Our important papers and treasured mementoes used to be physical items kept in our homes, but now, with so much of our information stored on our computers, phones and in the cloud, what happens to it when we die?
We have been approached many times over the years by families attempting to gain access to a deceased loved one’s device in the hope of retrieving essential documents, photos and music libraries or to access their email or social media accounts.
Whilst there are several approaches we can take, including data recovery to recover files from a computer, it isn’t always straightforward or possible, so we’ve compiled a checklist that will help you plan and take control of some of the online accounts and passwords that make up your digital legacy so that you can prepare for the future. Not only does this give your loved ones access to the files they need, but it will also protect your digital identity if your online’ ghost accounts’ become vulnerable to hackers after you die.
1. Make a digital inventory
List your digital assets – this should include each of your devices and online accounts, such as email, social media and data storage. Document each user name and password and keep these securely – separate from your list of assets – or if you prefer, use a password manager to store all your credentials and let a trusted family member or a legal professional know where they are.
If you have two-factor verification (2FA) enabled, where you are sent a code via email or text message to verify it is really you attempting to log in, include which device the verification code will go to with each account. You can also set out what you wish to happen to your digital legacy, for example, which accounts they should close or leave open etc.
Your phone, computer, laptop and tablet are the gateway to most of your online accounts, so these login details are arguably the most important. Ensure that the passwords and passcodes to your devices are stored safely and that your trusted contact knows where they are. And remember to keep the document updated should you amend them.
3. Email and data storage accounts
Your email account gives access to potentially important information and allows passwords to be reset for your online accounts, should the need arise. Your data storage provides access to your backed-up documents. Each provider offers their own terms in the event of an account holder’s death. Here is the current process for some of the most commonly used providers…
Google (Android, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Pay, Google Photos, Google Play, Google Workspace, YouTube)
Your Google password provides access to multiple digital assets. With its Inactive Account Manager, Google lets you choose what happens to your account after a period of inactivity. You can set your account to be considered inactive after 3-18 months and specify who should be notified when that threshold is met (up to 10 people), what can be downloaded from your account, and whether your account should be subsequently deleted.
Apple (iCloud, iMessage, iPhotos, iTunes)
Apple allows you to choose one or more trusted people to access your account through their legacy contacts. You generate and share an access key with your nominated contact; they then request access, provide the key you shared, and upload your death certificate to access your Apple account.
Your legacy contact has three years to view photos, messages, notes, files, apps and other data and decide what should happen to the information.
Microsoft (Outlook.com, OneDrive, Hotmail.com, Live.com, MSN.com )
Microsoft doesn’t offer a way of nominating a next of kin to access your account, with the account being closed after two years of inactivity.
Yahoo doesn’t make provision to appoint a legacy contact. A family member or legal representative can request that the account is deactivated, but they will have no access to any information held in your account.
4. Social media accounts
Different platforms have different approaches to legacy contacts and whether you can request that your information is deleted, stored or memorialised. Here is the current process for some of the most commonly used platforms…
Facebook allows you to request that your account is deleted when you die or appoint a legacy contact to manage your memorialised profile. A memorialised account has the word “remembering” next to your name and allows friends and family to share memories on the page’s timeline. Your legacy contact must be a Facebook friend.
Owned by Facebook, Instagram also offers the option to have your account deleted or memorialised after you die. However, unlike Facebook, you cannot make your selections in advance while you are still alive.
A verified person, either a family member or a legal representative, has to request your account be memorialised or deleted by providing proof of death.
Twitter does not offer the option of appointing a legacy contact. A family member or legal representative can contact Twitter to have the account deactivated by providing a copy of their ID and death certificate. If the account is inactive for six months or longer (i.e., no one has logged in), Twitter may permanently remove the account due to prolonged inactivity.
LinkedIn doesn’t offer a way to appoint a legacy contact. Family members or your legal representative can request to memorialise or close an account. Other LinkedIn members can also report a deceased person, and upon verification, the account is removed from public view.
Taking care of business
It might feel a bit morbid, taking stock of your digital life and planning what will happen to it all when you’ve gone, but it is critical to ensuring that your information can be easily and responsibly taken care of and your online persona protected from identity theft and malicious activity by cybercriminals.
If you’d like any assistance with any of the above, just give us a call on 020 3369 0669 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.