Your Online Life After Death
The social networking site Facebook made worldwide news on Oct. 4, 2012 when it surpassed one billion users; however, there is an even more fascinating statistic regarding inactive accounts. Nate Lustig, founder of Entrustet, estimated there are nearly 30 million Facebook profiles alone that still exist after the user has died and by the end of 2012, close to three million Facebook pages have become memorial sites for their owners. Deciding what happens to your online presence after you die can be extremely important, especially if you have dozens of social networking, email, and blog accounts and do not want the information in these accounts to fall into the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to what happens to all of your digital information and accounts after you die. Along with individual terms of service for different sites, a few state governments have passed or are working on passing legislation regarding one’s digital life after death. In fact, the state of New Hampshire is currently working on a bill that gives the executor of a deceased person’s estate the power to “take control of, conduct, continue, or terminate any accounts of a deceased person on any social networking site.” The bill also includes microblogging sites and email accounts.
The complexity of this issue is partially due to the lack of uniformity across online accounts. For example, Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail each have terms of service, but with specific differences. Facebook allows anyone who can access an online obituary to convert the user’s profile into a memorial page, or immediate family members can ask that the account be deleted. On the other hand, Gmail restricts access to “an authorized representative of the deceased user,” after a formal review process.
One of the best options right now is to entrust someone to be in charge of your accounts after you die by creating a list of all user names and passwords and storing them in a safe place. You can do this by utilizing an online site such as Legacy Locker, Entrustet, My Webwill, or Deathswitch. If you don’t feel comfortable with storing important login information for social media sites, email accounts, and bank accounts on one of these sites, you can also designate an executor to online property in your last will. A probate lawyer may be able to assist you with any questions you might have with this process.