In this digital age, very little thought is given to just how much our life is interwoven with the World Wide Web. We connect with family and friends, share information, and track personal data all with an easy click of the mouse or touch of the finger. According to Internet Live Stats, every one second there are 9,625 tweets, 2,357 Instagram uploads, and 2,410,756 emails sent (as of 7/15/2015). Daily we create a personal history, a digital footprint; yet, we rarely give thought to what happens to that history once we are gone. Below are some tips to ensure that your data is properly managed, dispersed, and perhaps deleted once you have passed away:
1. Make a list of all your accounts. Write down the web address, username and password for each. Be sure to include the passcode or password for any of your devices (computer, phone, iPad or tablet, etc.). Some common accounts include:
- Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube)
- Email (Hotmail, Yahoo, G-mail)
- Financial & Bill-Pay Accounts, such as banks and utility companies
- Blogs (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr)
- E-Commerce Sites (Amazon, E-Bay, Etsy)
- Photography (Shutterfly, Snapfish, Mpix, Flickr)
- Music (iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Sirius XM)
- Reading (Goodreads, Kindle, Nook)
- Movies (Netflix, iMDB)
- Fitness (Fitbit, MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal)
- Account Deletion: You may choose to delete your account altogether. Some sites, such as Facebook, allow you to make this determination in advance via your custom settings. Once the site is notified of your passing, your account will be deleted. Other sites, such as Instagram, require a verified immediate family member’s request to delete an account. If you provide instructions via your Will, your Executor/Executrix may be able to simply delete the account for you utilizing the username and password you have provided.
- Account Memorialization: You may choose to have your account memorialized. Using Facebook again as an example, this option may allow your account to remain visible to users and provide a way for family and friends to remember you and the connection you shared. However, your account is locked so that unauthorized users cannot access it, and some features may be removed (such as birthday notices for the deceased). For some sites, this is the default once notice is received of a death.
- Account Data: Whether you realize it or not, you have data stored on each of these sites. Some data may not be worth keeping; for example, will your heirs treasure the miles you logged in your fitness app, or what music you gave a “thumbs up” on Pandora? The answer is likely “no”. Other data may very well be worth keeping. Your personal blog may be a digital diary that is worth preserving in another format, while your Shutterfly or Snapfish account may contain pictures that have not been printed yet. Similar to handwritten letters that were treasured in years past, your email account may contain sentimental correspondence that you would like printed or stored. (Or in some cases, you may want to ensure all your email is deleted as soon as possible!)
Additionally, the data you have downloaded, such as music in iTunes or e-books for your Kindle, is NOT transferable, per the user agreements. In other words, you cannot move the data from one account to another account. The only option to access this data is to simply have access to the account.
For all these reasons, it is very important that you provide your account information for these sites and services in your planning documents and determine who you may want to be the recipient of that information.
While the task may seem daunting, imagine how grateful your spouse, children, and others will be, knowing you took the time to not only save them trouble, but also spare them the charge of guessing your wishes. Hopefully you have a plan in place for your physical and monetary assets. Ensure you have a plan for your digital assets, too.