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What happens to your online presence when you die?

Paula McInerney

What does happen to your online presence if you die? Not a nice topic, but one worth considering. Think about this scenario.

Facebook reminds your friends that it is your birthday. But you have passed away.

It is either a sad reminder to your friends and family or it is another way for them to remember how fabulous you were. Interesting point to show that having an Internet footprint, as we all do, needs to be considered before you die. Has someone deactivated your account? Did they know your password to do this? Did they instead set up a Facebook memorial page for which they had to produce your death certificate? Not nice, but worth thinking about.

Your accounts will remain live unless you have authorized someone to take them down or perhaps to maintain them. I obviously have a social media presence with our travel site Contented Traveller. I do have a personal Facebook page and a business Facebook page. I have a Twitter account, an Instagram account, a Google+ account, a Pinterest account and a Skype account. I have a YouTube site, a StumbleUpon account, a LinkedIn account, and I know I have signed up for others that remain pretty unused at this stage… and quite frankly, I have forgotten. These are not such an issue, maybe. However, all of these need to have something done to them should I meet my demise.

Please note that I have provided links to all of my social media sites so you can share the love with me now while I am alive. I really hope I am not jinxing myself here.

My social media sites are normal for me as a travel writer, and I actually have more. Many other people will just have a Facebook account, but undoubtedly this can and will cause some decisions to need to be made for you if and when you shake off this mortal coil.

You allocate your house and your belongings to someone in your will, but now it appears it may well be prudent for us to consider dealing with our social media and Internet footprint before we go somewhere else.

I bring this fabulously wonderful topic to your attention because of a story that I have heard on the radio.

There are now Internet thieves who scour the newspapers on online social media sites looking for people who have a departed. Apparently an Internet footprint and an online social media presence are valuable. This is akin to watching the death notices in The New York Times to get an elusive apartment in this city. There are companies out there in cyberspace who want your social media presence. They appear to make money from this. Notice I said yours and not necessarily mine.

I started thinking that not even my husband knows all of the sites I have signed-up for, and this would be a vice versa situation. Does he know all of my passwords or do I know all of his? No, because these have to be changed fairly regularly and I don’t have time to document it or to let him know… and vice versa. And he doesn’t always listen to me.

Facebook allows people to memorialize someone’s account when they die. This means it is protected from theft but is a long lasting memorial to your Facebook life. It does come with its problems for your executor, who will need to present a death certificate. Many social media sites will need this even just to deactivate them if the passwords are not known.

We know of accounts of people who have died that are still running, and it is still sad when I see scheduled tweets months on, when I know that the person has died. OK, I remember them when I see them, which is nice, though sad, but it makes you consider the need to plan what you actually want when you leave here.

I looked this up, and it seems that solicitors and lawyers are starting to react and are offering such services to help you to add this very important clause to your last will and testament. This is not an ad, as I don’t know any of them anyhow; it is just something that is worth bringing to your attention, much like “what happens if you die overseas?” Happy little writer, aren’t I?

Don’t forget that every time you log into anything on the Internet requiring just this — a username and a password — then this is an online presence and needs to be dealt with.

Your online banking, your online bill paying, your secret Swiss bank accounts become tricky… but then if your executor doesn’t get to see the will until after the event — you may be in the clear depending upon your belief system.

Many young people traveling the world probably think that they don’t need a will, as they have nothing to leave to anyone nor any matters to be dealt with. However, those (and this would be most of them, who have an online social media presence need need to have that dealt with.

This is my guide to what I think needs to happen with your online presence before you die.

  1. You will need to update your will by including instructions on who and how someone will manage our Internet presence, your digital affairs and your social media presence.
  2. Write down every social media site you are a member of and the passwords for your trustee to access these.
  3. Write very clear instructions about how you want these to be managed. Do you want your Facebook account to be memorialized or do you want it deactivated? Do you want your executor to post random things about your life so that no one forgets you or do you just want to let some hacker take it and use it for their own purposes?
  4. I have told my husband to sell Contented Traveller, because he will be far too distraught should I die, and to sell it to the highest bidder and travel on the massive profits he would inevitably get from this.

So, I hope that this reality check post finds you all well and happy, but aware that we need to know that our online presence is dealt with… when that thing happens.

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