What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts When You Pass Away? Here's How You Can Plan Your Digital Legacy

Your online characters and in-game items also count.

digital legacy
ILLUSTRATION War Espejo

(SPOT.ph) During this pandemic period, hearing news about someone passing away has become more frequent. It’s hard not to think about even if it brings so much discomfort. When you finally come around, you are probably starting to think about the practical aspects. In our increasingly digital lives, a lot of our possessions exist only as virtual assets. 

Grappling with death is a herculean task both in confronting the death of others, and our own inevitable demise. There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to it. However, while we’re still all in the mortal plane, there are some things we can do to help alleviate the possible chaos and confusion experienced by our loved ones when we die. 

Your digital assets may exist in several forms and may be present in several locations. They can be files you own that’s stored in your computer hard drive, phone, back up media, or cloud account and other online service. They can also be in the form of your social media account, media account such as your music, movie, and game library which you have purchased and accumulated over the years.

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Digital asset ownership may also go down several layers deep. For example, you may have created an online character which may also own other in-game items such as weapons, apparel or armor and, depending on the game type and genre, you may have also purchased virtual real property or own other virtual assets like spaceships, vehicles, buildings, et cetera. Other examples of digital assets are virtual currencies, cryptocurrencies or unique digital-only items like NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

Here's how to go about planning your digital legacy:

Take Inventory

The first step is take an inventory of all the possible digital stuff that you may have. These could be a list of your assets, their location, and method of access. At the very basic level, it’s making a list of your files and where they are stored. You can also make a list of the websites and services that you use that may have your digital content. This list should be as comprehensive as possible which would include accounts in social media, file sharing and cloud services, instant messaging, forums, game services, online shopping, financial services, websites, streaming services, app stores, et cetera.

This file can be a handwritten note or a printed list (if you want to go old school), a spreadsheet file or a database entry, or a text document with instructions on what to do with your digital assets. Notify a trusted confidante where this file can be located or accessed in case of your untimely demise. For redundancy, you may want to appoint more than one person as your digital estate manager or executor If you want to go the fully digital route, or if you are avoiding the inevitable questions from your appointed executor, there’s another option that you can take where you don’t have to inform them in advance. Google has a little-known feature called the Inactive Account Manager.

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The Inactive Account Manager can be set up to trigger when your Google accounts are deemed inactive, which is anywhere from three, six, twelve or eighteen months of no log-in activity. Once your account becomes inactive, you will be sent a message to confirm this status. If Google receives no response, it will send an e-mail to your trusted contacts to know of your account’s inactivity. This e-mail will contain a custom message from you as well as an explanation that you have instructed Google to contact you on your behalf after your account inactivation. The Inactive Account Manager can also give your trusted contacts access to download your Google data such as Gmail, Drive, Android and Chrome settings, Google Accounts, etc. It is up to you if you want to notify your trusted contact in advance and explain the message from Google in case of your account inactivity. Since some sites and services require two-factor authentication, you can also write detailed instructions for your trusted contacts on how to access your phone.

Social Media Accounts

As much as possible, you may want to keep a list of your social media accounts to make it easier for your heirs to manage them after you’re gone. Some social media accounts such as Facebook lets you name your trusted contacts in case you can no longer log in to your account. You can perform a manual backup of your Facebook account which will be downloaded as an archive file. You can then proceed to upload this file in a secure location. You may want to do this regularly and store the backup file on a remote drive. Or if your trusted contact has access, they can perform the backup before requesting other steps such as memorializing your page. To access Memorialization settings, go to Settings & Privacy, Settings, General Account Settings. You can add your legacy contact on this page. Your legacy contact can be given permission to manage your account as well as request for the archiving and deletion of your account.

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Instagram has a similar feature that lets you download backup data. Other sites like Twitter, only allow for the deactivation of your account. You can go through your other social media pages for instructions on how to perform backs or set up a trusted contact. 

Access to Other Accounts

The other less complicated way to let your executor access your account is by letting them know the existence of your accounts and its respective passwords. Because of complex issues surrounding ownership of some legal assets, your appointed executor (or heirs) may not be able to technically own some of these assets but giving them access to the sites can also give them the power to decide if they want to close the account or properly sign out. You may also want to consult a legal professional if you are unsure of how to manage your digital assets, especially for high value assets.

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