How to arrange your digital legacy
I’m about to introduce a topic that most of us would rather avoid: our digital legacy. In other words, what happens to all our digital stuff after we die? (And if your answer is, “That’s not going to happen,” you haven’t been paying much attention lately, have you?)
If you’re reading this, chances are you have a lot of digital stuff, both on your own devices and floating around in the cloud: backups, photos, tweets, Facebook posts, texts, you name it. If you’re no longer there to watch out for, these can stick around for a very long time — and some of them could be important to your next of kin. (For example, who else has your bank account and credit card passwords?)
So let’s take a deep breath and discuss how you can make things easier for your friends and family if something happens to you.
For starters, if you are old enough (or wise enough) to make a will, then your executor (the person appointed to ensure the terms of the will are carried out) also has legal standing to access to get your digital assets: online accounts, websites, etc. This is specified by the revised Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which is adopted by the majority of states in the US. (At the time of writing, it had not yet been approved by California, Oklahoma, or Louisiana; it has been introduced by not yet approved in Massachusetts.)
Since it doesn’t do your family or friends any good to have the right to take care of your data if they don’t have your passwords, consider having at least one person with the passwords on your computer and/or your password manager – or think about keeping that information in a safe place and let at least one person know where that place is.
However, the law doesn’t apply to social media sites, which could be a problem. you can include in your will who you want to entrust all your social media accounts to, which can make things a little easier for them – but it will still involve a lot of back and forth as they prove their right to interact with those accounts to go.
There are a few companies that have added features that let you plan ahead of time who is authorized to manage your cloud and/or social media accounts if you can’t. Here’s how some of the major online services are handling (or not) handling the situation.
Apple iCloud Digital Legacy
Until recently, it could be very difficult to access a deceased relative’s iCloud account, especially if you didn’t have that person. recovery key. However, Apple recently added a Digital Legacy program to its iCloud accounts, which allows you to name up to five Legacy contacts who have access to your account. The program is available from iOS 15.2.
To set up your old contacts:
- Go to Settings and tap your name at the top of the page.
- Select Password & Security > Outdated Contact.
- Here you can add the names of people who will have access to and download your data after your death; it will also list anyone you have listed as a Legacy Contact. Tap Add old contact to add a name.
- The next page explains that you need to choose someone you trust, and that person will need your access key and a copy of your death certificate. Tap the Add Legacy Contact button.
- You will see a list of your contacts. Choose one.
- Again, a page will explain what information the contact has access to. Tap Continue.
- You can now choose how you want to share your access key (this is a very long string of numbers and letters). When you message your chosen old contact with the access key and if they accept it, and if they have iOS 15.2, the key will be stored in their Apple settings. Otherwise, you can print a copy for them on paper or as a PDF.
Google Inactive Account Manager
Google’s inactive account manager is one of the more complete tools for taking care of your digital legacy, even if you’re temporarily too sick to handle things.
- Start by going to the Inactive account manager and click Start. You go through three settings: when the inactive account manager turns on, who to notify, and whether to delete everything.
- First, you determine whether the administrator should activate if your account has been inactive for three, six, 12, or 18 months. You will also be asked to verify a phone number and/or one or more email accounts at which you can be contacted. If you haven’t used the account, Google will use the phone number or email addresses to contact you a month before your set time is up to make sure you’re really gone (and you’re not just forgot that bill).
- On the next page, you can list up to ten people who need to be notified by Google that your account has not been used. For each person, you can specify exactly which apps they should have access to, ranging from your calendar and contacts to your Google account and purchases. You can also just give them access to all your apps.
- If you like, you can add their phone number so that Google can use it to verify their identity (and, rather creepily, you can add a personal message to send them).
- You can also activate a Gmail message for anyone who emails you after the manager is enabled, saying that the account is no longer active. You can have the message sent to everyone you email or only to people in your contact list.
- Finally, you can have your entire account deleted three months after it has been declared inactive. This also includes any shared public data such as YouTube videos, according to Google. (If you’ve named someone who has access to your account, it gives them three months before the account is deleted to save whatever they want.)
- Finally, you will have a chance to review your plan and confirm that it is what you want.
Facebook Reminder Settings
Facebook calls its digital legacy feature Memorialization Settings. It’s similar to that of Google and Apple: it gives a chosen person access to your account after your death. The only difference is that because Facebook is often used to commemorate deceased people, there are some additional things to keep in mind.
- To get started on the Facebook site, click the down arrow in the top right corner and go to Settings & Privacy > Settings. Make sure you’re in the General section (the first category in the left column) and select Memorial Settings.
- The page opens to explain that you can choose an old contact who can manage tributes on your site, delete your site, accept new friends, and update your profile. The person you choose will be contacted by Facebook, so it’s probably a good idea to talk to them beforehand.
- You can also choose to have your account permanently deleted via a link at the bottom of that page. If you don’t choose to do so, Facebook will ‘memorize’ your account as soon as it discovers that you are no longer alive. That means the word “Remember” will be placed on your page, your content will remain, and friends will be able to leave posts on the timeline.
Twitter does not provide any means of transferring your account to a family member or friend posthumously. Someone who wants to close the account of a deceased Twitter user will have to to fill out a form and then send in a pile of paperwork, including their own ID and a death certificate. They cannot access the account.
Like Twitter, Instagram doesn’t offer a way to plan ahead of time who will access your account or what they’ll do with it. Instead, the site will remember the account as soon as it receives proof, such as a newspaper clipping or a death certificate. Family members can also request to close an account if they have: the right proof.
At the time of writing, there are no other social media sites I know of that have specific features for what happens when a user is gone. Instead, executors, family members, or others of legal standing must provide the paperwork required to delete an account.