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Preparing for Digital Death

What is digital death?

A few decades ago, before the age of the internet, dealing with the legal aspects of death was a little more straightforward; inheritance most often involved physical and monetary possessions, or real estate. Now, most people carry with them a substantial digital footprint––one that doesn’t disappear without proactive action, adding an extra layer in inheritance decision making which adds stress for grieving relatives. With an average social media account per user of 8.5 the complexity of digital death, digital assets, and privacy, becomes progressively more time consuming and difficult to deal with. It is wise for every user to think about their digital footprint long before their passing, as several services allow a legacy contact to be chosen.

Those who don’t make the decision about digital assets before their passing, can still have a relative keep their account online and memorialize it. Others choose to simply deactivate it, and some find that online accounts are a novel and therapeutic way of remembering. Digital death is a new extension to the reality of death. Preparing for it doesn’t have to be a stressful step to manage a departed relative’s digital footprint. We have come up with the following advice for you to better manage digital assets:

What happens to your social media when you die?

Certain social media sites already have in place options to give account access to your friend or relative.

  • Facebook allows you to pick a legacy contact that will be able to memorialize the deceased account, post on your behalf, respond to new friend requests and change profile and cover photos. The legacy contact cannot read any messages, delete previous posts by the account owner or log in to your account or deactivate. But it is allowed to download some raw data from the account (not messages and private content) in case a copy is desired.To deactivate an account on Facebook, a special form has to be filled out by a relative and proof of death in the form of a death certificate has to be provided, without a death certificate one needs both proof of authority (birth certificate, power of attorney, will and testament) and proof of passing (obituary, memorial card);
  • Instagram allows an account to be memorialized which adds the word “Remembering” to the profile and freezes it, deactivating also requires proof of death and proof of authority;
  • LinkedIn similarity allows a relative to fill out a form to deactivate accounts, accepting an obituary or relevant proof;
  • Twitter accounts are simpler to deal with, as their inactivity account policy states that after 6 months of inactivity i.e. no login/tweeting the account will be permanently deleted.
Cloud Storage

It is increasingly common for users to store their digital assets in the cloud, from photos, documents, to larger files in storage space provided by services like Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive. Most often it is difficult to access the data in these accounts due to privacy policy.

  • Google Drive data can only be shared if the user has set up the inactive account manager to notify and delegate control to a user after a certain amount of account inactivity. By using the inactive account manager a user can also delegate control of other services offered by Google, such as gmail and youtube accounts. Without delegation these accounts can be terminated with proof of death;
  • Apple’s iCloud accounts are non transferable unless required by law, the account and all content would be terminated upon death provided proof, therefore having the username and password is the best bet if the data needs to be accessed;
  • Dropbox files can usually be accessed directly from the users Dropbox folder on their computer, if not Dropbox will allow access if proof of death is and legal right to access the person’s file under applicable laws is provided although this does not always guarantee access. Terminating a deceased’s Dropbox accounts works like most sites, but might not be required as inactivity causes automatic account termination and deletion of data.
What about data in email?

Email account providers like Gmail and Hotmail allow the accounts of the deceased to be accessed provided certain requirements are met. Microsoft is a little more rigid and does not usually allow email data access to any third party. Especially with email there is a strong privacy concern when it comes to giving anyone access to accounts. If possible the wishes of the deceased should be followed converting email account access, in all circumstances.

What about privacy?

Another solution is to simply have the password to the deceased’s password manager, a tool increasingly common for people to save their usernames and passwords in encrypted managers in the cloud, like Apple’s Keychain and Google’s Password Manager. It is very much recommended to leave this login information and any other relevant information in a safe location. Beware of leaving passwords and usernames and any private information directly in a legal will as the document will become public after death.

Planning your digital afterlife

On the NEO Cremations website, we offer afterlife planning guides to help ease stress. Our guides can be downloaded here. Our two guides, Get Organised and Be Remembered give you and your loved one peace of mind. The conversation about afterlife planning, and digital afterlife specifically, can be therapeutic and empowering––it’s never too late to have a plan.

How NEO Cremations can help

Overall, terminating a deceased users account is the safest and easiest option, requiring proof of death in a certified death certificate copy and sometimes obituary clipping. In addition, using a password vault manager is highly recommended in any case as it streamlines the process.

At NEO Cremations, we offer help in creating a bespoke memorial Facebook page where family and friends can post messages, photos, and remember their loved one. Following this simple advice and taking some steps to prepare your digital assets for any situation, can help alleviate undue stress during funeral preparations, leaving you more time to plan a meaningful goodbye.

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