What happens to digital lives after death?
The question of what happens to a person after they die has been going on for ages. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, when you go, you can’t take your stuff with you. People think about how to handle their homes, cars and other properties during estate planning, but what happens to your digital life after you pass away?
For a lot of people, their lives are entwined with technology. Their lives and experiences recorded to cell phones, social media and their computers. It is this digital life that needs preservation after an untimely death.
How does someone go about preserving that information though? Is it as easy as writing something down on a piece of paper?
FOX 31 talked to local lawyer Michael Hall about how the how and why to start planning for your digital data, which also goes hand in hand with basic estate planning.
As for why, there are two reasons why: making things easy for your family after you’re gone and the financial cost.
If your family has a list of your digital accounts, it will make their lives easier when getting services canceled after your passing. Furthermore, your loved ones will be able to cherish your photos and other memories you’ve made.
As for the cost, spending a little money now goes a long way to preventing headaches in the future. Spending a little time or money now on a journal, hard drive can save time when it comes to money in the future. If you were to purchase those materials, it would save your family hundreds or even thousands of dollars and heartache trying to recover locked digital data such as pictures. That is assuming that they are able to get into the device in the first place How high can that cost get? It has been reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation paid over $900,000 to get inside a pass code locked phone of the San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.
To get started, evaluate what you need and how much you would need to store. Only looking to keep passwords safe? Get a journal or a notebook. Want to back up pictures or videos? Look at a flash drive or hard drive. To be even more secure, think about storing these backups off site in a place such as a security deposit box, that can be had for a small fee each year. In case of a fire or storm damage such as we saw in January where homes are destroyed, your plans are secured.
You might even look at keeping these files hosted via a cloud service, but make sure you keep your information up-to-date.
Once you make a decision, make sure to reference that information inside of a will, but do yon put your passwords in the will, as it will become a public document after your death and will be visible to the public. You will want to make mention to the where the information is stored.
Social media, like other accounts, would continue to persist unless you have a plan laid in place for it. Most companies have pages or ways to help dictate how your accounts are handled after your passing. We’ve assembled links to a lot of popular services to help guide you.
Facebook makes it simple, leaving you the option to have your account deleted or turned into a memorial page. Making the change is as simple as going through the security setting on your Facebook page, you can also leave a legacy contact to have someone manage your page afterward.
However, if a friend of family member did not set up a memorialization option on their account, you can reach out to Facebook. You’ll need to have the person’s name, date of death and proof of death such as an online obituary or death certificate.
Instagram, despite being owned Facebook, has a slightly different setup. Loved ones will have the option between deleting the account or having it memorialized like Facebook, however there is no legacy contact for the service. Before contacting Instagram, you'll need the deceased person's birth and death certificates and proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person, or his/her estate.
Twitter only leaves the option to have your account deactivated. Loved one will have to fill out a form to request the deactivation and afterward will need to provide information about the user, a copy of your ID, a copy of the account holder’s ID, and a copy of a Power of Attorney authorizing you to act on the account holder’s behalf.
Pinterest, like the others, also has a form to fill out for handling a loved one's account. You'll need to provide their full name, email address, link to their account, documentation of their passing and a way to show your relationship
Google has what is considered one of the strongest ways to pass on your accounts such as G+. YouTube and Gmail on to your loved ones. Google will allow you to set a person as a representative if your Google accounts if they have not been active in quite a while. This will allow them access to your data and files across a spectrum of services. If you do not set this up, your loved ones will have to get a court order among other documents to get the data.
While not an exhaustive list of all social media sites, not all have plans publicly in place for dealing with the situation of a loved one's death. The best course of action is to contact the company directly.
With smart phones and computers, some of the most valuable things that family would love to have are photos, videos and even the voice mail of a loved one.
However, due to encryption, this could be problematic as if you do not have a passcode tied in with biometrics, it might lead to an awkward situation. Apple has been unable to help unlock phones in the past, such as the case with Italian architect Leonardo Fabbretti, who was unable to access his teenage son’s phone after passing away from bone cancer. He publicly asked Apple CEO Tim Cook for help, but Apple did not respond according to reports.
Make sure that you keep that passcode recorded or that a trusted family member can access it. If your loved one had their phone set to wipe after too many incorrect entries, those memories could be lost forever.
Carriers have set up their own pages to help you out during this time:
Desktops and laptops might not be as big as a problem if you don’t have a password set on the devices. However, as operating systems such as Windows improve encryption, getting into the devices becomes harder and harder.
Finally, the issues of services comes up. What happens to that digital copy of your loved one’s favorite movie or song they bought through a store such as Google, Apple or Xbox for example? That becomes a trickier situation as the law has not caught up to digital inheritance and often times the End User License agreement which doesn’t allow for transfer of those files. However, some states such as Delaware are starting to sort the problem out at the state level.
We don’t want to leave you on a sour note, so there is one more digital thing to think about. If your relative was a gamer, you might still have a way to play with them. Gaming outlets such as Polygon have ran stories about kids whose parents have died young going back through their games and finding their data, and in the case of one user, was able to race against his dad’s best times ten years after his death. Gaming communities often paid tribute to fallen friends and game developers themselves have helped in the effort.
With just a little planning and a little bit of money, your loved ones' digital life will carry on after death.