Your Digital Legacy: What happens to your accounts after you die?
Image by Susan Sewert from Pixabay

Your Digital Legacy: What happens to your accounts after you die?

What happens on the Internet, for the most part, stays on the Internet. Forever.
Barring a website shutting down or deactivating old and unused accounts, your online presence will outlast you and become your digital legacy. No one likes to think about death, but as with a standard will, ignoring reality will make things harder for loved ones in the future.

Planning your digital legacy, what your online presence will look like after you die, doesn’t need to be complicated. But it is something you need to do.

Identify trustworthy people

The first step is to find people you trust to handle your online life when you can’t. This should be a very good, longtime, trustworthy friend or family member. It might be tempting to trust your BFF of the day, but consider whether that relationship has stood the test of time. You might even consider giving two people this role.

Whoever it is, have a serious conversation with them and ask if they’d be willing to take on the responsibility of taking care of your online accounts for you. Some of the tasks you might want them to do include:

  • Posting on your accounts that you’ve passed (if you want, and with language that you should provide).
  • Setting an email autoresponder or forwarder.
  • Shutting down accounts.
  • Notifying people in various online communities, like gaming guilds, who might not see social media posts.

Preparing

They will, of course, need access to your accounts in able to get in and perform the tasks you’ve requested. Rather than handing them every password you have on a piece of paper – especially because you may need to change your passwords or you’ll be creating new accounts regularly – make sure to set up a password manager. They don’t need immediate access to it, but they’ll need it eventually. Most password managers have you set up a master password that you use regularly, and a secret key. Make a note of those.

Password manager 1Password even provides a template that you can download from your account. You can use it for other password managers with some adaptation.

Image of a 1Password Emergency Kit. It has fields for sign-in address, email address, secret key and master password.
Image from 1Password.com

Write down all the information from the last section and this section. Don’t email it to them. Ideally, put it in a sealed envelope and ask them to keep it in a very safe place where they keep other valuables – a safety deposit box in a bank might work well for this.

If you’re using two-factor authentication (which you should), you’ll also want to make sure your phone stays active so you can get text messages with those two-factor codes so the person responsible can log in to your accounts.

Facebook memorialization

If you have a Facebook account, you might want them to memorialize your account where friends can post memories of you, but no one can log into. Alternatively, you can set your profile to be deleted. Your legacy contact won’t be able to read your messages, or log into your Facebook account ever – they will be the ones responsible for your account after you pass.

To add a legacy contact, go to your Facebook settings, click Settings & Privacy, then Settings and Memorialization Settings. There, you’ll find a field to set the person you trust as a legacy contact.

Screenshot of Facebook screen for managing your digital legacy

Your Legacy Contact
Choose someone to look after your account after you pass away. They'll be able to:

    Manage tribute posts on your profile, which includes deciding who can post and who can see posts, deleting posts, and removing tags
    Request the removal of your account
    Respond to new friend requests
    Update your profile picture and cover photo

Your legacy contact can only manage posts made after you've passed away. They won't be able to post as you or see your messages.

Revisit your decisions

Life moves fast. Every so often you should revisit your choices about what you want to happen to your accounts and who you trust to take those steps, and update things accordingly. You might even put an event in your calendar for every year to remind yourself.


Neglecting your digital legacy might seem like the easier task, but as with distributing your property and things, it’s a reality we’ll all have to face. Taking some steps now will hopefully make things easier for your loved ones in the future.