So much of our lives is lived online nowadays - all those photos, videos, social chats and blog posts are like the digital tapestries of our lives. But what happens to it all when we die? A little bit of planning now can ensure that your digital legacy is preserved for posterity.
No-one likes to think about death. But it may be time to think about making a ‘digital will’ to safeguard all those precious memories and make it easier for your loved ones to know what to do with it all.
The first thing to consider is what you want to happen to your data in the event of your passing. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
You might want the precious memories stored in your Google Photos library preserved, for example, but you may want the private – possibly compromising – correspondence in your Hotmail email account to become permanently irretrievable.
Once you’ve taken stock of the online services you use and what you want to happen to the data stored on each platform, then you can begin sorting out how to ensure your wishes are respected. This may involve calling on a trusted friend or family member to help.
Here’s what some of the most popular online services suggest.
Apple provides a plethora of services under the iCloud name, from email and shared photo albums to back-ups of the contacts, texts and calendar entries on your iOS and macOS devices.
In the event of your passing, your next of kin or estate can request either a copy of all the data in your iCloud account or that it be deleted. To do either, they’ll need a court order – a qualified solicitor will be able to help you get one – containing certain information – most notably your Apple ID – as well as the legal confirmations needed to show that they’re acting legally.
If you have a Dropbox account, the only available option is for your next of kin to request access to it once you’ve passed on. To do this, they’ll need to provide a court order and certain personal information.
If you want your Facebook account to be deleted as soon as the company is notified of your death, you can flag your preference using a simple online setting.
You also have the option of your Facebook page turning into an online memorial instead. To do so, you can nominate a ‘legacy contact’ in advance – a trusted person who will gain certain administrative privileges over your Facebook account once you pass on.
Even if you don’t want such a public memorial, you may want to nominate a legacy contact anyway. Legacy contacts can download a copy of your Facebook data, such as your posts, photos and videos, for off-line preservation.
Google accounts are used to access a diverse number of services from Gmail, YouTube and Google Photos to Google Drive, back-ups of your Android devices and blogs on Blogger.com.
Using Google’s Inactive Account Manager, you can choose to have everything associated with your Google account deleted after a set period of inactivity. Alternatively or additionally, you can nominate a trusted contact. This person will be able to download a copy of everything in your Google account once your chosen period of inactivity has elapsed and after your nominee has passed an identity check carried out over the phone.
Although Instagram is now owned by Facebook, the rules on legacy data are not the same. While Instagram offers the option to have your account memorialised or deleted in the event of your death, it doesn’t offer any options to set this up in advance. Instead, your next of kin or estate will have to apply for this with certain legal documents in hand once you’re no longer around.
Microsoft accounts are used to access OneDrive cloud storage as well as email services such as Hotmail. Your heirs can request access to your account once you’ve passed, as long as they have a court order. Otherwise, your account will be automatically deleted after two years of inactivity.
The only option available on Snapchat is for the service to delete your account after you’re gone. To do this, your next of kin will have to provide Snapchat support with a copy of your death certificate.
TikTok doesn’t have any formal, publicly accessible process in place for dealing with the deaths of account holders. You may therefore wish to follow our advice on using a password manager (see below) to ensure that your wishes about your TikTok videos are respected.
In the event of your death, Twitter can delete your account at the request of an immediate family member or someone acting on behalf of your estate. This person will have to prove their identity and provide a copy of your death certificate.
If you’re one of the many people who still faithfully uses a Yahoo! Mail account, then you’ll be glad to hear that it should be quite straightforward for your next of kin or estate to close your account after you’re gone. If they want a copy of your emails, then it’ll be a little more involved as they’ll have to supply not just a court order but an Irish court order.
As you can see, the level of assistance that the most popular online services can offer to your next of kin or estate varies enormously.
So if you want to give them the ability to deal with your online legacy as easily possible, especially when they’re grieving and if your digital estate is large and complex, then using a password manager is a good idea.
Password managers store all your usernames and passwords – payment card details, too, in many cases – in one securely encrypted digital ‘wallet’. That way, you only have to remember one master password or set of log-in credentials.
Plus, as you’re no longer committing countless passwords to memory, you can make them longer or more complex and thus harder to guess or crack by online crooks.
Many popular password managers, such as Dashlane and 1Password, have features that – once set up in advance – can give trusted individuals access to your account passwords so that they can fulfil your wishes for your online legacy.
For example, some password managers allow you to share passwords with another person as long as they’re also a user of that service. Bear in mind that some services have limitations on how many passwords can be shared or require that you and your trusted executor share the same ‘family’ multi-user subscription plan.
Dashlane goes further with its Emergency contact feature. Once set up, a person that you’ve nominated can request access to the passwords you specify from your Dashlane account. Access can be automatically granted once a set period of time passes, anywhere from 24 hours to 60 days.
1Password takes a more old-school approach. Once you’ve set up your account, the service securely sends you a PDF which lists your master password for your account. You can then, for example, print it out and store it in a place that only your estate executor or loved ones can access, such as a safe or bank safety deposit box.
When paired with instructions set out in a legal will, these password manager features could give you and your heirs the peace of mind and certainty you seek.
Vodafone UK and bereavement
Although Vodafone UK doesn’t host any content that you may have created, it’s still nonetheless important that your Vodafone UK account is appropriately dealt with upon your death.
Once you have passed on, your next of kin can close your account (among other options). To do so, they’ll need to contact Vodafone UK’s dedicated bereavement team, either online or by phone, and have certain details to hand – including the registration number from your death certificate.