Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

What happens to your internet accounts when you die?

Infographic - death in the digital ageIf you died tomorrow, what would happen to your internet accounts? Would you want your family to have access? If you’re like me, it’s probably something you haven’t given a lot of thought to – but perhaps you should.

The Co-operative Funeralcare have created a guide called ‘Death in the Digital Age’. It covers what you should consider doing now, whilst you’re alive, and also what to do if a loved one has passed away and you want to access their online accounts. The Co-op also produced an infographic with some interesting statistics – 75% of people surveyed by ICM had no plans for their online accounts, yet a similar proportion have encountered problems accessing accounts belonging to deceased relatives.

Considering how much stuff we store in cloud services, this is something of a worry, especially when there aren’t physical or local copies. Take photos – how many pictures have you taken that are only on Facebook? If you were no longer around, would a relative be able to still see them?

Sadly a lot of internet companies are not very good when it comes to dealing with the deceased. You’ll find many user agreements prohibit the sharing of usernames and passwords, so by logging into the account of someone who has passed away you are breaking the terms of the agreement. And customer service departments can be unhelpful.

But it’s not all bad news – Google has an ‘inactive account manager’ which allows you to nominate a trusted third party who can gain access to your account if you don’t log in for a certain amount of time. I’ve set this up so that Christine can get into my account if I don’t log in for three months. Facebook is rolling out a similar feature, but it’s restricted to users in the USA right now – in the meantime, you can have a profile ‘memorialised’ if its owner has passed on. We did this with my friend Dave when he died suddenly last year.

Thinking about your own death may seem depressing but it’s a lot easier for your relatives to have everything sorted whilst you’re still alive. Consider the following:

  1. Make sure you have a will in place (Christine and I are getting wills as part of our house purchase).
  2. Write some key usernames and passwords on a piece of paper and store it in a sealed envelope. Include any device passwords or encryption keys if applicable.
  3. Or, if you use a password manager (and you really should), then do the same, but for your master password.
  4. Backup important photos/music etc. to an external USB hard drive – don’t rely solely on cloud storage.

Everyone’s different; you may wish to have all of your online accounts deleted when you die, rather than preserved for others. It’s up to you, but you’re best making that decision now.

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