August 22, 2013

Planning Your Digital Afterlife


For most of us, our digital devices are incredibly important possessions. They hold our most important personal information like photos, passwords and account info, and travel with us on a daily basis, at all times, to a multitude of destinations. They are our second hand men and we take extreme care to keep them protected. And although it’s not a topic any of us wish to think about, it’s important to consider how we’ll plan to continue to keep our assets protected when we’re no longer able to. So it’s time to ask yourself, how will you plan for your digital afterlife?


Google is already one step ahead of you in asking this question. The company has recently released a feature, called Inactive Account Manager, which allows users to predetermine how they’d like their account handled in the event of their passing. Google account users can decide to have their information deleted after three, six or twelve months of inactivity, or they can choose to grant other specified individuals access to their data. If you’ve actually only just fallen off the digital grid and don’t want your information expunged, not to worry; you will receive both an email and text message from Google prior to them taking any action.

Although it may seem morbid to consider setting up this feature, if you’ve got information about yourself or others you want to keep protected this really is something to consider. If you keep private materials from falling into the wrong hands now, why shouldn’t you continue to do so when you’re no longer in physical control of them?

Although it may seem morbid to consider setting up the Inactive Account Manager feature, if you’ve got information about yourself or others you want to keep protected this really is something to consider.

Like Google, some social networking sites also offer options post passing. Social media giant Facebook has a memorialization request form your friends and family can submit, asking for your account to be suspended. After receiving the form the company will take one of two actions, they will either keep your profile open for just friends and family members to view, or they will suspend it indefinitely. Those closest to you can submit similar requests on sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter as well, so just talk to your relatives about how you’d like your social accounts handled in the worst-case scenario.

Unfortunately, not all online services and software products have developed features that give their users the power to care for their digital assets post mortem. There are a couple of preventative security measures you can take now, however, to keep your devices sheltered.

  • Keep your information organized. Having your data well kept and divided into organized folders will make the handling of it much easier for whoever is assigned the task. You may even want to divvy up your assets by level of importance or ownership. If you’ve got specific files you want permanently deleted or sent to specific individuals, store and label them in a way that makes it clear.
  • Leave instructions for loved ones. If you’ve got information you want passed on to specific family members and you’ve already taken care to make sure that information can be accessed on your devices, it may be helpful to have instructions on next steps written down and stored offline. It’s not out of line to consider leaving instructions with access passwords written down and kept in a sealed, locked place or within a living will.

As said, given the newness of the leap in importance our digital devices have taken in our lives, there are not many tools and features out there to help us plan for our next steps quite yet. However, thanks to Google the first moves have been taken towards assuring our digital afterlives are properly planned. We’re sure it won’t be long before other services sprout up!