If you have preferences about what happens to your digital footprint after your death, you need to take action. Otherwise, your online legacy will be determined for you—and not by you. If you have any online accounts, such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Apple, or Amazon, you have a digital legacy, and that legacy is yours to preserve or lose.
Following your death, unless you’ve planned ahead, some of your online accounts will survive indefinitely, while others automatically expire after a period of inactivity, and still, others have specific processes that let you give family and friends the ability to access and posthumously manage your accounts.
Because social media and other digital platforms are such a ubiquitous part of our daily routine, and they can offer intimate snapshots of your life, these digital assets can serve as a key part of your legacy—one you may want to protect after your death. Alternatively, you may prefer to keep your online history private and have it permanently deleted once you're gone.
Whether you want to preserve your digital footprint or erase it entirely, you need to plan ahead to ensure your wishes are properly carried out. With this in mind, here we’ll discuss how some of the most popular digital platforms handle your account once you log off for the final time. From there, we’ll cover how to include these digital assets in your estate plan to ensure they are properly accounted for, managed, and passed on in the event of your incapacity or death.
Unless you choose to have your account deleted, Facebook offers what’s known as a “Legacy Contact” for managing your profile after death. Using a Legacy Contact, you can choose someone to control your account’s operation and functionality after you pass away.
Following your death, Facebook first memorializes your account. Once memorialized, the word “Remembering” is added to your profile name, and only confirmed friends can view your profile or find it in a search. Depending on your privacy settings, friends and family members can post content and share memories on your memorialized timeline.
However, memorialized accounts are locked, so your original content cannot be altered or deleted, even if someone has your password. Your Facebook account can be memorialized regardless of whether or not you select a legacy contact. To have your account memorialized, Facebook simply requires your family or friends to provide proof of your death using a special request form and evidence of death, such as an obituary.
If you’ve chosen a Legacy Contact, that individual can manage your memorialized account based on the permissions you’ve granted him or her. Some of the actions your legacy contact can perform include writing pinned posts, choosing who can view and post tributes on your profile, responding to new friend requests, updating your cover and profile images, and requesting your account’s closure.
However, there are certain actions your Legacy Contact will not be able to perform. This includes logging into your account as you, viewing your direct messages, removing your friends, or making new friend requests. For more in-depth coverage of Facebook’s legacy contact service and how it fits in with your estate planning, read our previous article, Managing Your Digital Afterlife: A Guide To Facebook’s Legacy Contact.
Gmail, Google, & YouTube
The Internet titan Google owns several of the most popular web services, including Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Photos, and Google Play. In order to request how you want these accounts managed after your death, Google offers a function called Inactive Account Manager.
Using this function, you must first choose the amount of time—3, 6, 12, or 18 months—that must pass without any activity before the Inactive Account Manager service is triggered. The service lets you select up to 10 different people, who can access your account once Inactive Account Manager goes into effect. You can specify the data those individuals will be allowed to access, including things like photos, contacts, emails, documents, and other content.
With Inactive Account Manager, you can also opt to have your account deleted. If so, you can have Google simply delete all of your content, or you can share your content with your designated contacts before deletion. If you share your content, your contacts will be able to access and download data from your account for 3 months before it’s deleted.
Should you choose to have your account deleted, your Gmail messages will be permanently deleted, and all data and content in all of your other Google-based accounts like YouTube, Google Drive, and Google Photos will also be deleted. If you die without setting up Inactive Account Manager, Google will automatically delete your account following two years of inactivity.
Finally, because Google owns YouTube, and YouTube videos have the potential to earn revenue indefinitely, it’s vital that you use the Inactive Account Manager to protect this potentially lucrative asset following your death. Additionally, you’ll also want to include these intangible assets in your estate plan, so they can be protected and passed on to your loved ones in the most beneficial way possible.
On that note, be sure to check back next week, to read part two of this series. In that article, we’ll continue our discussion about how the most popular internet platforms deal with your account after your death. From there, we’ll conclude the series by covering the most effective methods for including these accounts—and other types of digital assets—in your estate plan.
Until then, if you need support or advice on the best ways to protect and pass on your assets—digital or otherwise—reach out to your Personal Family Lawyer® to discuss your options. Our Life & Legacy Planning Process is designed to ensure that all of your tangible and intangible assets, including your family legacy, are preserved and passed on seamlessly in the event of your death or incapacity. Contact us today to learn more.
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