Online Life After Death

Posted on January 27, 2014 by Melissa Schopp under Uncategorized
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Have you ever thought about what happens to your “digital footprint” or your “digital assets” when you die?  Maybe you have because, like some of us, you have come across a friends’ Facebook page that still exits, or see that ad on the side of your screen “Jon likes McDonalds,” or you send a friend a message and don’t know why they are not responding.  Just when you think you have the grief all under control, these scenarios can open a flood of emotions for anyone.

I asked my fellow associates about their run-ins with the digital life after death.  One person texts herself from her deceased father’s cell phone, so it comes up as a text from her dad.  Another person used personal messaging on Facebook as a therapeutic tool. She would send her best friend messages even though she had died, until one day, she was gone from online as well, and it was like she died again.  Someone else left a message on a friend’s cell phone the day after he died. “Hey man, I heard a weird rumor that you were dead.  Give me a call when you get this.” He didn’t call back.

So what does happen to your digital life after death?  Come to find out, like life, there are many different roads to travel down.  That little box you check just before finishing your registration for an online account – the one that says “Yes I agree and I have read your ‘terms of service,’ ‘privacy policy,’ or ‘user agreements’” – that little box holds great power. (Well, the terms you agreed to do!)  Have you really ever read those agreements?  If you figured they are all about the same, sadly, you are mistaken.  Each account you have has different terms, and even the terms after death.

For example, look at Google’s policy on “Accessing a deceased person’s mail.”  You have to fill out and send documentation with “multiple waiting periods” and then they don’t guarantee you will receive information.  Facebook gives you two options: you can create a memorial page, or delete the account.  However,  “To protect the privacy of people on Facebook, we cannot provide anyone with login information for accounts.”  That means if you don’t have the login information, you have to provide them with proof of death and wait for them to delete the account.  These are just two of hundreds of online accounts you can make, and if you have a greater online presence, the loved ones you leave behind will have a lot of work.

You do have options!  You can check out your state’s Digital Asset Laws.  Currently only five states currently have estate laws that include digital assets: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Indiana and Idaho, and the laws vary among them. In most cases, digital assets can be willed or trusted just like any other assets. Some states’ statutes, for instance, just relate to email, with only Oklahoma and Idaho clearly including social networking and blogging as part of an estate.

Password managers are another option you can look into. Password managers work by securely saving the login information every time you log into your accounts with the help of the software.  You can search online for password manager reviews and find one that fits your needs.  Make sure you have the main password for your password manager accessible to your family after your death, or all your work will be in vein.

Writing down user names and passwords are another option, but you have to manually keep that current. And remember to store them in a safe secure place.

Most importantly, talk with your loved ones about your online accounts.  It can be as simple as “Yes, you can read my e-mails after I die,” or “No, I’d rather not share those messages.”  Tell them what you would like saved, shared, deleted, posted, tweeted, pinned, snapped or phed.

The content of this blog is intended for general educational and information purposes only.

Melissa Schopp

Melissa has been with Schoedinger as an administrative assistant since August of 2012. She loves to attend all the local festivals with her family and always finds ways to stay busy.

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