Prepare for your digital afterlife

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The savvy senior has executed a will, put in place a health care directive, has created a springing or durable power of attorney, put together a list of insurance policies, investment and retirement accounts, and provided the location of a safe-deposit box. They may even have considered a revocable living will. Top marks for putting all that in place, but have you done any digital estate planning?

Between your email accounts, photos, documents and other files and digital assets you store on the Web, there can be a lot of your information hanging out in cyberspace. Where does it go when you die?

Current website practices

Matt O’Brien, writing for Sci-Tech Today, lists the current practices of several different Internet companies when it comes to your digital records and creating a digital will:

  • Google: It allows you to create an “Inactive Account Manager” tool to choose who should have access to emails, photos, documents, YouTube videos and other information when you die, and to determine whether you want your account deleted. If you don’t take action, family members will typically need a court order to access your files.
  • Facebook: Users can choose if they want their account memorialized (setting up a permanent or temporary online memorial) or permanently deleted from the social network after they die.
  • Yahoo: Deletes inactive accounts and will not disclose a user’s files upon death, citing the privacy terms each user agrees to before signing up for an account.
  • Microsoft: Deletes inactive Outlook/Hotmail accounts; discloses some data to heirs upon request or by court order.
  • Twitter: Deletes account upon request if a user is known to be dead; does not provide anyone else access to account.

California considering legislation

California is considering a bill that would deny families access to the emails of the deceased unless the deceased has provided consent to pass them on to his or her heirs.

O’Brien reports that “… other digital assets such as photos and documents would also be restricted, with an exception for recent files that affect an estate’s finances. By favoring personal privacy over a family’s wishes, the companies hope to appeal to the unspoken will of their users while also lessening the bureaucratic hassle of complying with millions of posthumous requests.”

Have you taken any steps to control your digital afterlife?

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