Social media, digital presence after death


Even if you have a will, your digital photographs, documents and personal contacts may never be accessible to a loved one. Careful planning can allow your family or friends to manage your digital assets.

"I've gotten emails from people who have died, but their email accounts lived on, and they got spammed, and it's very upsetting," said Steven Corn.

Corn says he doesn't want that to happen to him. So, before going into surgery a few months ago, Corn, the owner of a Valley Village music distribution and licensing business, decided to get his digital affairs in order. He made sure both his business partner and his wife had access to his account passwords.

"I've had some experiences with my in-laws and my father's passing, where how do you recover a Facebook page? How do you cancel a Facebook page? How do you recover passwords if you don't have access to emails?" Corn said.

Digital assets left behind when someone dies can trigger emotional and legal battles over who has access to these accounts.

Due to strict privacy laws, even a surviving spouse, parent or child may not be able to log in to a loved one's accounts without a court order.

"When somebody creates a Google account, they have a reasonable expectation of privacy and security, and we don't think that goes away even after they have died," said Chris Gaither with Google.

Much like setting up a will or trust, you should take the time to protect your digital assets. Even after people die, cyber-thieves can still hack into their accounts, gaining access to personal information and even stealing their identity.

Google recently launched an Inactive Account Manager feature on its company sites including Gmail, Blogger, Picasa and YouTube, that allows users to share information on their accounts after they die.

If there's a period of inactivity from three months up to a year and a half, Google will first try to contact the account holders, and if they get no response, it will then alert friends or family members who can access whatever personal data you granted.

Facebook allows family members to remove a loved one's account if they can provide documentation like a birth or death certificate and prove they're the lawful representative of the deceased or his or her estate.

If you die suddenly, it could be a nightmare for your family or business associates, who are already grieving, to figure out if they can even access all of your virtual accounts.

Consider storing your account log-in information and passwords in a safe deposit box and make sure the executor of your account knows where it's located.

"If I Die" is a Facebook application that enables you to create a video or text message that will only be made public if you die. Three trustees, who you pre-select, must collectively confirm your death before the website releases the video online.

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