When someone passes away, there are many things their family and close friends may need organise beyond the funeral service. Nowadays, this probably includes managing online and digital information along with all their “real world” business.
For some, this could be a daunting task. We may not be aware of which sites our family members have joined, where they’ve stored information or what they’ve shared online. Tracking this all down and securing someone’s online presence could become an ongoing process that might take weeks, months or even longer to complete.
Despite any challenges that may arise, taking care of a loved one’s digital assets could be an important part of completing their final business. Here we break down how you might want to get started, and offer tips to help you make the process a bit easier for your family, when the time comes.
As our lives increasingly move online, gaining access to a deceased loved one’s email address may be more important than ever (It’s also common to have more than one email, making this process harder in some circumstances). Being able to sign into your family member’s account could help you track their digital footprint, giving you a better idea of which sites you may also need to visit to delete sensitive information, such as credit card details. You may also want to access their address book, respond to messages or locate files, like family photos.
Many companies will help family members or the executor of a Will access a person’s email after they’ve passed away, even if you don’t know the password. You may need to submit some notarised documents (usually a copy of the death certificate and your ID) before they can help. These steps are usually available on the email provider’s FAQ page or in help forums.
However, some companies will not help family members or others gain access to a deceased person’s accounts. Yahoo is a notable example, with strict privacy protections that extend past a user’s death. They will close the person’s email accounts and delete any information held within, but will not let anyone into an account without the password.
Banks and credit card companies generally act quickly when they are notified of a customer’s death. Fast action, such as temporarily freezing accounts, could help prevent theft or fraud. This may include suspending the logins associated with the account to prevent anyone from accessing the funds online. A copy of the death certificate is generally needed to start this process. They may also request supporting documents, such as a copy of the Will, if one exists.
The popularity of social media sites continue to grow, with people of all ages sharing photos, thoughts and moments online. For family members left behind, accessing this data is becoming more important, as it often doesn’t exist anywhere else.
How social media sites handle a user’s death varies. Facebook, Instagram and Google all have formal processes to help family member’s gain control of accounts and deactivate them, if they wish. Some even allow you to download everything that was shared, including photographs. Twitter and LinkedIn will deactivate an account if the owner passes away, but don’t offer an option to create a “memorial” profile, as some sites do.
Of course, there are many more social media sites and messaging apps out there (with more popping up every day). You may need to do some sleuthing to figure out which ones your loved one used, and search each site’s FAQs for steps to memorialise or deactivate the accounts.
What you can do to help your family
Securing a family member’s online footprint after their death can be a time-consuming process. However, there are steps you can take to make things easier for your own loved ones in the future.
- Record your usernames
A list of usernames associated with your most important accounts could be helpful once you pass away. This might include email addresses, financial sites, social media or online shopping accounts. However…
- Don’t make login information public
It’s best not to record usernames or email addresses directly in your Will. It becomes a public document after your death, potentially putting important information into the wrong hands. Instead, consider recording details in a separate document, and specify in your Will who this should be given to.
- Keep your passwords safe
Sharing passwords is a big no-no. Usually, a username or email address will be enough for family to access an account after you’ve passed. However, password management software could allow you to encrypt and securely store important passwords. Instructions for retrieving them could be provided to the executor of your Will or a family member.
- Back up computer files
It’s often difficult for loved ones to access a deceased relative’s computer. Rather than giving out the password, get in the habit of backing up important files on an external hard drive or to cloud storage. That way, your family can have photos, financial records or other digital files without needing your login information.
New technology has made it easier than ever to connect with others, but may also mean taking extra steps after we’ve passed to help our families take care of our final business. If you or a loved one is making estate plans, consider how internet habits might factor into these final wishes. The steps you take now could make securing your online presence a little easier in the future.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is of general nature, and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs or seek professional advice, where necessary.