What happens to your online identity after you die?

What happens to your online accountsBeing connected online has become part of our everyday lives. Whether it’s an email account, shopping and banking online, sharing our life on social media or downloading and streaming movies, apps and other gadgets. We all create and maintain an online identity which grows over time.

But what happens to it once you die? Who will have access to your accounts and who has the right to close them down, let alone deal with your personal data and any files or documents that may be stored in your name? The following tips will help you and your loved ones remove your digital footprint according to your wishes.

Terms and Conditions

In most cases, what happens with your account and the data linked to it after you pass away will be outlined in the Terms and Conditions of each service you subscribe to. It pays to read the fine print in advance and notify loved ones or someone you trust how they should proceed in the event of your death. Some services simply close down your accounts as soon as they are notified of your passing, others will turn it into a memorial or allow you to choose what happens next.

Twitter won’t allow anyone access but will deactivate your account upon the request of an immediate family member or your digital executor, once they provide a death certificate. Facebook will either turn your page into a memorial by locking it, but allowing others to continue posting on your wall, or remove your account upon special request. Google lets you choose what happens by offering you to set up an inactive account manager, but clearly states that it cannot provide login details or passwords.

Name a digital executor

Some services have strict regulations on who is allowed to manage the accounts in your name once you have passed. Again, this should be outlined in each service’s terms and conditions. If you are required to name a custodian, someone that you appoint in case you die, be sure you do so before it’s too late. Otherwise, you are leaving your loved ones with a legal battle on top of having to deal with their grief.

It’s best to choose someone as your digital executor who is technologically savvy and to include that person in your will. He or she will also need a copy of your will to request access to your accounts and handle your data on your behalf.

Take inventory

Write a list of all your social media, online banking and shopping accounts, personal websites or blogs and everything else you use regularly, where passwords and other sensitive data is being stored. On a separate document, note down your login details and keep both lists in a safe place, but one that your loved ones can easily access if or when they need to such as a bank deposit box or better, your lawyer. Make sure you update these lists regularly. Alternatively, store your login details via password manager and name the person in your will that will be granted access to it.

Own your digital property

When downloading media files such as songs or books via services such as iTunes or Amazon you do not own these items. You simply purchase a lifetime licence which expires with your death, meaning that once you pass away, that data is lost. Whenever possible and available as per terms and conditions, download images, videos and other media to your computer and save a backup. This goes especially for social media and photo sharing sites if you want your loved ones to enjoy these memories without logging into your accounts.

Reduce the load

To avoid a backlog of data piling up after you die, it’s always a good idea to maintain your online identity as you go and close down or delete any accounts you are not actively using. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible for friends or relatives to keep track of everything you ever subscribed to or registered with and your personal information and sensitive data will continue to circulate, for the time being, giving hackers and spammers free reign.

What can go wrong?

I recently purchased a domain name to use for personal and found myself receiving emails for someone who had owned the domain name until he died a few years previously. I soon found that I was receiving emails for them from a variety of different online services. Ultimately, I was able to remove myself from most of the less important providers. However, when I found out that I could access confidential client files in a Dropbox account, I had to try and contact an executor for his estate to ensure that the files were secured to an appropriate place and my access removed.

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