This month we taught a class on “digital assets” at Kaunoa Senior Center. The Kaunoa seniors were interested in the question, “What happens to my digital ‘stuff’ when I die or become disabled?”
We began thinking about our online “footprints.” Exactly how many online store accounts (Amazon, Ebay), membership programs (Netflix, Audible), and social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram), do we own? Add to that our own websites and blogs, online bank accounts, and email addresses, plus the more advanced stuff, like gaming avatars and online farms, and it makes us wonder, who will tend the online farms if we meet our untimely demise?
I’m kidding about the online farms, but the online bank accounts, not so much.
When someone is tasked with acting as an executor for a deceased family member or friend, he or she is responsible for four steps: 1) Inventory the estate; 2) Secure the estate; 3) Pay the debts of the estate; 4) Distribute the estate to the beneficiaries.
This job is challenging enough for family members who know where each account is located. We often meet family members who have travelled from the mainland to take care of a deceased sibling’s estate. In the middle of grieving, they feel overwhelmed trying to locate the bank accounts and credit card accounts. Adding the online footprint of their deceased loved one to this inventory feels exhausting.
To prepare for our Kaunoa presentation, we researched the policies of some of the popular social networking, email, and web-hosting services, and they differ widely. Some companies, like Instagram, will permit loved ones to memorialize the decedent’s account. Other companies, like Twitter, will permit certain individuals with proper authorization to terminate the account only.
Some websites are making planning ahead easier. In 2015, Facebook announced it was adding a program called Legacy Contacts, through which users can designate a contact person to write a pinned post for the user’s profile page, such as a final message or memorial service information; respond to friend requests; and update the user’s profile and cover photos.
My takeaway from preparing to teach this class is: performing your own inventory in advance is a great gift to your loved ones. I mean, think of how hard it is for you right now to compose a mental list of your online accounts. Now try to compose a mental list of, say, your aunt’s accounts. Not easy.
Maintaining a list of accounts would be a helpful starting point to the person tasked with taking care of your online footprint. Plus, you can include instructions, in case you have something you do not want your grandchild to see when he is hacking your computer in an attempt to locate your accounts and close them.