Estate Planning for Your Digital Legacy
HOW YOU CAN PROTECT YOUR ONLINE ACCOUNTS
When we talk about estate planning we think about the traditional—bank accounts, investments, houses, minerals, and personal property—and who can legally take care of those things.
We often completely forget about our digital legacy.
It seems silly to talk about things like Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts when discussing the very serious topic of planning for our own passing. But according to recent statistics, 81% of Americans have a social media presence—a growth of nearly 60% in the past decade. The reality is that without digital legacy estate planning, our social media accounts could continue to live on far longer than we do—and then completely out of our control which can lead to hacking and spamming issues which could be upsetting for the friends and family we leave behind.
Managing what occurs with your email accounts after your death depends on what provider you use. For Google, you have the option to take control by setting up an “Inactive Account Manager” to either wipe away your account after a certain amount of time or share your data with individuals you preselect. Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL allow your loved ones to request that your email account be closed following your passing but various levels of documentation—including a death certificate—may be required. Apple includes no rights of survivorship and your account and anything you own in your Apple account terminates upon your death. Apple will delete your account if provided with a death certificate.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
Under Facebook Settings, you can choose to memorialize or permanently delete your account when you pass away. If you choose to memorialize, you are also able to select a “legacy contact” who will manage your limited memorialized account. In both cases, your friends or family will have to alert Facebook that you have passed away.
Instagram does not currently provide the same options as Facebook. However, following your death and with proper documentation, your representatives can memorialize or permanently delete your account.
Twitter does not have the option to memorialize an account but the personal representative of an estate or an immediate family member can complete a form to have the account permanently deleted.
In any case, there are a few simple steps you can take to best manage your digital legacy:
- Leave a list of your social media and email accounts along with your usernames. Passwords are not necessary in order for your personal representative or family members to manage your accounts. Also leave instructions as to what you want done with other accounts—if they should be permanently deleted or memorialized.
- If your account provides the option for you to set up your own digital “estate planning” by selecting Settings options, take the time to do so. You can change these settings if you change your mind.
- Regularly backup any content you want to leave behind—your family members or personal representative may not be able to access your content. This could include music, photos, or important documents.
Managing your digital assets and legacy is just one more important—although often overlooked or minimized—aspect of estate planning.