Your Digital After-Life: What happens to your e-mails after you die?
Ever wonder what happens to your e-mails and posts when you’re gone? I don’t want to dwell on the macabre during this celebratory time of year, but the New Year is a good time to plan for the future.
Unfortunately, there is no standard way internet providers handle the accounts of their users’ accounts after death. Every provider is different.
Gmail generally requires a death certificate, an e-mail you have received from the account in question, and proof that you have legal authority over the estate.
Your Social Media Pages After Your Gone
If a Twitter user has passed away, the account can be removed. Family members can ask to save a back up of their loved one’s public “Tweets”. The heirs need to provide their contact information, their relationship to the deceased user, the username of the account or a link to the profile page, and a link to the obituary.
Yahoo is a different story. Yahoo has a terms agreement that says there is “No Right of Survivorship” and that accounts are “Non-Transferable.” Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents permanently deleted.
A few helpful advocacy groups are spreading awareness of “digital afterlife” issues and a quick online search shows that there is a growing industry of commercial services for online memorials, digital estate planning, post-mortem e-mail notification, and password storage systems.
If all this seems messy and mysterious, I will offer a few basic steps to manage your online affairs after death.
The first step
The first step is to inventory everything about your online life, such as your email accounts, Facebook, Twitter…everything. Use a speadsheet or create a table in a word-processing document. For each website, list the name, URL, your username and password. Include any additional information someone might need to access each account.
Be sure to state whether there is any money at stake in an account. For example, do you have any money sitting in your Paypal account? Do you have an ongoing business on eBay?
The second step
The second step is to check each site you use for their policy on deceased members and the access rights of heirs. Determine what authorization you may have to supply, if any, and put that information down on your inventory. If a site allows users to be memorialized after death, state whether you want that or not on your inventory. Do you want your heirs to be able to download your content or delete your account? Some accounts are deleted automatically if inactive for a period of time, so you should also note this information on your inventory. Remember, each site has different privacy and policy issues. Know your rights.
The third step
The third step is to notify your heirs about your intentions for your digital content. Do not share usernames and passwords, just let them know that you’ve created a document with detailed information about your digital possessions and tell them where you will keep that document once you print it out. A logical place for it would be with your will or other important papers. Do you know someone who can act as your digital personal representative? Maybe you have a favorite geek who could help your legal representative. Write it down.
Also, leave instructions about who to email about your death. Your email contact list could be lengthy, so it may be wise to print the list and cross out the names of the people you don’t want contacted.
Planning is tedious but crucial and your heirs will appreciate your considerate forethought.
Happy New Year from the Law Office of Debra G. Simms!