Social Media and life everlasting are two things that people don’t typically think of at the same time. Despite humanity’s numerous ideas about what happens after we die — pearly gates, legions of virgins, and reincarnation, to name a few — no one in modern history has reported back to confirm the afterlife officially exists. However, anyone who has an online account has the chance to live forever at least in some fashion. Your Facebook profile, Google account, and iCloud space, are just a few examples of digital media that will continue to exist long after you’re gone.
Living forever might sound appealing, but digital life everlasting has its downsides. In the 21st century, estate planning has to include making decisions about your online legacy.
Planning Your Digital Afterlife
Traditional estate planning includes creating a will and perhaps a living trust, which are both tools for deciding who gets your assets after you die. Additionally, most people decide whether to choose a traditional burial or more budget-friendly cremation options. In addition to leaving instructions about what to do with your physical possessions, including your body, it’s important to leave clear instructions about what to do with your digital presence.
Choosing the Right Executor
Marco Markin, CEO of the Neptune Society and former private investment company executive, says the person designated as executor of your estate might not be the right person to handle your digital afterlife. “It’s important to choose someone who’s both detail-oriented and tech-savvy as your digital executor,” Markin explains. “That might be the same person who oversees other aspects of your estate, or it might need to be someone entirely different. Making decisions like this ahead of time can help your family during a difficult time.”
It’s also important to decide whether to give information to your executor now, like usernames and passwords, or whether you’d prefer to keep those credentials confidential until you’ve passed away. Consider using a password manager, like LastPass or 1Password, to store authentication information for your online accounts, including your social media accounts.
By doing this, you create an all-in-one secure portal for every online account you have. Then, share your LastPass or 1Password username and password with your attorney, and instruct your attorney not to pass on the information until after your death.
Deciding Whether or Not to Close Your Accounts
The idea of keeping your Facebook page active forever might seem romantic. Unfortunately, identity thieves often take advantage of deceased people’s personal information, including Social
Security numbers, bank account information, medical information, and online passwords.
In 2012 alone, the IRS flagged 91,000 tax returns filed on behalf of deceased individuals. The crime isn’t just depriving the U.S. government of tax revenue; it’s putting grieving families through the process of resolving your identity theft case. Identity thieves use deceased people’s information to apply for credit cards, activate cell phone accounts, and obtain health care under false pretenses. Families are then stuck cleaning up the mess left behind.
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Identity Theft Survey Report,” victims who have new accounts opened due to identity theft spend 60 hours or more resolving the problem. Also, the Internal Revenue Service takes an average of 278 days to resolve tax refund fraud cases. The last thing you want to do is sentence your family to spending nine months on hold with the IRS.
What to Do With Your Digital Estate
If you’re just now setting up your will and advance directive, make sure to include your wishes for your online accounts. USA.gov offers these tips for handling your online afterlife:
- Death certificate. In addition to naming an online executor, stipulate in your will that your online executive should receive a copy of your death certificate. Your online executor will need the document to prove that you’re deceased.
- State your wishes. Review the privacy policies of social networks, blogs, Google, iCloud, and other information portals. Decide whether to delete or memorialize your accounts based on what the provider offers, and let your online executor know where to find procedures for closing your accounts. Also, detail what you’d like done with online photos or other personal effects.
- Provide your usernames and passwords. If you’re uncomfortable setting up a password manager, create a document that lists your usernames and passwords, and let your online executor know where to find it.
Even though living forever online might offer nostalgia for those you leave behind, it’s probably better to nix your digital afterlife. Living on in works you leave behind, or even just in their memories, is preferable to letting identity theft multiply their grief.