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Your Digital Kids

I Hereby Bequeath My Facebook Profile to (NAME HERE)

Their bodies may be gone, but their user names, passwords, and online personae linger on.

As our PCs and our emails hold more and more of our most intimate musings, and as boomers face mortality, the question of how to treat our online lives in the afterlife is a big one. I hear more and more stories of loved ones who die leaving their memories online and inaccessible to their families and friends.

I first looked into what happens to your online accounts after you die in 2006. Most websites were completely clueless, way too concerned with the here and now to worry about future problems.

Today, Facebook has a very clear policy about death. You can decide to memorialize the deceased profile (certain features, like status updates are shut off), which keeps the site viewable but frozen in time, or you can have the site deactivated (which doesn’t remove the contents). What Facebook doesn’t do (at least not without a big fuss) is release the deceased’s log-on information.

That means, unless they’re willing to fight, your family may be unable to use the site—say for contacting your friends with an update. Or finding out who your friends were or, in some cases, even how you might have died. LinkedIn, MySpace, and others have similar policies. You can have an account memorialized (on MySpace) or removed completely, but don’t count on being able to access the contents.

Planning for the Afterlife

Given these policies, like most death-related issues, the best thing you can do is to start thinking about your digital legacy while you’re still alive. Public radio recently ran a story about the legal wrangling of getting access to a deceased family member’s password. The broadcast identified Legacy Locker, a new website that lets you bequeath your online properties as a solution.

Other alternatives involve simple common sense, low-tech solutions.

  1. Give your passwords to a trusted family member—an envelope that gets stored in a desktop drawer until needed is the lowest tech way to protect your legacy.
  2. Don’t trust the keepers? Provide a list of passwords and account information to your attorney or executor. Ask that your will be modified to include a statement about what happens to your online persona.
  3. Lock up your passwords in a vault to be opened in the event of your death. Leave specific instructions as to how to use these accounts.

If you think I’m just finding things to worry about, then think about this. According to a recent census of social media users, 3.24% of all Facebook users were actually dead. Dead MySpace users trumped Facebook at 7.46%. That’s a lot of souls floating around in social networking purgatory.