Busy young professionals rarely think about end-of-life planning. As such, we are often unprepared for the worst, leaving loved ones to pick up the pieces in the event of a tragedy. What’s more, an unexpected loss means it’s more difficult for family members to preserve our memories and keep our online accounts safe.
A generation ago, the passing of a loved one meant sorting through boxes and file folders of records and photos. Now, our loved ones require account information, passwords and special permissions to access the records they need.
Accessing digital information isn’t as easy as one might think. In the process of keeping our personal data secure, online companies restrict who can have account access in the event of an untimely passing. Many term and conditions agreements specify that only the account owner can have access regardless of the requestor’s familial relationship. This makes it difficult to access, secure and/or close important digital accounts.
The good news is, pre-planning now ensures your digital legacy is appropriately handled the way you wish, while helping family and friends preserve precious memories during a difficult time. No matter how unlikely a tragedy seems to be in your life, Millennial, it does pay to be prepared – and it’s easier to get started than you think:
Passing on Your Sensitive Data
The best way to ensure loved ones can access data is to make sure they have your username, password, or access information, no matter what.
For example, if you maintain a special digital file listing account information, whether it’s on a password site like CommonKey or in an Excel file, keep it updated, but print it, too. Ensure the hardcopy record listing digital accounts and passwords are in a safe place where both you and a loved one can find it. In fact, this loved one should be named your “digital account trustee” – the person who will keep all backup information for you.
Whether it’s your spouse, your parents, or a trusted friend, this person will be responsible for ensuring your accounts are handled according to your instructions.
Make sure you keep the list updated regularly for accurate login credentials and passwords.
Saving photos are a top priority for loved ones. Maintaining a digital archive can make it easier for family and friends to find special photos and documents. The OXO team is experienced building digital archives and is happy to consult with tips on organizing digital and photo archives.
Handling Your Social Media Legacy
Social media accounts record special times spent with our family and friends – and are increasingly becoming an extension of who we are. Some companies are taking steps to ensure your data is handled appropriately upon your passing. Facebook, for example, allows users to name a legacy contact to become a page manager upon death. The legacy contact cannot post as you, but can pin posts, change the profile photo, header, and accept new friends. They will still be able to access your photos and share information about events, like a memorial service.
Facebook is a step ahead compared to other social platforms. Twitter’s privacy restrictions do not allow someone else to access your information, but your account can be deactivated. Instagram permits your account to become a legacy page. Your photos will be saved and no one else can post as you. The best way to figure out what each social media platform allows is to read the terms and conditions before clicking “I agree.”
Securing Online Data
Major software companies have different policies when it comes to handling a deceased’s digital information. Apple is the most restrictive. Requests are handled on a case-by-case basis. The company’s tough encryption protocol prevents device access, even from their end. The best way to ensure family members can have access to information on Apple products is to make account login data easy to find after an unexpected passing.
For Microsoft, loved ones will need next of kin permissions. Microsoft will provide the confirmed next of kin with a copy of the accounts’ data, but will not provide access to the account. For example: loved ones will receive a copy of all Hotmail emails, but won’t be able to login to the Hotmail account.
Google now allows users to set special access permissions. Users can select up to 10 people to become inactive account managers. After you have not accessed your account for set period of time, these managers will receive instructions on how to access your Google documents, photos, G+ profile, and more. Or, if you wish, the account data will be deleted.
Verify Your State Laws
Federal and state legislators are beginning to address the issue of digital legacies. Some states have digital legacy legislation, but many have no regulations. It’s important to check what your local laws are regarding access to your digital legacy.
Planning to pass on your digital archives should be part of today’s estate planning. Besides the digital and social legacy mentioned here, think about online subscriptions that will need to be cancelled, accounts that will need to be closed, or online property like a monetized YouTube channel that will need to be managed. Leaving a record of account information is responsible and saves family members some headache in an already trying time.