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How to get your online assets in order for when you die

Christopher Null | May 6, 2013
People come and go, but what's online is forever. Here's how to prepare your data for your own passing, and how to manage the digital life of someone close to you who's passed away without preparing.

Once you join, your data is secured unless verifiers (whom you've named in advance) present a death certificate or a notarized letter from a funeral home confirming your demise. Only then are your stored materials released according to your instructions. A free plan covers the basics; $20 a year gives you more storage and a larger number of recipients.

There are a vast numbers of similar services. Legacy Locker is virtually identical to Assets in Order, offering both a free plan and one with more options one for $30 per year or a one-time fee of $300. AssetLock offers similar plans for $10 to $80 per year, or up to a $240 lifetime membership fee.

Other services aren't designed exclusively with data inheritance in mind, but do offer these services indirectly. CEO Shane Green notes that his company's service, which comprises a password manager and a form-autofill tool, can be used for succession planning as well. "You can put all your data and documents in Personal--including your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. We've even had customers put their student loan records in the system. You have a two-way connection--to put your data into the service or get it out," he says.

You can share data with others, but the real advantage here is that your passwords stay up-to-date, so you don't need to worry about updating the records in your digital lockbox if something changes. "Most of us have hundreds of online accounts," says Green, so keeping this information current can be nearly impossible. Personal also partners with Everplans, which helps people manage end-of-life decisions about financial, legal, and estate planning matters.

At least one company--Google--is starting to look at digital inheritance issues directly, so that you don't have to concern yourself with a third-party solution. The Google Inactive Account Manager does exactly what it sounds like: You tell Google what you want it to do with your Picasa photos, YouTube videos, Blogger blogs, Gmail, and more in the event that you don't log in to your account after a certain amount of time you've  specified (three months to 18 months). People you've specified are then notified that they can download your stuff for three months after that, after which you can opt to have all your accounts deleted.

If you or a loved one dies without preparing

All of this is well and good, but it does little good for those who haven't prepared in advance. In practice, that almost certainly comprises the vast majority of those who pass away having never given their digital lives a second thought.

If a loved one passes away, you'll have to go through each service they used on an individual basis to request action, whether you want the account deleted, the information in it transferred to you, or the account frozen in time as a "memorial." Each service has different rules about what you need to provide in order to prove your relationship, and also about what the service will and will not provide after a user has died.


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