Now that most of us have a digital presence (Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Pinterest accounts, digital music libraries on iTunes, pictures on Shutterfly, email, cloud storage), what happens when we are no longer around to manage our various social media or online storage accounts? An estate executor knows about closing bank and investment accounts, but what about social media and other online accounts which store our digital assets? Will anyone have access to retrieve paperless account statements via email? Could our digital footprint be causing an increase in postmortem identity theft? Have no fear, digital estate planning does exist and we are sure to be hearing more about it as our online content grows.
A student specifically enrolled in my Facebook class to learn how to close her account due to suggestions she received from Facebook mentioning her deceased cousin. I would agree that getting a friend request from a deceased relative or acquaintance is unsettling. In contrast, I recently visited the Facebook Timeline of a deceased coworker and friend. Although he passed well over 2 years ago, his Timeline is full of recent loving messages which hopefully are a comfort to both his family and friends.
Each online service provider has its own policy regarding handling of deceased account owner’s data. Most policies do not allow another party access to a deceased’s account. Facebook provides two choices. You can memorialize the deceased party’s account or family can request the removal of the account. Using Facebook’s help feature you can use the search term “deceased” to find information and exercise one of these options. Facebook also allows you to create a page as a memorial for a deceased individual (but not a personal account).
Recently Google released an Inactive Account Manager which allows you to determine what to do with your data from its various services once you can no longer use your accounts. Your accounts can be deleted or data transferred to someone you specify after a specified time of inactivity.
Hmmm….remember when computers were supposed to reduce paperwork?