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What Happens to Your Online Accounts When You Die? Tips to Protect Your Digital Legacy

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So much of our lives are online. But what happens to all of our social media and email accounts after we die? Losing a loved one is traumatic enough. The last thing you want to do while grieving is to track down your loved one’s social media profiles, email accounts, and digital passwords.

But what are your rights to this information when you lose a loved one? Here are a few tips for planning ahead to secure access to vital accounts and spare you or your loved ones any stress and additional heartache. Plus, here’s a picture of what your online privacy rights are after you die. 

Companies still have rights to your content

The terms of service can often give social networks and websites rights to your content until you delete it. Also given some of the language in these contracts — that very few people read — this can give them the rights to keep your profile active after your death unless someone intervenes. They want your data and profiles live and part of their network. 

But this could mean that without someone taking care of it, photos of your vacation or less-than-savory tweets could be your digital legacy…forever. On the one hand, this may give loved ones a way to remember you. But it could also be a sad reminder that randomly pops up for loved ones too.

What to Do with Passwords Before You Die 

One of the easiest things you can do is create a password “will” or digital estate plan. It can be worth thinking about all of your accounts and creating a plan for what you want. It may seem morbid to think about when you die, but it may be worse to have your photos and random thoughts from high school live on way past your last days. If you plan ahead, you will be able to have your wishes honored. 

You can create a list of relevant passwords and what you’d like to happen to these accounts. You can place this in a sealed envelope, on a thumb drive, and place it in a safety deposit box. Given your relationship with your attorney and your estate plan you can also include this document. This may not be how you want to set things up, especially if you’re young or in good health, because you may not want to put your privacy at risk.

Another option is to use a password manager. A password manager like 1password or LastPass allows you to store all of your passwords in one place. This can give family members access to your accounts after you pass because they’ll only need the one password. But be sure to keep in mind that two-factor authentication may limit what someone can do with your passwords in a password manager.

If you’re planning ahead for your passing, taking these steps will not only spare your family heartache but also ensure that you can retain what you want to retain, give your family or friends access to photos, and eliminate whatever you want from the Internet before you do. 

Facebook allows you to select a legacy contact. This is someone who will have access to your account if you pass. Google, which owns YouTube, also allows you to designate a person to manage your account when it becomes inactive. This can make it easier for your accounts to be managed. However, these websites do protect your privacy so that people cannot access your email, DMs, or account. These kinds of limitations exist, so if you want your partner or children to do something specifically, check your options before you pass because you may prefer to just give them your password.  

What to Do with Social Media Accounts When You Lose a Loved One

The first thing to do when you lose a loved one is to secure a few copies of the death certificate. You may need copies of the death certificate for many things including  discounted plane tickets, access to bank accounts, and social media. Having this document will allow you access to many different social media accounts, as they will request this information. You’ll also want proof that you are related in the form of ID or if you’re their power of attorney.

While many large websites or social media networks may have questionable ethics, i.e. how much data they collect, they all have resources you can take if you lose a loved one. 

Google/Youtube

For Google, you can submit a request for your deceased loved one’s account here

LinkedIn

You can begin the process to remove the LinkedIn account of a loved one here

Twitter

You can find information on removing the Twitter account of a loved one here

Snapchat

For Snapchat, you can report your lost family member with this form

Instagram

This form covers the information required to manage a deceased person’s profile. 

Facebook

You can request to delete your loved one’s Facebook account here. You also have the option to memorialize the account. 

What is memorializing? 

Memorializing is keeping your account active after your death. It can be great to give friends and family the chance to go to your account to see photos. But it can also be somewhat twisted that these social media networks can profit off of your photos and data. If you want your account to get deleted, you may want to ensure that your family knows to delete your account to ensure that bots aren’t commenting on your Instagram after you’ve gone. 

With memorializing, there are limitations. The person who memorializes your account will have limited access to decide how the website works and it varies from site to site. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the full picture before you make a decision so you can decide if you want some of your content to live on. 

Losing someone is hard, but it shouldn’t be hard to clean up their digital footprint. In the age of influencers and content creators, it seems like part of us can live on the Internet after we’re gone. To secure your plan, you may want to take these steps to ensure your loved ones know how you want your digital self to rest. Hopefully, this article will help give you a clear picture of steps to take before and after the untimely event to ensure that your digital self gets to be laid to rest or memorialized on your terms. 

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