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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.

One day you are going to die. Your Facebook account, however, will most likely live on.

This is not merely a theoretical problem. If Facebook really has a billion users, then 20,000 of them or more die every day. Sooner or later someone you know is going to pass away--or your own friends and relatives will have to concern themselves with your digital detritus.

Zombie social media accounts, ghostly blogs, and defunct email accounts are, by definition, a growing problem on the Internet, and every major Internet service provider has a mechanism in place for handling accounts belonging to the deceased. (More on this in a bit.)

While it's relatively simple--if time-consuming--to claim, delete, or memorialize these accounts, forward-looking users are planning ahead for their own demise. If you're concerned about what will happen to your digital assets once you've shuffled off this mortal coil, it's wise to think about your digital will at the same time that you're working on your financial

Preparing for passing

Strategies abound for those looking to ensure that their beneficiaries can access or close down their accounts in an orderly manner.

The simplest (and least costly) course of action is to leave passwords for your accounts with a trusted person or put them in a secure location so that other people you've specified can access them after your death. You could leave a list of accounts and passwords with a lawyer or a close relative via an attachment to your will, or put the list in a safe deposit box that you authorize certain individuals to open after your death.

These are relatively easy things to do, but they also create certain problems. Foremost, these methods require substantial upkeep. If you change a password or add a new account, you'll need to update the list. Running back to the bank every few weeks is impractical. Of course, handing your passwords to anyone--even someone trustworthy like your spouse--is dangerous, too. What happens if that list falls into the wrong hands? Or if your marriage dies before you do?

In response to these challenges, a host of third-party tools have arisen to help you manage your digital preparations for the great beyond.

Online tools

David Harris is the founder of one such tool. Assets In Order offers a tool called Your Legacy Lockbox, which lets you store wills, powers of attorney, photos, letters, account/password data, and more in an online safe that can only be opened after your death. Harris says he founded the service in 2010 after he was diagnosed with cancer and given 12 to 18 months to live. "I couldn't find anything that was secure enough and that had the distribution capabilities I wanted," he says. So--after recovering from his illness--he started his own company to create the service himself.


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