We all have our digital stuff and while we all know (or should know) that our digital footprint will live on long after we’re gone, did you know that you can control that footprint from the hereafter?
And, if you don’t take steps to control your digital legacy others will control it for you? So, what do we mean by digital footprint? If you have any online accounts such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Apple, or Amazon, as a few examples, you have a digital legacy, and that legacy is yours to preserve or lose.
Unless you’ve planned ahead, several things may happen to your digital accounts following your death. Some of your online accounts will survive indefinitely, while others automatically expire after a period of inactivity, and still, others have specific processes that let you give family and friends the ability to access and posthumously manage your accounts.
Because social media and other digital platforms are such a ubiquitous part of our daily routine, and they can offer intimate snapshots of your life and these digital assets can serve as a key part of your legacy—one you may want to protect, and your loved ones may cherish after your death. Alternatively, you may prefer to keep your online history private, and have it permanently deleted once you’re gone.
Whether you want to preserve your digital footprint or erase it entirely, you need to plan ahead to ensure your wishes are properly carried out. With this in mind, here we’ll discuss how some of the most popular digital platforms handle your account once you log off for the final time. From there, we’ll cover how to include these digital assets in your estate plan to ensure they are properly accounted for, managed, and passed on in the event of your incapacity or death.
Managing Your FACEBOOK Digital Footprint
What FACEBOOK does with your account after your gone
Unless you choose to have your account deleted, Facebook offers what’s known as a “Legacy Contact” for managing your profile after death. Using a Legacy Contact, you can choose someone to control your account’s operation and functionality after you pass away.
Following your death, Facebook first memorializes your account. Once memorialized, the word “Remembering” is added to your profile name, and only confirmed friends can view your profile or find it in a search. Depending on your privacy settings, friends and family members can post content and share memories on your memorialized timeline.
However, memorialized accounts are locked, so your original content cannot be altered or deleted, even if someone has your password. Your Facebook account can be memorialized regardless of whether or not you select a legacy contact. To have your account memorialized, Facebook simply requires your family or friends to provide proof of your death using a special request form and evidence of death, such as an obituary.
If you’ve chosen a Legacy Contact, that individual can manage your memorialized account based on the permissions you’ve granted him or her. Some of the actions your legacy contact can perform include writing pinned posts, choosing who can view and post tributes on your profile, responding to new friend requests, updating your cover and profile images, and requesting your account’s closure.
However, there are certain actions your Legacy Contact will not be able to perform. This includes logging into your account as you, viewing your direct messages, removing your friends, or making new friend requests. For more in-depth coverage of Facebook’s legacy contact service and how it fits in with your estate planning, book an appointment with attorney Shaina Jones Magrone.
Managing Your GMAIL, GOOGLE, & YOUTUBE Digital Footprint
What GMAIL, GOOGLE, & YOUTUBE do with your accounts after your gone
The Internet titan, Google, owns several of the most popular web services, including Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Photos, and Google Play. Google offers a function called Inactive Account Manager, that allows you to request how you want your accounts managed after death.
To use this function, first, you choose the amount of time—3, 6, 12, or 18 months—that must pass without any activity before the Inactive Account Manager service is triggered. The service lets you select up to 10 different people, who can access your account once Inactive Account Manager goes into effect. You can specify the data those individuals will be allowed to access, including things like photos, contacts, emails, documents, and other content.
With Inactive Account Manager, you can also opt to have your account deleted. If so, you can have Google simply delete all of your content, or you can share your content with your designated contacts before deletion. If you share your content, your contacts will be able to access and download data from your account for 3 months before it’s deleted.
Should you choose to have your account deleted, your Gmail messages will be permanently deleted, and all data and content in all of your other Google-based accounts like YouTube, Google Drive, and Google Photos will also be deleted. If you die without setting up Inactive Account Manager, Google will automatically delete your account following two years of inactivity.
Finally, because Google owns YouTube, and YouTube videos have the potential to earn revenue indefinitely, it’s vital that you use the Inactive Account Manager to protect this potentially lucrative asset following your death. Additionally, you’ll also want to include these intangible assets in your estate plan, so they can be protected and passed on to your loved ones in the most beneficial way possible.
Managing Your INSTAGRAM Digital Footprint
What INSTAGRAM does with your account after your gone
As you may know, Instagram is owned by Facebook. But even though they may seem like two peas in a pod, Instagram’s processes for handling your account after your death are similar—but not entirely the same—as Facebook’s. As a reminder, Facebook allows you to name a legacy contact to handle your death, and Instagram gives you two options for managing your account after death: You can either have your account memorialized, or you can have it deleted.
However, it’s your family—not you—that has the final say. This makes it all the more important that your loved ones are well-aware of your wishes for how you’d like this digital asset managed when you die. In order to have your account memorialized, Instagram requires a family member or friend to submit a special request form, along with proof of your death, such as your obituary or death certificate. Once your account is memorialized, the word “Remembering” appears next to your profile name, and your account will be frozen, appearing exactly as you left it before your death.
All posts shared on your memorialized Instagram account will be preserved and shared with the same audience they were before your death. No one can log into your memorialized account, make changes to your posts, profile information, or settings. Additionally, your memorialized account will no longer appear in public Instagram forums, such as its Explore page.
Alternatively, Instagram allows your account to be permanently deleted after your death. According to Instagram’s policy, only family members can have your account deleted, and this requires a bit more effort than memorialization.
To have your Instagram account permanently erased from cyberspace, your loved ones must not only submit a special form, but they must also supply your birth certificate, proof of death, as well as proof that they are your lawful representative under local law, the latter of which can take the form of a power of attorney document, a will, or an estate letter.
Managing Your TWITTER Digital Footprint
What TWITTER does with your account after your gone
Twitter’s policies regarding the management of your account after death are fairly simple. In fact, the company only gives you one option: the deactivation of your account. Llke Instagram, Twitter leaves the decision as to what happens to your account after your death up to your family. Twitter’s Help Center offers a page with the specific details about deactivating a deceased person’s account.
If your family has your login and password information when you die, it’s fairly easy. Whoever has your login and password (plus 2FA access, if you have 2FA turned on) can login to your account on their own, and select the “deactivate my account” option. From there, the account will be deleted after 30 days of inactivity. That said, the account can be reactivated, simply by someone logging back into your account before 30 days expires.
If your family doesn’t have your login information, Twitter offers an alternate option for your account’s deactivation. However, Twitter notes that this option is only available to verified family members and estate executors.
The process starts by having a family member or your executor fill out a special form requesting the removal of your account. Following the request, Twitter will email instructions asking the person for additional details, including information about your death, a copy of their ID, and a copy of your death certificate.
From there, Twitter will review each request individually, but as long as the proper information is provided, Twitter notes that the vast majority of these requests are granted. Keep in mind that such requests will result in the account’s permanent deletion, so make sure your loved ones carefully consider their decision, since once deleted, the process cannot be reversed.
Managing the Digital Footprint of Your APPLE DEVICES & SERVICES
What APPLE DEVICES & SERVICES do with your accounts after your gone
As you likely know well, all Apple devices and services require an Apple ID. This ID is used for everything from logging on to your iCloud files and making App Store purchases to tracking and finding your lost iPhone with the FindMy app.
Like Facebook, Apple lets you select a “Legacy Contact” to manage the data and devices connected to your Apple ID after your death. Your Legacy Contact can be anyone you choose, and you can even designate more than one Legacy Contact.
The data your Legacy Contact(s) can access and manage includes items, such as photos, videos, messages, notes, files, contacts, calendar entries, downloaded apps, and backups of any devices stored in iCloud. Your Legacy Contact(s) will also be able to remove the Activation Lock from your devices, so they can personally use them, give them away, or sell them.
However, your Legacy Contact(s) will NOT have access to your login or password information, your payment information, your iCloud email accounts, or any of your licensed media. This means that you can’t pass on your collection of music, movies, or apps, unless that media already exists on one of the devices you own.
Before providing access, Apple reviews all requests made by your Legacy Contact(s). To gain access, your Legacy Contact(s) will need the access key provided when they were first nominated, as well as a copy of your death certificate and your date of birth. This makes it vital for your Legacy Contact(s) to print out a physical copy of their access key and safely store it, rather than relying on it being saved in your messages app or password manager.
Once access is approved, your Legacy Contact(s) receives a special Apple ID to access your account. From then on, your old Apple ID and password will no longer work, and Activation Lock is removed from all devices using your Apple ID. From the time the first legacy account request is approved, your Legacy Contact(s) has three years to access your data and devices, after which your account is permanently deleted.
Artisan Law can Help You with Your Digital Footprint
Although you can manage many of the processes described here on your own, when it comes to preparing your estate plan, you should always work with an experienced attorney. At Artisan Law, we use our Life & Legacy Planning Process to help you create a plan for the legacy of your digital assets, along with your more traditional forms of property and wealth, so that they are preserved and passed on seamlessly to your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity. And we will accomplish all of this while ensuring you have the maximum level of privacy possible.
If you are interested in estate planning or have questions you’d like to ask, join us at our next estate planning event.