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It’s a new year. Make sure your online life is in good hands

While creating a will is important to provide directions for your estate after you die, a ‘digital will’ can be equally critical

SHARE It’s a new year. Make sure your online life is in good hands
An iPhone 6 with an iPhone 7 at an Apple Store in Chicago.

An iPhone 6 with an iPhone 7 at an Apple Store in Chicago. Apple has recently announced you can now designate people you trust to view all data stored in your Apple account after you die.

Kiichiro Satom, Associated Press

With so much of our lives documented online, we need to ensure all that information falls into the right hands after our death. Just like physical assets, we should make plans to grant the right people access to our virtual life as well.

Death isn’t necessarily something we want to think about as we ring in a new year, but getting organized may be. And while creating a will is important to provide directions for your estate after you die, a “digital will” can be equally critical. Many of us store millions of photos, videos, posts and thoughts online. Maybe we keep a private social media account for journaling purposes or maintain important documents and contacts solely in the cloud. If you’ve already taken the very adult step of making a will for your physical assets, it might be time to figure out who will have access to your virtual assets in the event you pass away as well.

Apple has recently announced you can now designate people you trust to view all data stored in your Apple account after you die. Legacy Contacts will be able to see photos, messages, notes, files, device backups and other information for three years. To add a Legacy Contact, you’ll need to be running iOS 15.2 and have two-factor authentication turned on for your Apple ID. Go to Settings, tap your name, then tap Password & Security>Legacy Contact.

Add the person using their phone number or email address and then share the access key digitally or by printing it out. Your Legacy Contact must have this key as well as your death certificate to gain access to your data after you pass away. While you are able to have more than one Legacy Contact, Apple notes that “any one of them can individually make decisions about your account data after your death, including permanently deleting it.”

Facebook will automatically memorialize your account if it becomes aware of your passing. It places the word ‘Remembering’ next to your name and all content you shared will be available for viewing the same way it was when you were alive. But you do have the option of appointing a legacy contact who can manage your account if it’s memorialized.

That legacy contact can accept friend requests on your behalf, change the profile and cover photos, decide who can see and post tributes and remove the account all together. They will not be able to log in to your account, read your messages, make friend requests or remove any friends. Add a legacy contact on Facebook by clicking the down arrow in the top right>Settings & Privacy>Settings>Memorialization Settings. Then choose a friend and click Add.

Google allows you to choose up to 10 trusted contacts who it will notify if your account becomes inactive for a certain period of time. You decide when Google should consider your account inactive by choosing an amount of time between three and 18 months. Google will contact you multiple times before reaching out to your trusted contact(s). You can then choose which data you’d like to share with each contact out of Calendar, Drive, Photos, Mail, YouTube and dozens of other options. Trusted contacts will have access and can download your selected information for three months. You can also decide if after that three months you’d like your account to be completely deleted.

Other accounts you may have online don’t have the considerations of Apple, Facebook and Google.

Instagram only allows the memorialization of an account if someone requests it. The company requires proof of death such as a link to an obituary to memorialize an account. It will never allow someone to log in to another person’s account.

Snapchat and Twitter have a similar policy in that they will not grant someone access to another person’s account. They will delete a deceased person’s account, though, if you provide the company relevant information including a copy of a death certificate.

TikTok has no policy for how to manage an account after someone dies. 

TikTok is not alone here. Many places where you may keep a lot of data online don’t have clear guidelines as to what happens to accounts after death. This is why it is critical for you to choose an overall trusted contact who will receive a copy of all your logins and passwords either now or in the event of your death. Then make sure that person knows what you’d like to happen to all that data. If the time comes, they will be armed with the knowledge and keys they need to make that happen for you.