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Digital Life After Death: Managing Your Online Assets

Uploading photos, sharing updates, writing emails, playing games — all in a day’s work online.

The Internet is so intertwined in both our jobs and our homes that it’s easy to forget that all of us online today are collectively the first “generation” to build and maintain digital presences.

We don’t think about the stuff we put out into the ‘net as assets, but they are. As much as a box of handwritten letters and photos are “real” assets, so are the pictures posted on Facebook and Flickr and the countless emails sent.

Which begs the question: what happens to those digital assets when you die?

Most people already understand the importance of estate planning to help pass on worldly goods such as savings, furniture, and mementos to their benefactors. But when it comes to electronic goods, it’s all question marks.

It’s not just a matter of deciding who gets which of the Bahamas vacation videos you uploaded to Vine. How will your heirs even gain access to your accounts? Do you write down your usernames and passwords in advance, at the risk of a thief finding it and using it maliciously? What about the data in your online shopping accounts — how can you be certain your credit card information is deleted? And will the content you downloaded digitally on devices like Kindles and iPods be transferable to your next-of-kin?

It’s a lot to take in, but fortunately, new resources are here to help. In April, Google introduced a new program called Inactive Account Manager, which enables you to choose in advance exactly what you wish to have done with all your Google data — from Gmail accounts to YouTube videos to Picasa albums to Blogger posts.

You can set Inactive Account Manager up in a few mouse clicks by following these instructions:

  • Log into Google and navigate to google.com/settings/account.
  • Look for the “Account Management” section. Under “Control what happens to your account when you stop using Google,” click “Learn more and go to setup.”
  • Select your Timeout Period, which is the amount of time you want Google to wait through your inactivity before ending your account.
  • Choose your Trusted Contacts and which data/products you wish to share with them, if any. You can name up to 10 contacts. You can even write a personalized message.
  • You can also choose to have Google delete all of your account data after it has taken all of your requested actions.

If you’re concerned Google may prematurely end your account, rest easy. Google ensures you have truly fallen silent by checking all aspects of your online identity such as email, browser, social media profiles, and Android app activity. It also takes steps to contact you by text and email a month before it shuts down your account.

For your data that falls outside the Google umbrella, well, there are other resources to be found. SecureSafe, which acts as an online safe deposit box where you can save digital assets and account login information, is free for up to 50 passwords, 10MB of storage, and one named beneficiary.

Whatever you choose to have done with your online persona, make sure you take the steps now to ensure that it happens!

Have you considered digital estate planning?

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