Our digital footprint will live on when we’re gone. Even though we’ve got another 35 years until the singularity (or so says Raymond Kurzweil), all of us will experience a sort of afterlife through our Facebook posts, tweets, article comments, email accounts, online games, and blogs, a trail that grows longer and more complex as we rely on the web to express ourselves and interact with each other. Maybe it’s reassuring to know that some part of us will live on, but it’s also eerie. If you’ve ever seen a deceased person’s Facebook wall become a place for short, public eulogies, you’ll know what we mean. Or check out “Jackass” star Ryan Dunn’s final tweet before his death in a drunk driving accident: he posted a photo of himself out drinking.
This digital afterlife has serious implications for our reputations and our families (or whoever’s looking after our estate). None of us want to think about death, but for the sake of our friends and family members who’ll be pained every time they encounter our online identity, think ahead and leave them your login information in a safe, secure manner.
Your To-Do List to Ensure Your Digital Assets Are Safe and Easily Managed
1. Identify your digital property
When we think about devising a will, we picture houses, bank accounts, cars, and jewelry, but we need to start thinking about online accounts, too. What if you’ve invested countless hours in Second Life, which has a booming virtual economy in which some users make 6-figure salaries in real life? Or what if you’ve amassed rare items and gold in World of Warcraft, a thriving Etsy store, or a popular blog with lots of Google AdSense revenue? If you pass away without giving those accounts and their login information to someone else, you’ll lose everything. Don’t overlook your digital assets when you’re compiling your will.
2. Understand how difficult it can be for your family or estate to close your accounts
Why go through the hassle to make sure your digital accounts are in order? We’ll tell you: it’s much more difficult to delete an account when you can’t log in than when you can. Read on to see the complicated hoops that websites make family members jump through just to close an account.
In our research, we saw that many popular applications and sites, such as AOL Instant Messenger and Reddit, don’t offer any means of closing an account for a deceased person. Only a few sites, such as Facebook, have set up procedures for reporting a deceased user. These procedures aren’t simple: for example, Facebook lets you “memorialize” a profile—the effect is that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search; the Wall remains, so friends and family can leave posts in remembrance; and the person’s name doesn’t show up as a suggested friend—but only after filling out a form (that requires 9 pieces of information, including the email address(es) that may have been used to create the account (which you aren’t likely to know) and a link to an obituary.