Arranging for your digital death

  • Your last will and testament ☑
  • Organ donations ☑
  • Funeral arrangements ☑

It’s time for a cup of tea – putting your affairs in order is complete. Or is it? Along with your physical demise there’s another expiration that you might have overlooked. Your digital death.

Rest in p#@ce

Have you ever wondered what happens to your digital identity when you’re no longer around to like, share and post online? What happens to your Facebook account? Your Twitter feed. Your Instagram photos. Your email address. Your Pinterest collections.

If your comments, communications and tweets suddenly come to an end, will your online friends think you’ve gone incommunicado rather than fallen off the perch?

What can you do to provide closure in your absence? Plenty, as it turns out.
Arranging for your digital death. Photo from above of an older man with grey hair, heating aid and glasses reading an ipad

Social media graveyards

Facebook has been around since 2004, and the FB phenomenon really took off in 2007. But social media platforms will change over time, and it’s predicted that in just a few decades the profiles of deceased Facebook users will outnumber those of the living. Even in 2012, Facebook counted 30 million departed souls among its huge number of users.

But writing about your digital death isn’t going to get you a lot of likes online. In fact, despite social media’s universal popularity and our reliance on digital accounts, less than 5% of online users have prepared for their digital legacy.
Graphic of social media logos laid out in the shape of a foot print

Your digital assets

Your online presence is called your digital identity or footprint, and the various elements of your digital identity are your digital assets. Who knew?

Making up your online identity could be all kinds of digital assets: photos, music, books, videos, games, blogs, documents … And each of these assets can only be accessed via your username and password.

But when you die, who can put all those accounts to bed? Who knows the passwords and login details for your mobile phone, laptop, computer, tablet etc? (Of course, we’ve all forgotten them ourselves!)

Along with social media, your digital assets could include:

  • Email accounts
  • Online banking
  • PayPal
  • Dropbox
  • Cloud storage
  • Digital products, subscriptions or content you’ve bought online
  • Streaming services
  • Online memberships

The fine print

Unfortunately, the different digital platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google, what have you) have different policies for account holders (you) – when you clicked that lengthy terms & conditions statement all those clicks ago, you may have even signed over the rights to your posts, photos and other online content. And all those iTunes songs and ebooks you’ve purchased may be only licensed – for your own use only.

Digital death is a relatively new phenomena and legislation has been slow to keep up, potentially leaving account holders and their loved ones at a disadvantage. To add to the confusion, the different platforms have different policies for managing deceased accounts:

Google: You can use the Inactive Account Manager page to put in place an inactivity deadline, and choose whether to share or remove your data after your death.

Facebook: You can choose if you’d like your profile to be removed entirely or memorialised – in other words frozen, but with your birthday notifications deactivated. (Just think how unsettling it can feel when you receive a reminder of a friend’s birthday when that friend is no longer with us.) You can also appoint a legacy contact to write a memorialising post and manage tribute posts.

Twitter: Your account can be deactivated by a family member, but they will need to provide proof of your death.

Instagram: Your account can be memorialised or deleted if proof of death is provided.
Screenshot of memorialisation settings from Instagram

Managing your digital death

The idea can be daunting, but making a list of all of your digital assets is the first step to dealing with your digital death.

  • Note down the different websites, your usernames and passwords, banking details etc.
  • You might want to include a list of your purchased songs, films and ebooks, as part of your legacy. Storing much-loved photos and videos on a portable drive that your family can inherit is another good idea.

Next, write down some simple instructions:

  • Would you like your accounts to be closed or memorialised?
  • Who would you like to act as your digital executor/s to look after your digital assets?
  • Don’t forget to share your plans with your digital executor before your demise, so there are no unexpected surprises – and choosing someone a bit tech-savvy makes good sense!

Making these decisions in advance will make tidying up things a lot easier for your family and friends.

It might sound strange, but it’s a good idea to resort to good old pen and paper to make this list – after all, how will anyone find it if they can’t log on to your computer? And in the meantime, keep that list somewhere safe!

To help you get started, you can download and print the Social Media Will template available here:

Digital red tape

If you haven’t prepared for your digital death, family members requesting the removal of your account could be faced with this kind of potentially upsetting officialese, such as this example from Facebook:
Screenshot of Facebook asking to provide documentation of a loved ones death

The last post

Finally, did you know that you can record a digital farewell before you depart? It sounds kind of creepy, but sites such as allow you to contact your loved ones from beyond the grave, storing messages for the future that can be sent to family and friends on birthdays and anniversaries.

You can also record an account of your life for posterity and leave this world with your own rendition of ‘My Way’!
Photo of apps on a phone screen with black background

Main image: Photo by Andrew Neel

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