebook friends to share their remembrances, or the account can be deleted. The person making the request must provide proof of their relationship to you and proof of your death. Facebook, by the way, has an If I Die app that will posthumously post a video or post, sharing your final thoughts. Does that sound appealing to you?

Twitter. Twitter says, “In the event of the death of a Twitter user, we can work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased to have an account deactivated.”

Paying for help

There are services that will store your user names and passwords and also your important digitized documents for your heirs. Among them:

  • Legacy Locker. There’s a free trial account. The full service costs $30 a year or a one-time $300 fee.
  • SecureSafe. This company, which acquired Entrustet, includes data inheritance among its services. The price ranges from free to $12.50 a month.
  • Another one is AfterSteps.

Have you had to manage a digital legacy of someone who has died? Do you have any other suggestions for our readers? Share them on our Facebook page.

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