In today’s world, we use social media, emails, image storage services and other cloud solutions on a daily basis. We might even invest in bitcoins or use online portals to trade stock options independently of a (human) financial advisor. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are building up a complex digital legacy through our use of various digital services over the years.
However, unlike tangible assets, which we acquire and accumulate, we are not used to thinking about our digital assets as something we may want to pass on to the next generation when we pass away. This is unfortunate because digital assets may have great economical, legal or emotional value to the people closest to us.
Planning ahead prevents lack of closure
It may seem insubstantial here and now, but a simple plan for passing on your most important username-password combinations will make a world of difference to your loved ones should you pass away unexpectedly. No one needs to face additional trials at a time of grief. Without the inheritance of important passwords, your next of kin might not be able to close down your Facebook account or to access a treasured image collection stored on your password-protected laptop.
This ultimately can prevent a sense of true closure. From a legal perspective, a life partner will surely be thankful for access to digital assets, such as bank accounts and insurance policies, for which you may have formerly taken responsibility.
If you are an entrepreneur, consider passing on digital copies of a power of attorney, confidential business plans or admin passwords to one or more business partners to ensure business contingency.
The right to privacy in the digital afterlife
Even if you want to pass on important digital assets, you may not want to grant your spouse, child or lifelong friend full access to your entire email inbox or similar online accounts. The right to digital privacy is absolutely essential when dealing with the topic of digital inheritance.
So how do we pass on access rights in a safe and orderly manner? A few large players, such as Facebook and Google, offer the option to assign an after-life caretaker of your account. However, many online services are not set up for the proper authentication of people claiming to be a relative of a deceased account owner; hence they cannot pass on username and password combinations. This leaves a wasteland of inaccessible digital legacy: online shopping accounts that cannot be closed, subscriptions that automatically renew and open bills that are forwarded to an email account which no one can access, to mention just a few. The question is: how do we avoid leaving such a mess behind?
Specific steps to take
Unlike the process of creating a will, which is guided by well-defined legal procedures, it is still very open-ended how you go about planning a digital inheritance. However you might start with these simple steps:
- Collect all your passwords and other login data in one central and secure place. We recommend using a password manager and creating a unique and randomised password for each individual account. This ensures that the accounts are very well protected against unauthorised access.
- List your wishes with regards to passing on your digital valuables in your will. Make it clear to whom you want to pass on certain digital assets. For example, you can specify that you want to pass on your online music collection to your daughter. If you want your heirs to take specific actions such as deleting certain online accounts after you pass away, make sure to make your wishes clear.
- Alternatively, use an online digital inheritance service to securely organise your digital life after death. For example, our SecureSafe cloud service provides a data inheritance feature for documents and passwords. The basic offer is free of charge. This function enables you to identify beneficiaries and securely pass on selected digital documents and login data to them when you pass away.
How do social media platforms deal with inherited digital assets?
Even though the topic is fairly new, digital inheritance policies do exist with a couple of large online service providers. Below, we give you an overview of your options to plan ahead if you are the user of one or more of these services.
If you are a Facebook user, you can decide what should happen to your account when you pass away. Facebook gives you two options: you can either have your account deleted or you can memorialise it. If you choose the second, your loved ones have the option to post one last post on your page and to update your profile and cover pictures. Speak with the people close to you about what they would prefer as a part of your planning.
Twitter does allow for your account to be deleted after you pass away. Only an immediate family member or a person authorised to act on behalf of the estate can request the deletion. Your relative must send the following documents to Twitter: information about the deceased, an ID copy and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate. It is only possible to request a deletion of the account and not to get access to it.
LinkedIn can also delete an account of a deceased person if a person that knew the deceased sends in a predefined form providing the following information:
- The member’s name;
- The URL to their LinkedIn profile;
- Your relationship to them;
- Member’s email address;
- Date they passed away;
- Link to obituary; and
- Their most recent employer.
Google accounts such as Gmail and YouTube accounts offer a couple of possibilities for post-mortem planning:
- If you are the owner of an account, you can set up an inactive account feature. With this feature activated, Google will take action as instructed by you should your account go inactive for a longer period of time. You can instruct Google to delete your account or to share your login credentials with pre-chosen individuals close to you.
- If you choose not to set up the inactivity feature, your loved ones must contact Google to request an account deletion or transfer of your digital assets. However, no matter your relation to the deceased, Google ultimately decides whether data will be passed on or not.
If you are the owner of a Hotmail or Outlook account, you can submit a ‘Next of Kin request’. Through this request you can define your wishes for your Microsoft accounts post-mortem. It is up to you whether you want to delete the account(s) or keep them active.
Your close relatives or other defined relations will not be granted access to your digital assets, but if you wish, Microsoft can send them a DVD with the contents of the account. It is important to be aware that not all Microsoft products are included in this policy (OneDrive and Skype have no official policies).
Devices such as laptops or tablets
Regardless of whether you are the owner of Microsoft or Apple devices, the general rule of thumb is the same. If you want your loved ones to be able to access your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone should you pass away, you need to pass on your device-specific password.
Some companies will offer to reset a device to factory settings to allow you access to the digital assets of a deceased relative. However, it is by far the easiest for your loved ones to access devices with a password passed on to them by you.
A far-reaching solution
If you do not want to go through the process of setting up a separate ‘afterlife plan’ for each of your online accounts, you can gather all of your relevant digital heritance in one place and assign it to the relevant beneficiaries from here.
We are a Zurich-based company that stands behind the cloud-based storage solution SecureSafe, which enables users to plan ahead and secure digital assets for the long-term. A SecureSafe account always includes a highly secure, personal file safe and a password manager.
Furthermore, we are the inventors of data inheritance, which enables every SecureSafe account owner to define beneficiaries such as loved ones or business partners and to pass on important files or passwords to them post mortem. The transfer of data happens automatically and safely when an account owner passes away.
Find more information about data inheritance here:
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